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Cockroaches vs Termites: What Are The Differences?

Finding an insect in your home can be upsetting, but in order to get rid of that bug and its colony, you need to be able to identify it. 

So let’s examine some of the main distinctions between two common pests you may find in your home: roaches and termites. 

The most significant difference between cockroaches and termites is their appearance. Roaches are rather large insects, typically dark brown in color, and have long, prominent antennae. Termites, on the other hand, are quite tiny, their color may be tan or nearly see-through, and the shape of their bodies is similar to that of an ant. 

How Do Cockroaches And Termites Differ In Appearance?

Photo of a cockroach on a white background.

The main difference between roaches and termites has to do with their appearance. 

We’ll begin this article by discussing in detail the key defining physical characteristics of these two creatures so you can tell them apart more easily. 

Cockroach Appearance 

Cockroaches’ bodies and features may vary somewhat, depending on their particular species. 

Yet overall, they all look quite similar.

For instance, all cockroaches have six legs that contain tiny hairs, which may be difficult to see with the naked eye. 

Additionally, most cockroaches are some shade of brown, ranging from tan to almost black. 

However, some species, such as the American cockroach, are more of a reddish-brown color. 

Also, all cockroaches have flat, oval-shaped bodies, whose sizes can range from over 1½ inches (4 cm) to around ½ an inch (1 cm) in length. 

Plus, some species have a head that is distinct from the rest of its body, while for others, the head appears to be part of the rest of the body. 

Certain roaches may have wings on their backs as well, but not all species have these. 

Finally, most roaches possess long antennae that can be almost as long as their bodies. 

Termite Appearance 

Unlike cockroaches, termites can differ quite a bit in their appearance, depending not only on the species but also their role in the colony.

I’ll break down the three types of termites you are most likely to see and what the various colony members look like. 

Dampwood Termites 

The dampwood termite is about 20 mm in length, making it a bit less than one inch long. 

The easiest way to identify this type of termite is by its soldiers, which have a large red-colored head surrounded by big, black pincers. 

The rest of their bodies are a shade of light tan that almost seems see-through. 

You may also see other members of the dampwood termites’ colony that are just tan with no pincers. These look more similar to book lice. 

Some also look somewhat like red ants with long, tannish wings attached to their backs. 

Drywood Termites 

Drywood termites measure around ½ inch (1 cm) long or even smaller sometimes. 

This type can range from almost transparent to black, depending on their role in the colony. 

These termites usually look similar to ants, but with longer bodies. 

The swarmers of this bunch have red heads, and either black or white-winged bodies. 

Soldier drywood termites look similar to soldier dampwood termites, but with smaller heads. 

Subterranean Termites 

Subterranean termites are usually between ¼-½ inch (½-1 cm) long. 

Most of the termites in this species are a very light tan color. 

However, the winged subterranean termites are black, and they usually have see-through or white wings. 

The subterranean soldiers have tan bodies, except for their pincers and the area directly below them, which are black. 

What Do Termites And Cockroaches Eat?

The best way to identify and eliminate pests in your home is to figure out what they like to eat. 

In the following sections, I’ve broken down the items that termites and roaches tend to consume. 

Cockroach Diet

Cockroaches have a very broad diet. 

For the most part, they can eat anything that is, or was once, alive. 

Therefore, these critters can chow down on pretty much any foods that humans eat. 

Keep in mind that roaches usually prefer greasy, sugary, and starchy foods. 

They can also eat things we don’t, such as paper, cardboard, glue, fingernail clippings, and hair. 

Termite Diet 

Termites primarily eat wood. 

More specifically, termites enjoy cellulose, which is found in plant matter. 

Therefore, in the absence of wood, they can also consume items like cardboard, paper, and plants. 

Termites may also eat some things that we find more surprising, such as fabric, insulation, and carpet, since all of these items also contain cellulose. 

Is It Worse To Have Roaches Or Termites?

Close-up photo of termites.

This question is difficult to answer, because one isn’t clearly worse than the other. 

Really, the difference comes down to the type of havoc each of these bugs can wreak. 

So, let’s look at each one individually, and you can decide for yourself which is worse. 

Main Problems Caused By Roaches 

The main issue caused by roaches has to do with food. 

Roaches love to consume human food, meaning they have no problem munching on and walking all over what we eat. 

They can even chew through certain types of packaging, such as cardboard, to get to what’s inside. 

At the very least, this is merely annoying. 

However, cockroaches can also carry bacteria, which can cause you to contract a variety of diseases, like E. coli and Salmonella. 

It’s also possible to have a roach allergy, which can cause symptoms such as coughing, itchy eyes, and swollen face. 

Furthermore, roaches can chew through your belongings, especially anything that’s made of paper. 

Main Problems Caused By Termites 

Since termites like to consume wood, damage to your home is the biggest threat of having a termite infestation. 

When they first arrive, termites will usually just chew on a small amount of wood, which can cause minor damage. 

But if you don’t exterminate them, they can start to destroy the framework of your home, to the point where you need to have extensive repairs. 

Additionally, termites can spread mold. 

Because many termites prefer to eat damp wood, which is where mold typically grows, termites can spread mold spores around your home easily and quickly. 

Unfortunately, mold can be harmful to your health, since it can irritate the nose, throat, and eyes, and also causes coughing fits and fatigue. 

Some people are also allergic to termites, just like they are with roaches. 

Are Roaches Or Termites Harder To Exterminate?

In addition to bed bugs, roaches and termites are the most difficult types of pests to eliminate. 

These two insects are so hard to get rid of because our homes are perfect sources of food, so they will only leave under the most dire of circumstances. 

But if you’re wondering which type of insect is harder to get rid of on your own, in most cases it’s termites. 

The problem with termites is that they’re difficult to spot. 

On the other hand, even though roaches are excellent hiders, they do need to come out to eat our food from time to time. 

Therefore, it’s much easier to spot a roach and track it back to where it came from, allowing you to pinpoint the nest more easily. 

Termites, however, have all the food they need inside your home’s framework, so they don’t need to come out into view the way roaches do. 

This is why you may never see termites, making it nearly impossible to find and treat their nests. 


Overall, the most significant difference between roaches and termites is the way they look. 

In general, roaches are much larger than termites, and have a less segmented body. 

There are other distinctions between these two creatures as well, such as what they like to eat, and the problems they can cause in your home.