What’s The Difference Between Palmetto Bugs and Cockroaches?

Last Updated on August 11, 2021 by Kimberly Crawford

There has been a lot of confusion surrounding palmetto bugs and cockroaches because there seems to be no difference between the two.

As a matter of fact, a lot of experts say that the term palmetto bug is just an informal way to refer to outdoor American roaches in the American south, infesting homes during fall and winter. 

If you are one of those people who want to close this case once and for all, here is some important information that you should know between palmetto bugs and cockroaches so, read on. 

Related: What Is The Difference Between a Water Bug and a Cockroach?

the differences between palmetto bug vs cockroach

What is a palmetto bug?

palmetto roach

The term palmetto bug is considered as a regional term for American cockroach, Florida wood cockroach and smoky brown roaches that niche on palmetto trees. In some places, the term palmetto bug is also associated with some bug species. 

They are usually found in the American south and may occasionally find their way inside homes when their habitats are disturbed or when the temperature drops. When this happens, they can also infest homes like regular roaches do. 

Geographically, they are rampant in Florida and South Carolina. Like regular roaches, palmetto bugs are also considered as pests especially for palmetto trees that are staple in southern landscapes. 

Related: Australian Cockroach: Facts, Behavior, Life Cycle, Infestation, and Identification

What does a palmetto bug look like?

They sport the same dark gray, brown to reddish brown colors of regular roaches as well as their shiny casing so they are hard to differentiate. However, palmetto bugs are larger, have yellow bands by their abdomens and are mostly found outdoors.

They can grow up to 3-inches and larger. They have the same oval and flattened body as regular roaches. Alongside these, they also sport the same long, hairy legs. Palmetto bugs usually have wings. 

Palmetto bug facts

palmetto roach facts

While they are not different from cockroaches, palmetto bugs also have unique characteristics and backstories that differentiate them from regular, smaller roaches. Hence, here are some palmetto bugs facts that you should know about. 

  • They are faster than regular cockroaches. They run at 210mph or twice the speed of cockroaches. 
  • They have sharper night vision. Their compound eyes are comparable to 20,000 lenses in human context. 
  • Their favorite niche would be the fronds of palmetto trees. They also reside along the base of shrubs, and can also be found along piers, wharves, and promenades in tropical climate regions. 
  • Each egg capsule of a palmetto bug contains 30-40 eggs, hatching in between 50-60 days. 
  • Palmetto bugs are a part of the College of Charleston tradition from 1980-1990. They hold a Roach-A-Thon, roach parade, roach stomp and roach dance party. 
  • They are considered as the largest, home-infesting insect in the United States. 
  • They are not just rampant in the South. They can be up in New York and even in Canada, along basements, subway stations, storm drains, steam tunnels, and sewers.  

Related: I Saw One Cockroach. Should I Be Worried?

What attracts the palmetto bug?

Palmetto bugs are attracted to your home in the same vein that regular roaches are niching in your home.

For one, your home is serving them a steady food supply as they can find their way in pantries, compost, food items in trash bins, and non-airtight food containers. They also love starchy materials like clothes, cardboards, and paper. 

They are also attracted to dark and moist places where they can safely breed. Clutter piles of dirty laundry and other recyclables are also harbors for palmetto bugs.

And most of all, they can survive outdoors so if you have lush vegetation outside, you should not be surprised to find litter in your home. 

Related: 12 Bugs That Look Like Cockroaches (But Aren’t)

Palmetto bugs vs cockroaches

palmetto bug vs cockroach

So, let us settle this wide and clear; palmetto bugs are cockroaches but not all cockroaches are palmetto bugs.

Hence, they still have subtle differences when it comes to behavior, nature, and characteristics. This is a rundown of the most important differences of these two insects. 

1. Size

As have been mentioned, palmetto bugs are larger than regular roaches since they grow to 2-3-inches while regular ones are just at 0.5-1.5-inches in size. This is one of the better identifying characteristics of palmetto bugs. 

2. Appearance

When it comes to appearance, palmetto bugs have a wider range of colors. Since they are associated with Florida wood roaches, smoky brown and American roaches, they can be gray and black hued, reddish-brown, or mahogany brown in color.

