The Truth About Palmetto Bugs in Southwest Florida

Palmetto Bug size

I’ve heard many people say that they don’t have cockroaches, they’re just “palmetto bugs”. But are they really?

Florida Woods Cockroach aka Palmetto Bug

The palmetto bug is also known as the Florida woods cockroach and the truth is, you aren’t very likely to see one in your home. They are what Floridians find in their saw-palmetto fan palms and cabbage palms.

Old timers originally called the Eurycotis Floridana “palmetto bugs” when they were cutting and collecting hearts of palm for food. The most identifying characteristic of the true palmetto bug is the foul smell it emits when disturbed. So, If it moves slowly and stinks when you squash it, then you might have actually seen a palmetto bug. Otherwise, we’re sorry to tell you, it’s probably a bacteria-carrying, virus-spreading cockroach!

Now that we have that straightened out, here are the 4 most common types of roaches you WILL find in Florida homes:

The American Cockroach (a.k.a. “Waterbug”) – Up to 2 inches long, they love our hot, humid Florida weather. American roaches are commonly found in damp places like basements and sewers, but they are scavengers and will eat just about anything, so you’ll also find them hanging around food preparation areas as well.

The Brown-banded Cockroach – About a 1/2 inch in length, brown roaches prefer warm, dry locations, so while they can still be found in kitchens and bathrooms, they are also found in bedrooms, living rooms and closets more than other roaches. The brown-banded cockroach prefers feeding on starchy materials. However, they can be found feeding on almost anything, and have been known to chew on such non-food materials as nylon stockings (presumably for the residues of body oils and skin flakes).

The Oriental Cockroach – About 1.25 inches long, the Oriental cockroach is generally found outdoors, but during times of drought, may venture inside. Once indoors, you may find them in high moisture places such as sewers and drains. They prefer to feed on all sorts of decaying matter, making them especially fond of garbage bins. They are seldom found on walls or in furniture and cabinets.

The German Cockroach – This is the one you really need to keep a watchful eye out for. Because they are smaller than many other species, they can more easily hide and evade humans. Controlling German cockroaches takes expertise and persistence due to their rapid reproductive rate. At least 95% of the populations must be eliminated during initial treatment or they will return. Baits are an effective way of controlling them, but correct placement in cracks and crevices near harborage areas is critical.

No matter what type, cockroaches pose a serious risk to you and your family. The saliva, droppings and decomposing bodies of cockroaches contain allergen proteins known to trigger allergies and increase the severity of asthma symptoms, especially in children. They are also capable of transmitting disease organisms, such as the bacteria that cause food poisoning, and are known to spread 33 different kinds of bacteria, six parasitic worms and at least seven other kinds of human pathogens.

Here are some things you can do to reduce your risk of finding roaches in your home:

  • Do not allow dirty dishes to accumulate and remain in the sink overnight
  • Keep food scraps in the refrigerator or in containers with tight-fitting lids
  • Remove garbage from your home on a routine basis and vacuum regularly
  • Periodically check and clean the evaporation pan under the refrigerator or freezer
  • Seal cracks around the outside of the home to prevent pest entryways

To learn more about this and 14 other Household Bugs in Southwest Florida That May Freak You Out, download our free ebook now!

If you suspect you have an infestation, contact us to identify the species and recommend a course of treatment.  Call (800) 314-8813 or contact us online for a free inspection and quote. Please feel free to leave us any questions or comments below. Your feedback could very well help others seeking information about roach control for their home.

If you found this blog post helpful, share it with your friends! Thanks! -Keith

Comments 15

  1. I’ve had a constant problem with these since buying my home 3-1/2 years ago. I’ve seen them even sitting on the wall up near the ceiling at night. They “reside” mainly in my kitchen and come out after I turn off the light. Generally they freeze when they sense my presence. I’ve seen some whoppers – OVER 3 inches long – and they aren’t easy to kill! I’m not sure what you mean when you say that palmetto bugs move slowly – mine seem to be fairly nimble because I miss frequently when trying to kill them and it usually takes several whacks. If one accidentally gets flipped on its back, it will play dead for HOURS and the moment you give it a nudge to see if it’s alive, it will run off as soon as it gets its legs under it. These palmetto bugs are a very dark brown and are NOT American cockroaches, I can tell you that much. The American cockroach that you pictured doesn’t even has as many legs and the markings are drastically different. These bugs are rather bold sometimes. One night I was washing dishes in the sink (and the lights were on too) and I felt two tugs at the bottom of my shirt. I swung around to see who it was, expecting to see my son trying to get my attention. But there was no one there….and then I noticed that this enormous “palmetto bug/cockroach/Godzilla was sitting on my left shoulder. I screamed and it JUMPED from my shoulder onto the countertop and then ran for the hills. That wasn’t the first time that one climbed up the back of my pants but it was the first to tug on my shirt and then sit on my shoulders – egads! I know they’re not going to bite me but they’re so big that they always frighten/startle me. There was one that used to come out of my sink and sit on the faucet and look at me while I went to the bathroom. I started to talk to him and he sat there listening, his antennae twitching like he was listening intently. After a while he would come out nearly every time I went into the bathroom. My son named him “Bob” and he was my own little psychiatrist for several months. But one night I came out into the kitchen and there were 3 enormous roaches, frozen in surprise (and so was I). At first I didn’t know what to do – I looked around for some kind of heavy weapon and wondered how I could get all of them. And THEN, the one in the middle comes running at me and in fright, I started to beat him to death while the others ran off. He actually looked surprised when I hit him and like I said, it takes several hits to kill one of these. He never tried to run away. And then it hit me – I had just killed Bob. I hoped it wasn’t him but I knew the other two were females (and weren’t Bob) by their markings. I waited and waited for Bob to reappear in my bathroom but he never did. And then I was sure of it – I had killed my “pet roach.” Yeah, I know I’m weird but what started out as an experiment of sorts wound up to be a regular routine. He actually did listen to me and I had heard that roaches (or palmetto bugs, whatever…) are intelligent. Of course he never understood a word of what I said, yet he always stayed until I left the bathroom and would pop out each time I came back. I’ll always feel guilty for killing Bob. But I still kill his relatives whenever I see them because they poop/regurgitate everywhere in my kitchen cabinets and drawers so everything has to be washed again before we can use it. I have birds and can’t use pesticides so I use glue traps and herbal mint pest spray. Like Bob, they always come back…but these big boys never are interested in having a conversation. And OH MY GOD – just wait until you’ve had one of these fly into your face, it’ll scare the pants off of you!!

