Palmetto Bug: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on January 16, 2023
4 min read

“Palmetto bug” is a term often used to refer to several species of cockroaches. Many people think palmetto bugs look creepy and scary. These pests also pose a serious threat to human health and property. They can infest buildings and outdoor spaces, like basements, compost piles, and kitchens. Here’s everything you need to know if you suspect you have a palmetto bug infestation. 

The palmetto bug is a general name for many large outdoor — or peridomestic — cockroaches. These insects may accidentally get carried or wander into homes. 

The term palmetto bug doesn’t include the smaller German cockroach. These tan cockroaches always live indoors and measure ½ to ⅝ inches long at maturity. 

What do palmetto bugs look like? A palmetto bug’s appearance varies based on its species. This pest is known for its large size, typically measuring from 1 ¼ to 2 inches long. Common palmetto bug colors include black, dark brown, and tan. 

Do palmetto bugs fly? American, male brown-banded, and smoky brown cockroaches can fly in warm temperatures. 

What do palmetto bugs eat? The palmetto bug is an omnivorous scavenger that can eat almost any material, including baked goods, book bindings, grease, leather, meats, starchy foods, and wallpaper paste. 

The palmetto bug’s diet varies somewhat by species. For instance, the brown-banded cockroach tends to eat starchy foods like potatoes and rice, while the Oriental cockroach prefers decaying foods and garbage. 

Palmetto bug life cycle. All species of the palmetto bug have similar life cycles with three stages of development. 

The palmetto bug begins life as an egg. A female cockroach deposits 20 to 50 eggs in an ootheca, which looks like a leathery capsule. The female may drop the ootheca or glue it to a surface, depending on the species. 

The eggs hatch into nymphs. These immature palmetto bugs are smaller than adults and have undeveloped wings ranging from tiny pads to longer wings. Nymphs molt 10 to 13 times over one to two years, growing larger each time until they mature into adults. 

Adult palmetto bugs look soft and white immediately after molting, but their skin darkens and hardens into a brown or black shell. 

Larger adult cockroaches can breed one to three generations yearly, so the population can multiply rapidly if left unchecked.

Many cockroach species fall into the category of palmetto bugs. Here’s a quick overview of some of the most common types you may encounter in your home. 

American cockroach (Periplaneta americana). This palmetto bug has a dark reddish-brown body with a light-colored pronotum covered with yellow markings. It runs quickly, which can make it difficult to catch. It can grow 1 ½ to 2 inches long and often lives in palmetto trees along the coast.

Brown-banded cockroach (Supella longipalpa). This smaller cockroach has a narrower body and two distinctive yellow-brown bands running horizontally across its back. Most adult brown-banded cockroaches are ⅝ inches. You can typically find this cockroach in public buildings, and it enjoys hiding in spaces like behind picture frames and inside appliances. 

Florida woods cockroach (Eurycotis floridana). This species is reddish brown or black and measures 1.2 to 1.6 inches long. It moves more slowly than other cockroaches and releases smelly defensive chemicals. 

Oriental cockroach (Blatta orientalis). This variety reaches 1 to 1 ¼ inches long. It has a shiny, dark brown or black body, and females have small wings. Outdoors, the Oriental cockroach lives in stumps and trees. Indoors, it prefers cold and damp spaces like cellars. 

Smoky brown cockroach (Periplaneta fuliginosa). The adult smoky brown has a dark brown body and measures 1 to 1 ½ inches long. Juvenile smoky browns have black bodies with white wings. They live in outdoor woodpiles, outbuildings, and garages.

Palmetto bugs like the Florida woods cockroach live in southeastern America in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi. 
Typical outdoor palmetto bug habitats include: 

  • Palm trees
  • Rotting trees
  • Sewer systems 
  • Wood piles

Indoors, you may find palmetto bugs in dark, moist areas, including: 

  • Basements
  • Bathtubs
  • Crawl spaces
  • Garbage storage sites
  • Room corners
  • Sewers
  • Storage rooms

Palmetto bugs are usually nocturnal, so you’re more likely to see them crawling around at night. Other signs of a palmetto bug infestation include:

  • Egg cases
  • Fecal material smears
  • Fecal pellets

Regularly inspect food storage areas, basements, and other potential hiding spots for signs of palmetto bugs.

Certain conditions can attract palmetto bugs into your home, like: 

  • Cracks and crevices that bugs can squeeze through
  • Food sources like garbage cans and sink strainers
  • Indoor plants 
  • Outdoor shrubbery 
  • Standing water, including leaky pipes and pet drinking dishes
  • Torn window screens
  • Unsealed sewer vents

Eliminating hiding spaces, food sources, and water can help prevent a palmetto bug infestation.

Palmetto bugs pose numerous risks to human and pet health. 

Palmetto bug allergy. Many people have a cockroach allergy. Symptoms of this condition include coughing, itchy skin, nasal congestion, red eyes, and sneezing. Children and adults may need medical treatment if exposure to cockroaches triggers an asthma attack

Do palmetto bugs bite? Palmetto bugs don’t bite, but their thick leg spines may scratch humans or pets. 

Palmetto bug viruses. These pests can carry several diseases, including Entamoeba histolytica, Salmonella typhimurium, and the poliomyelitis virus.

You can use several methods to eliminate palmetto bugs. Here are a few common approaches: 

Chemical control. You can use bait stations, gel baits, liquid baits, or insecticide spray to kill palmetto bugs. Keep bait out of reach of children and pets, and read the directions carefully to ensure you’re applying chemicals safely. 

Dust. Placing boric acid and silica gel in cracks and crevices can help eliminate palmetto bugs. Don’t apply dust near food sources or plants.

Perimeter treatment. You can apply outdoor products with carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, and diazinon to exterior spaces where palmetto bugs may enter, like foundation walls and doorways. 

Maintaining a clean living space and using proper insect treatments can help you eliminate a palmetto bug infestation.