Like regular roaches, they also have a shiny casing, hairy legs, and long antennae. 

Related: 12 Bugs That Look Like Fleas And Jump

3. Flight

When it comes to regular cockroaches, some species have wings, and some do not. As such, some could fly, and others cannot.

As for palmetto bugs, all of them have wings but they do not fly. They are more gliders, floaters, jumpers of some sort like most regular roaches are.  

4. Life cycle

Since palmetto bugs are also roaches, both follow the same life cycle: egg, four phases of nymph stage and then adulthood.

They start as brown eggs, two phases of mahogany brown nymph stage, two phases of reddish-brown nymph stage, and either gray-black, or reddish-brown color at adulthood. 

5. Habitat

As have been earlier established, palmetto bugs get their name from living among palmetto trees and shrubs.

Their habitats are also found in tropical climate areas. On the other hand, cockroaches can be found in both outdoor and indoor settings where it is dark, damp, and moist. 

6. Diet

One major distinction in their diet would be the fact that palmetto bugs tend to be cannibalistic. They feed on smaller insects and bugs as well as infant roaches.

Nonetheless, in most cases, they are not picky eaters and would dive on anything considered food like typical cockroaches. 

Related: 5 Bugs That Look Like Termites But Aren’t

7. Temperament

Palmetto bugs and cockroaches are shy insects. They would run off immediately when they see larger insects and humans.

When they are threatened or when their habitat is disturbed, they tend to bite. Compared to regular roaches, palmetto bugs have more painful and itchy bites. 

8. Droppings

Palmetto bugs and cockroaches both have dark brown or black molting or shedding. The droppings on the other hand, look like pepper flakes.

They are very tiny, and they are helpful indicators of where they are found around the home. 

9. Most active

Both are nocturnal since they are all roaches. They are active year-round, in moist and humid temperatures between 65-85F. They are fast runners, so they are hard to get rid of immediately. 

10. Pest determination

Since palmetto bugs are technically just roaches too, they are considered as pests. There are as many as 33 disease-causing bacteria associated with roaches and at least six parasitic worms spreading disease amongst humans. 

Related: 10 Bugs That Look Like Bed Bugs But Aren’t


Other than profiling palmetto bugs in contrast with cockroaches, there are also other things that must be understood when it comes to these insects.

There are some subtle differences when it comes to habit and infestation so here are some FAQs about palmetto bugs that you should be aware of. 

Do palmetto bugs infest?

Unfortunately, yes. While they niche in palmetto trees, they look for safe refuge when the temperature drops.

When this happens, they are most likely to niche in pipes, sewers, dark, damp, and moist locations in the home such as basements, drawers, laundry rooms, and the pantry even. Infestation is also more possible if the palmetto trees are close to the main structure. 

Related: Cockroach Infestation- Signs, Health Impact, Treatment, and More…

Does one palmetto bug mean infestation?

Not necessarily. Seeing one palmetto bug at a time means that your home has been penetrated by these pests and you must start natural solutions to inhibit future infestation.

Note that palmetto bugs, like regular cockroaches, are social pests. They breed prolifically and reproduce quickly. It only takes a matter of time before infestation happens. 

How do you identify a palmetto bug infestation?

Again, they share the same infestation signs as that of regular roaches. If you suspect a palmetto bug infestation, here are some pointers to look for. 

  • Musty smell in the basement, laundry room, bathroom, study room. 
  • Droppings that look like pepper flakes and molts or casings in the carpet or areas where they are most likely to niche in.
  • Chew marks in food packs, papers, books, clothes, etc. 
  • Seeing five or more larger roaches in one spot. 
  • Finding a litter of palmetto bugs in soil mounds at the base of palmetto trees and other shrubs. 

Are palmetto bugs dangerous?

Yes. They mostly live outdoors before they find their way into your home. As such, they can be carriers of dangerous bacteria and can spread diseases due to their exposure to outdoor pathogens and parasites.

When they contaminate food items, one can be vulnerable to salmonella or E. coli. 

