The term "water bug" can be a commonly used nickname for many pests, specifically cockroaches. While there are true water bugs (infraorder Nepomorpha), the name water bug is most commonly used to refer to the Oriental cockroach, or Blatta orientalis.
These cockroaches earned their nickname, because they have a tendency to hang out in wet environments. They have been known to travel to higher floors in apartment buildings by use of the water pipes, and they prefer moist, dirty hiding spots such as garbage chutes and sewage pipes. Oriental cockroaches do not cause structural damage but severe situations can lead to a distinctive, musky, "roachy" odor.
Because they hang out in such nasty environments, Oriental cockroaches carry disease such as gastroenteritis. Their droppings and cast skins can cause allergic and asthmatic reactions in sensitive individuals. If you are dealing with a cockroach situation, be sure to use proper PPE (personal protective equipment), and don't be afraid to call a professional if you need help.
What Do Water Bugs Look Like?
The answer to this question depends on what water bug we are talking about: the true water bug or the Oriental cockroach (more on their differences below). Generally, though, anything called a water bug is tan to dark brown in color, with antennae, a rounded or beetle-like shape, and a hard back.
5 Ways to Get Rid of Water Bugs in Your Home
Address Sanitation Issues
Oriental cockroaches (also known as water bugs) stick to three main food groups: garbage, drain scum, and other grimy things.
When trying to deal with Oriental cockroaches, seek to clean up any possible food and water sources. This includes addressing garbage piles, cleaning out garbage chutes, scrubbing drains, and even raking up leaves from around the foundation of the building. If it's something that could provide an Oriental cockroach with rotting organic material or moisture, it needs to go.
Fix Leaks Quickly
Given their nickname, "water bug," it's clear these creepy crawlies seek to be near water sources. Make sure you're not providing any water for the cockroaches around your home. Large numbers of Oriental cockroaches have been known to pop up in basements or crawlspaces where water is accumulating, so reduce the chances of cockroach activity around your home by fixing leaks quickly.
Not only will this reduce water sources for these water bugs, but moisture-damaged wood can attract other pests, as well.
Seal Them Out
Oriental cockroaches have been known to hang out in wall voids and empty spaces around decks. If you have found them around, take the time to seal off any areas they are accessing with caulk. This will help reduce the likeliness of them making their way into your space.
Keep Plants and Shrubs Maintained
This may not seem like a priority, but keeping the shrubbery and plants around your home trimmed back is one of the best things you can do to avoid attracting water bugs, cockroaches, and other types of pests. When plants and shrubs are allowed to grow too close to the house, they can block vents. This restricts airflow and can create moisture issues under your home. To avoid creating a local insect watering hole under your house, make sure your vents can properly circulate air.
Perform Chemical Treatment
There are a variety of chemical treatments available when it comes to cockroaches. If necessary, many homeowners can attempt chemical control themselves by starting with cockroach bait. Baits can be very effective against cockroaches, especially when placed correctly.
If you have a severe cockroach issue in your home and you don't think baiting will be enough to control it, it may be time to call in a professional pest expert. Be sure to find a licensed company that specializes in Integrated Pest Management.
Signs of Water Bugs in Your Home
Remember, if you're finding water bugs inside, you're likely dealing with Oriental cockroaches. You may be noticing the following signs:
- Sighting black insects around the home
- A wet, musty odor
- Egg casings left around your house
If you have a severe Oriental cockroach issue, it is likely that you are seeing the pests themselves inside your home. They repopulate incredibly quickly. Adult females can live anywhere from 34 to 181 days. During this time, they lay an average of eight egg casings (sometimes up to 18 casings), with each casing containing an average of 14 baby roaches inside. Oriental cockroach females deposit their egg casings near food sources, so keep that in mind while you're searching.
What Causes Water Bugs in Your Home?
Oriental cockroaches (widely known as water bugs) can enter the home in a variety of ways:
- Being carried in on food packages
- Coming in with laundry from the laundromat
- Crawling under the doorway
- Climbing through air ducts
- Scaling water pipes
Large populations of Oriental cockroaches have been found in garbage chutes and in dark, damp areas where they can hide and find moisture, especially in a crawlspace or basement with an unresolved leak. They are not likely to wander far from their harborage area. This means that if you're finding them feeding inside, they're likely hiding nearby, too.
True Water Bugs vs. Oriental Cockroaches
If you're finding these pests inside, they're most likely Oriental cockroaches. Still, knowing precisely whether you're dealing with true water bugs or oriental cockroaches inside can help you better address the issue.
True Water Bugs
Commonly confused with cockroaches due to their similar appearance, true water bugs are tan to brown in color and primarily live in slow-moving bodies of water such as ponds, lakes, or creeks where vegetation is present. They need this vegetation for harborage and hunting, and they can grow to be more than four inches long depending on the species.
Also known as Electric light bugs, these insects are drawn to lights left on at night and will occasionally end up in a swimming pool or backyard pond during their nighttime flights toward a distant porch light.
If by rare chance you do have a true water bug in your pool, be careful! The Giant water bug is also known as the "Toe-biter," as it is likely to bite between the toes if stepped on. Due to the paralyzing venom they use for hunting, their bite can be incredibly painful and can cause lasting damage for some individuals.
These pests are commonly referred to as water bugs because of the damp areas they choose to hide in. While technically very dark brown, their appearance is so dark that it has earned them another common nickname: the black beetle. If you are finding water bugs inside, especially if there's more than one of them, you're likely dealing with Oriental cockroaches.
These insects are slow, do not climb very well, and are not nearly as skittish as other types of cockroaches. The males have fully developed wings but do not fly, and the females do not have fully developed wings, though you can see a small node where the wing would be attached.
Typically found outside
Live in slow-moving bodies of water
Tan to brown in color
Found indoors more often
Live in damp areas
Very dark brown
Where do water bugs come from?
Water bugs, known also as Oriental cockroaches, are one of the few cockroaches that live happily outside. They often live in dirty, damp environments such as sewage pipes, rotting leaf piles, or garbage receptacles. If these pests are ending up inside, it's highly likely that there is a water or food source attracting them.
Will water bugs go away on their own?
It is not likely that they will go away on their own. Start by reducing or eliminating as many food and water sources as possible, including leaky pipes and garbage piles.
Do water bugs bite?
Some types of true water bugs, part of the infraorder Nepomorpha, do bite, and their bite can cause damage. If you are finding water bugs inside your home (especially if you have found more than one), it is more likely that these are Oriental cockroaches, commonly called water bugs for their love of moist environments. Oriental cockroaches do not bite, but they should be addressed quickly. They can carry disease and cause allergic reactions.
Oriental Cockroaches. PennState Extension.
Belostomatidae. Department of Biological Sciences, University of New Hampshire.