Cockroaches are unlike any other creature on the planet. Their ability to survive extreme environments and reproduce in the most inhospitable places makes them unique in the animal kingdom.
There are many different species of cockroaches worldwide, each with its own characteristics.
So what are cockroaches, and what makes them so special?
Cockroaches are insects genetically related to termites. They look different from other insects and have different survival needs, but scientifically, they are from the class Insecta and share biological characteristics with other bugs.
What Makes Cockroaches Insects?
The unique anatomy and behavior of cockroaches confuse some people, who argue they are not insects.
The most noteworthy characteristic of cockroaches is that they can survive for long periods without food or water, which isn’t the case with most insects (or any other animal).
However, cockroaches are scientifically classified as insects regardless of appearance and behavior.
All insects are pancrustacean hexapod invertebrates, which is a fancy way of saying they have hard bodies, six legs, and no spines.
Additionally, insects have jointed legs, compound eyes, one pair of antennae, and a three-part body consisting of a head, thorax, and abdomen.
Every type of cockroach has these biological characteristics, making them several of the over one million species of bugs on our planet.
What Makes Cockroaches Different From Other Insects?
Cockroaches are particularly hardy insects when compared to other insects.
Roaches have unique survival mechanisms, including the ability to hold their breath for up to 40 mins and resist temperatures as cold as 32°F (0°C).
They can also survive without water for a week and without food for up to a month.
While they can’t survive a nuclear blast (contrary to popular belief), roaches can withstand up to 10x more radiation than humans, making them pretty tough.
Are There Different Types of Cockroaches?
There are over 4,000 different species of cockroaches, and they’re found on every continent except Antarctica.
Of the thousands of species of cockroaches, only about 30 types are considered pests: the most common pests are the American, German, Oriental, and Smokey-Brown cockroaches.
German cockroaches are small, light-brown, or tan insects that range in size from ½ inch to 5/8 of an inch (1.27 cm to 1.58 cm) long.
They can be distinguished by two dark stripes that run down their backs, and they have wings but cannot fly.
The German roach prefers moist, warm environments, so you will likely find them near dishwashers and sinks in your kitchen or bathroom.
Getting rid of this species can be challenging because of its small size, fast reproduction rate, and resistance to pesticides.
Oriental cockroaches are a large, outdoor species of cockroach, ranging in size from 0.71 in to 1.14 in (1.8 cm to 2.9 cm). They are usually dark brown or black, and these pests cannot fly despite having wings.
This species thrives in temperatures from 68°F (20°C) to 84°F (29°C), and are called “waterbugs” because they prefer cool, damp places.
They can be found around sewers, drains, wood piles, under porches, and anywhere else that is wet and dark.
While Oriental cockroaches only live about a year, females can produce up to 200 eggs, and new nymphs hatch within two months.
Their reproduction rate makes Oriental cockroaches harder to eliminate than other roach species.
American cockroaches, despite their name, are found worldwide.
They are the largest cockroach species considered pests, ranging in size from 1.1 in (2.8 cm) to 1.7 in (4.3 cm).
These winged cockroaches are dark brown or reddish-brown, and they can (and do) fly – although they usually have to start from a high place and then glide due to their large size.
It isn’t an exaggeration to say that American roaches eat everything. They feast on anything from garbage to crumbs to hair and plastic bags.
They are decomposers and will also eat their dead.
American cockroaches have the longest lifespan of any common roach species, living as long as two years. A single female American cockroach can produce up to 150 young during her lifespan.
This species of cockroach prefers high temperatures around 84°F (29°F) and generally lives outdoors until winter, when they cannot tolerate low temperatures.
To avoid infestation, keep your home clean, seal any cracks, holes, or openings, and use pesticides.
Smoky Brown Cockroaches
Smoky Brown cockroaches are large insects, reaching up to 1.5 in (3.8 cm) long. They are strong fliers and have a black or mahogany color.
They are prone to dehydration, so they live in extremely damp, humid areas like the Southeastern United States.
Smoky Brown roaches usually prefer to live in moist, outdoor areas where they can hide, such as in tree holes and cavities, under mulch beds, and in and around eaves and gutters.
If they’re in your home, you’ll likely find them in the attic, where they go relatively unnoticed.
Like all roaches, they eat pretty much anything but prefer decaying plants and animals, meat, and starchy or sugary foods.
They are most active at dawn and at dusk.
There are many species of cockroaches worldwide, but the Madagascar hissing cockroach is one of the largest. In most cases, they grow between 2 to 3 in (5 cm to 7.6 cm) long.
These roaches don’t have wings and are shiny brown and oval-shaped. Male hissing cockroaches have large horns, which is an unusual characteristic.
Madagascar roaches hiss when they fight, when they feel threatened, or when they’re trying to find a mate.
Unlike Oriental, German, or American cockroaches, this species does not invade human houses, and some people choose to keep them as pets. They primarily live on forest floors, where they eat plants and fruits.
How Do You Identify A Cockroach?
Cockroaches are fairly easy to identify – most species have a hard, flat, oval-shaped body with long antennae, and they run really fast.
Most cockroaches are brown but may look slightly whitish following molting.
You will not be able to easily crush a cockroach, as their exoskeleton protects them from most things.
If you see one cockroach in your home, there is likely more somewhere close, and you will need to manage the potential infestation.
Cockroaches are unique insects that can wreak havoc on your life.
Thousands of different types of cockroaches exist worldwide, varying in size, physical characteristics, and habitat.
Fortunately, only a few species of these pests tend to invade a home, and the most common are the Oriental, German, American, and Smoky Brown varieties.
These pesky insects hide easily, reproduce quickly, and can spread harmful bacteria and viruses around your home.
If you think you have a cockroach infestation, knowing the species may make it easier for you to get rid of them.
Each type of cockroach responds to different kinds of insecticides, bait, and repellents, and if you’re unsure about the nature of your unwelcome houseguests, call in an exterminator to help.