Other than this, their molts could cause allergic reactions or asthma attacks. And like regular cockroaches, palmetto bugs can also bite when they are threatened. When this happens, expect painful and itchy, swollen bumps in your skin.  

You should also know that they can survive for three straight months without food and one month without water. Being known survivors, you should extinguish them immediately to prevent infestation. 

Related: Cockroach Bites: Signs, Dangers, Prevention, and Treatment (With Pictures)

What is the best way to get rid of palmetto bugs?

There is no one way to get rid of palmetto bugs but you should employ one of the following to exterminate them once and for all. 

Thorough cleaning

An effective way to get rid of palmetto bugs would be to deprive them of a niche.

Hence, clean your home thoroughly by disinfecting probable spots where they could thrive and by vacuuming regular, sealing holes and crevices, fixing leaky faucets and pipes, resealing the pantry and food containers. 

Use natural solutions

Sometimes, insecticides are not always the answer.

Using essential oils (peppermint is the best essential oil to use), vinegar and water, or liquid dish soap and water, as well as neem oil are effective solutions that get rid of palmetto bugs, roaches, and other insects.

You can also use old coffee grounds and position them where you usually see the palmetto bugs. 

Sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth

When ingested, this crystal-like substance can cause dehydration and eventual death for palmetto bugs and roaches alike. Other chemical methods include setting palmetto bug traps, the use of boric acid, and dusters. 

If worse comes to worst and you cannot find these best rated solutions to get rid of palmetto bugs, you could be witnessing a full-blown infestation and you might need professional help. 

Related: How to Get Rid of Cockroaches and Keep Them Away

Do palmetto bugs come up through drains?

Unfortunately, yes. Since they move along sewers and pipes, they can find themselves emerging from different drains in your home.

As such, they can come up from bathtubs, shower drains, floor drains, sinks, and toilets. To address this, you can set metal baskets and stoppers around these drains. 

Would flushing the toilet kill palmetto bugs off before they come up? 

Unfortunately, no. You might not know this but palmetto bugs and all roaches in general, can breathe underwater for 40-minutes.

As such, they can survive in a considerable span of time even when they are submerged in water pipes. So, basically, with this, flushing them off before they come up the toilet is not really effective. 

Does baking soda kill palmetto bugs?

Yes. To make an effective baking soda solution to kill palmetto bugs, you can take a pinch of sugar and baking soda.

Mix these two in a bowl and then sprinkle the solution around the house. Because palmetto bugs and cockroaches love sweet foods and syrups, they would be attracted to the solution. However, the baking soda can poison them and kill them eventually. 

Does rubbing alcohol kill palmetto bugs?

No. You would find a lot of sites tagging rubbing alcohol as an effective solution to kill palmetto bugs, but it should be avoided at all costs.

These insects are fast, so they are most likely to dodge away from alcohol sprays. And even if you spray them around, the scent easily diffuses. They never really do anything permanently. 

Does hairspray kill palmetto bugs?

Interestingly, yes. If you do not have insecticides to shoo them off in an instant, hairspray could be used as an alternative.

The chemicals in the hairspray are sticky, binding in the palmetto bug by the wings and legs. And then, the pungent smell of the chemical suffocates them and kills them off. 

Does lemon juice kill palmetto bugs?

In contrast to other so-called natural remedies, lemon juice does kill palmetto bugs. You can spray them in pantries, basements, and laundry rooms.

You can also directly spray them on the flooring and run the mop using the pure lemon juice. Like essential oils, the strong citrus smell of lemon juice is a natural repellent for palmetto bugs and roaches. 

Can change in temperature kill palmetto bugs?

Again, this is a common misnomer. While it is true that palmetto bugs cannot thrive at 115F and above and 45F and below, palmetto bugs are crafty and smart.

Even if you adjust the heater at specific hours of the day, they will still find ways to enter walls, damp sewers, pipes, and more.

Other than that, homes cannot sustain too hot or too cold temps for a long period so, this should not even be considered as a remedy at all. 

Can mothballs kill palmetto bugs?

No. And this is quite a dangerous substance, as a matter of fact. Moth balls are meant to be placed in closed spaces.

As pesticides, they are now highly regulated by the EPA because of its respiratory effects to humans when inhaled and it is fatally poisonous when ingested, especially by kids and pets. 