  2. I live in N Y and it can’t be worse than stink bugs they are gross. We will never get rid of bugs no matter what exterminator u have.
    They will never stop mosquitoes,roaches or alligators for that matter, get used to it and go to sleep knowing the critters are watching us

  3. I have had infestation iof Palmetto bugs for 10 days and the exterminator that my apt
    used has sealed outside
    Wall behind stove and refrigerator and I have killed
    6 more in the last week. I have a small dog and I am afraid it will try and get it as they have tried to crawl from
    Kitchen to bedroom ick!! The exterminator has not done
    His job and only comes on Fridays !!! Is this a health hazard I threw out dog food as I found it in my food cupboard
    Now what ??! Please contact me because the aoot
    Has not done enough !
    Thank you

    Janice Tilchen

  4. I moved to Florida 2 years ago and only just saw my first huge palmetto/American roach for the first time this week. Just like when I lived in Oklahoma and Georgia I assume the rare sighting was from it somehow coming in from outside. I love the Clearwater/Largo Florida area!!! Do not be afraid to move here due to bugs lol Now the lizards are plentiful and actually cool to see in my opinion but I grew up seeing grasshoppers jump out of your way when walking outside, here it’s small 2-4 inch lizards which are very innocently just catching some sun.

  5. This year all of a sudden I started finding waterbugs (aka American roaches) in our house – 1 per day, and always half-dead, on their backs. Before I’ve only seen them occasionally on the patio outside by the water. How did they get into the house since they never came in last year and why are they almost dead, yet persistent at the house? I keep an immaculate house, no food scraps, water, etc… How do I get rid of them?
    Thanks for any advice!

  6. Love fla hate the bugs. Just found a big one but didn’t kill it in time now I am afraid to go to sleep thinking it will crawl on me and do they bite?

    1. Post

      Thanks for your comment Lisa. You’re not alone in your love of Florida and distaste for its bugs, which is good news when you’re in the pest control business! ;) Fortunately, cockroaches do NOT bite. The worst thing about them is that they are known to spread 33 different kinds of bacteria, 6 kinds of parasitic worms and 7 other kinds of human pathogens. Allergens can also accumulate in your home from cockroach droppings and shed skins, which can trigger asthma attacks, especially in children. If you’re frequently finding roaches inside your home, I’d suggest hiring a professional pest control company to do an inspection. Good luck to you and yours!

  7. Here in Orlando with regular spraying, I rarely see these hideous creatures in my home. But tonight I found one trapped in my guest bathroom tub which is never used.
    So my question is, can they come up from the tub drains?! It wasn’t there the day before when I cleaned and it was crawling around in the tub but couldn’t crawl out….so it must have come up from the tub drain right? Yuck!
    I sprayed it dead & flushed it down the toilet because I HATE squashing those things…then I closed that drain cover tightly!!
    Now I will have a hard time falling asleep tonight because i’ll imagine them all over me LOL.

  8. Veronica, no guarantee that you won’t get them even when paying high rent. But, living here is worth it because with regular pest control I rarely ever see them. I was born in Calf. but I’ll take Florida anytime.

  9. Post

    Cockroaches are certainly part of life in Southwest Florida, but the good news is that there are companies like ours, who have spent the last 37 years perfecting the art of keeping them out of your home! :)

  10. Suddenly I don’t mind paying 1600 to 1000 per month for a 1 bedroom in California anymore. $300 to $600 rent in florida seems far less appealing to me now for some reason…

  11. It’s 3:49am and I made a trim to the bathroom and found a 1 1/2″ Paletto Creature on it’s back. It was actually playing possum. I have 2 cats and they do a great job keeping unwanted insects/lizards a
    Outta our home. I also believe that these insects have instinct. I hate them but it’s part of paradise.

  12. Post

    Thanks for reading and commenting on this post! The truth is, American cockroaches (which you can are commonly found inside homes and can grow to be very large) are often mistakenly referred to as palmetto bugs, when in reality, they are two different species. The Florida woods cockroach (aka palmetto bug) looks very similar to the female Oriental cockroach, and the two could easily be mistaken for each other. True palmetto bugs wander indoors at times, however, it’s found mainly outdoors, hiding in trees and plants. Hope this information helps! :)

  13. These bugs you talked about here are not the three inch Palmettos we get in the house, garage, laundry room and outdoors most of the year but worse during the same season as the ant and termite swarming in the late Spring and early Summer.
    These freaking things look like they could carry off a mouse if they wanted to.

  14. None of these look anything like the “palmetto” bugs we have in the florida panhandle only the size of the “american cockroach” looks similar.

    Wing and Body pattern much different, coloration noticably different, behavior much different(they do love leaky facuets though) and their tiny infant stage doesn’t look similar at all(these guys look like centipedes when they are younglings, and as adult have preying mantis like heads and are VERY friendly).

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