German or American Cockroaches Could Be in Your Home

Identify the two most common breeds

European Cockroach -Ectobius lapponicus-, female, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany
Hans Lang / Getty Images

Cockroaches are considered by many to be one of the most disgusting of all bug; they are definitely dirty, spreading germs and possibly disease wherever cockroaches walk and run. All too often, they are walking across food and food-preparation surfaces to spread contamination while they nibble on crumbs.

Unfortunately, cockroaches are also one of the most common of all insects and having been around for more than 300 million years, cockroaches are very good at survival. Additionally, because cockroaches are nocturnal, moving around at night and hiding during the day, their populations can build to huge numbers before you even know they are in your home.

Of the approximately 50 cockroach species that inhabit the U.S., the German cockroach and the American cockroach are two of the most common species that infest homes, restaurants, hotels and other establishments. There are, in fact, few places in the U.S. where these species are not found. This article provides identifying and characteristic information on these two species.

About the German Cockroach (Blattella germanica)

  • Identification: The German cockroach is the smallest of the common cockroaches, and the most prevalent
    • Length: 1/2 to 5/8 inch long
    • Body: wide and flat
    • Color: tan to light brown to dark brown, with two dark brown stripes on the body
    • Unique characteristics: This cockroach's size is its most identifying characteristic. Like most cockroaches, it has wings but cannot fly.
  • Feeds on: They prefer starches, sweets, grease, and meat products, but will eat just about anything, including garbage.
  • Found in: Seeking warm, moist areas near food and water, the German cockroach is most likely to be found in food areas, kitchens, and bathrooms
  • Habits and Behavior: German cockroaches are primarily found indoors, but a home or building can become infested when the cockroaches hitch a ride in a person's bag, backpack, suitcase or even grocery bag and get carried in from an infested site.
  • Breeding: The German cockroach female protects her offspring by carrying her egg capsule with about 40 eggs inside at the end of her body until the eggs are ready to hatch. She then drops the capsule for hatching. Each female can produce up to eight egg capsules (about 320 baby cockroaches) in her lifetime.
  • Fun Fact: The German cockroach is so prolific, a single egg-carrying female in a home or building can lead to the generation of more than 30,000 offspring in a single year.

About the American Cockroach (Periplaneta americana)

  • Identification: The American cockroach is one of the largest of the common cockroaches:
    • Length: 1.5 inches long
    • Color: a reddish-brown body with a light brown center and outer edges of a yellowish hue.
    • Unique characteristics: Both the male and female have wings, but they glide rather than literally fly.
  • Feeds on: The American cockroach primarily feeds on decaying organic matter and sweets but, as a scavenger, it will eat just about anything, including paper, hair, cloth and dead insects.
  • Found in: dark, moist sites, such as basement, bathrooms, kitchens, drains, sewers
  • Habits and Behavior: The American cockroach is found both indoors and outside, and will infest structures by coming in from outdoors, particularly after a heavy rain or in search of food and water; being carried in with packages or belongings, or tunneling in through sewer lines.
  • Breeding: The female does not carry her egg capsule like the German cockroach does, rather she drops it, or even glues it, into a suitable site within a day of it being formed. Egg capsules carry only about 16 eggs, but she can produce up to 14 in her lifetime.
  • Fun Fact: This is one horror movie that can truly happen: American cockroaches can come into a home from the sewer system, making their way through plumbing traps and swimming up into toilets.

Control

In general, cockroaches can be controlled through a combination of sanitation and traps, baits and/or chemicals. However, because every cockroach species vary, so too will its control.