Palmetto Bug or Cockroach? How to Tell the Difference

In some regions of the United States, especially the Southeast, many people use the term “palmetto bugs” to describe certain types of cockroaches. Not all cockroaches, however, are palmetto bugs. Typically, smoky-brown cockroaches and American cockroaches found in the American Southeast are called palmetto bugs while others are not. Our pest control specialists are available to help eradicate any cockroach from your home or business, including palmetto bugs.

What is a Palmetto Bug?

To begin, “palmetto bug” isn’t a scientific term. When it’s used, it refers to large-sized cockroaches in the Southeast U.S. region. Palmetto bugs earn their moniker by the tendency to live in palmetto trees and shrubs, which have distinct fan-like leaves and grow in hot and humid climates.

Palmetto bugs grow to 1 ½ to 2 inches as adults. Smoky-brown varieties have a dark-colored body with a uniform appearance. American cockroaches usually have a reddish and brown color, and they may even have light markings around their heads.

Palmetto bugs not only reside on palmetto trees, but also take shelter inside homes. Areas that are most likely to be infested with the pest include bathrooms, kitchens, crawlspaces, garbage cans, basements, septic tanks, and attics. Palmetto bugs tend to plague homes when temperatures cool, and they need to locate a warm and moist area to nest.

Is There a Difference Between a Palmetto Bug and a Cockroach?

Homeowners often wonder how to tell a palmettos bug versus a cockroach. However, “palmetto bug” is just a regional term used to describe a species of cockroach. There is one distinction, however: Typically, a cockroach is referred to as a palmetto bug if the pest resides indoors and outdoors. With over 70 species of cockroaches in the United States, this describes only two types. As a rule, if you see a cockroach indoors in the Southeast, you can refer to it as a palmetto bug.

Are Palmetto Bugs Dangerous?

Palmetto bugs pose a small health risk when an infestation occurs at your home. The cockroaches can contaminate food items because they can carry harmful bacteria like salmonella. Palmetto bugs that reside in unsanitary conditions, such as sewer drains and bathroom pipes, can spread the germs by crawling across dishes, counters, and food.

In addition, allergic reactions can occur in homes where palmetto bug infestations occur. Symptoms appear due to an allergic response to the pest’s fecal matter and shed skin. Signs of an allergic reaction to palmetto bugs include hives, sneezing, itching, and difficulty breathing.

Palmetto bugs don’t tend to bite, but in rare cases, the pests have bitten a human. Bites aren’t painful but can result in small, red skin irritation.

What Attracts Palmetto Bugs?

Knowing what attracts palmetto bugs helps you stop any future infestations. Any type of access to food and water increases your chances of attracting palmetto bugs. If you have leaky faucets or pipes in the house, you have an increased likelihood of an infestation. Any type of food or food waste left out could also be attractive to a palmetto bug, including pet food. Clutter piles also attract palmetto bugs, including dirty clothes or stacks of recyclables. Holes and cracks in your home provide entry and exit points for palmetto bugs, so prevention methods should include making repairs and sealing window frames, doorframes, and cabinets.

How Do You Get Rid of Palmetto Bugs?

Ask anyone who’s lived in the Southeast for a while, and they’ll tell you: It’s not easy. DIY products won’t effectively eliminate palmetto bugs, but you can use preventative techniques to reduce the risk of the pests infesting your home. Clean up after mealtimes and store all items in airtight containers. Keep bathrooms and kitchens clean and dry with any spills mopped up quickly. Address leaky pipe issues, and never leave sinks and tubs with any water in them.

Remember to contact pest control technicians at the first sign of palmetto bugs to discuss treatment options. Carolina Pest Management has served the Carolinas for nearly a century, and we understand the challenge of eradicating and preventing palmetto bugs. Contact us today to tell us about your pest problem, and we’ll offer you some treatment solutions.


By Kristin Dodd

Kristin Dodd, the President of Carolina Pest Management, has been with the company full-time for over 20 years, but has been a part of the family-owned business for much longer. She is currently an active board member of the North Carolina Pest Management Association, and was the President from 2010-2011. She is a licensed operator in...

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