Do dead palmetto bugs attract more palmetto bugs or roaches?

Yes. They are cannibals, remember? When a palmetto bug or roach dies, they release a specific pheromone that would alert hungry comrades. They would feed on their own and smaller roaches for that matter.

And since they are scavengers, even their decaying cousin or littermate would pass as food. So, if you see one dead palmetto bug or roach, best sweep them off and take them to the outdoor compost or wherever far from home. 

Where do palmetto bugs lay eggs?

Like regular roaches, palmetto bugs lay their eggs in wall holes, crevices, cracks, and other dark and protected spots where they can freely lay eggs and are near water and food supply.

Female palmetto bugs lay eggs non-stop in the duration of their two-year lifespan. They lay one egg capsule every week, containing 15-40 eggs. They lay at least 90 egg capsules in their entire lifespan. 

Why do I have palmetto bugs even if I have a clean house?

The understructures might be the problem. You cannot inspect the whole home in one shot. There will always be missed wall holes, unknown cracks and crevices, sewers and pipes that cannot be checked.

So, even if you have a clean house, the uninspected part of the structure might be the main problem, attracting palmetto bugs in a clean home. 

Are palmetto bugs afraid of light? 

No. They occasionally come out during daytime and even when the light is on but because of their speed, they are gone before you could even catch them.

In the outdoors, you would find them swarming along park and streetlights, waiting for smaller insects to be caught and be chumped down as food. 

Why do palmetto bugs fly towards you?

This is the reason why some people have developed a strong phobia towards bugs and roaches in general. Sometimes, when they are too threatened by a predator or a human, they get startled and fly towards the direction of another human.

It is just a normal fight or flight situation and would fly away immediately once they have sensed where they landed. 

Are there sounds that palmetto bugs hate? 

Interestingly, yes. And this is true for all cockroaches. They have very sensitive sensory organs like the antennae, cerci, and the hairs on their legs.

As such, they get to sense vibrations, alerting them of danger. This is also the reason why palmetto bugs particularly hate clapping sounds, stomping and door slamming. 

What animals eat palmetto bugs?

Although palmetto bugs can be cannibalistic towards regular cockroaches, there are predators around that feed on them. The following are known palmetto bug predators: 

  • Emerald cockroach wasp
  • Praying mantis
  • Beetles
  • Centipedes
  • Huntsman and brown spiders
  • Lizards, geckos, ringneck snakes and iguanas
  • Birds, frogs, and rodents

What do palmetto bugs eat?

We know palmetto bugs as having cannibalistic tendencies, but year-round, they are considered omnivores. This means that they eat everything.

They chew on plants, they eat smaller insects and roaches and pester home pantries, composts, decaying organic matter, even munch on clothes, papers, and more. 

Do palmetto bugs crawl at you at night?

Yes, but not without purpose. When they crawl at you, it means that your clothes or your sheets are harboring food crumbs or dead skin cells that they can feed on. These are the only probable reasons as to why they crawl on humans at night. 

What happens if a palmetto bug bites you?

It is said that the bite of palmetto bugs sting and are more painful compared to the bite of regular cockroaches.

Their bite causes a lot of swelling and very itchy and red skin bumps, but palmetto bugs’ bites usually cause inflammation and develop pus. Because they are larger than usual roaches, their bite can be as large as your hand. 

How long do palmetto bugs live?

Palmetto bugs can live at a maximum of two years. Their breeding season is during spring and reaches adulthood in time for winter.

The next spring already categorizes them into old-age bugs or roaches. Females tend to live longer than male palmetto bugs. 


To conclude, it is now clear that comparing palmetto bugs and cockroaches is somewhat moot because they are two peas in a pod.

However, with the subtle differences that they have and the many similarities they share, it is quite important to know how they are different for you to understand their nature, behavior, and temperament. 

Nonetheless, both palmetto bugs and cockroaches need to be extinguished because as soon as they settle in your home, they take in with them pathogens, parasites, and bacteria that could be harmful to you and your family.

There are many solutions to mitigate the infestation but they all require aggressively attacking them in their base.