Note: For those more squeamish, please note there are no photos of cockroaches in this post. You’re welcome!
Today, we’re answering a commonly asked question from homeowners: are roaches (so prevalent in Florida thanks to our humidity) dangerous to humans, or do they pose any health risk?
Of the 4500 species of cockroaches in the world, only 30 are associated with human habits and considered residential pests. Today we’re talking about the types of roaches indigenous to Florida and how you can avoid infestations. It might be an unpleasant subject, sure, but an important one due to the health risks they pose (oops, I guess that’s what they call a spoiler). Let’s get through it together.
What Types of Cockroaches Are There In Florida?
Florida is a paradise for flora and fauna. Since our state has such a wide variety of insects (many that look the same), it can be challenging to identify which one is invading your home. Cockroaches are no exception.
Here is a brief overview of the most common roaches roaming around Florida homes to help you identify them better (no images as promised, but a quick Google search will return a plethora of examples):
- German cockroach: The German cockroach is one of the easiest to identify because of the two horizontal lines located on the back of its head. They grow to roughly 13 – 16mm and are light brown in color. They do possess wings but don’t often fly. German roaches prefer warm, moist environments and are typically found in containers, boxes, and cupboards.
- American cockroach: This roach species, typically deep red or mahogany in color with yellow circles at the back of their heads, is often mistaken for the Palmetto bug. The American cockroach can grow up 3 inches in length (!) and thrive in outside environments where it’s damp and warm (usually under mulch). They might enter your home searching for food and are more often found in bathrooms and laundry rooms.
- Smokybrown cockroach: The smokybrown roach (often confused with the American cockroach) is a dark brown color with a black head. They measure up to 1/5 inches in length and have wings that extend over their backsides. This species prefers to live in environments with plenty of moisture.
- Asian cockroaches: This species looks similar to the German cockroach but with longer wings that make them strong flyers. They tend to be attracted to light, so if they make their way inside you may find them around lamps or TV screens.
No matter the exact species, roaches in general are disgusting creatures. They will feed on literally anything (including any fallen brethren, finger and toenails, and human eyelashes) and discharge a horrid secretion that creates a “cockroach smell,” which can be difficult to get rid of. In short, you should not feel bad about whipping off your flip-flop to squash them flat.
How Can You Tell the Difference Between a Cockroach and a Palmetto Bug?
Well, you don’t really have to, because contrary to what you might have heard… “Palmetto bug” is just another name for the plain ol’ American cockroach. “Palmetto bug” is simply a regional term.
Check out this blog post for more details on this species and how to prevent (or terminate) an infestation.
Are Cockroaches a Health Risk to Humans?
Yes, in several ways.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences published a report in 2005 that strongly linked cockroaches to childhood allergens, posing a higher risk to those with asthma:
New results from a nationwide study on factors that affect asthma in inner-city children show that cockroach allergen appears to worsen asthma symptoms more than either dust mite or pet allergens.
“These data confirm that cockroach allergen is the primary contributor to childhood asthma in inner-city home environments,” said NIEHS Director Kenneth Olden, Ph.D. “However, general cleaning practices, proven extermination techniques and consistent maintenance methods can bring these allergen levels under control.”
Cockroaches are incredibly unsanitary bugs, living as they do in garbage and sewer systems and feeding on carrion and trash. In 2009 Cambridge University found that household cockroaches can carry up to 30 different species of bacteria:
Pathogenic and potentially pathogenic bacteria represented 54% of all the bacterial identifications. Contamination through external contact is sufficient to ensure bacterial diffusion.
These critters can cause illness by contaminating your food if they scurry over it. The World Health Organization has posited that roaches may have played a significant role in the spread of typhoid fever, cholera, dysentery, diarrhea, salmonella, and more.
How Can Floridians Avoid Cockroach Infestations?
Adult cockroaches can fit through gaps or cracks that are 1/16 of an inch wide, so the first step to avoiding an infestation is to seal any cracks and crevices in your walls and along doors and windows.
Keep your food containers sealed tightly and place cereal, rice, and pasta in jars so they don’t smell the food or easily access it. Avoid keeping food out on the counter, and always, always, always wash fresh fruits and produce before consuming.
Lastly, make sure to promptly fix any water leaks from toilets or sinks, as a water source can attract roaches. You may also want to consider adding “Damp Rid” buckets or bags in more humid areas of your home to further control humidity.
To prevent infestations outside, dispose of garbage correctly and sanitize bins regularly. Keep your foliage well-trimmed, and don’t plant shrubs near the exterior of your home.
How to Kill Roaches
Aside from the tried and true whip-off-a-show-and-smack-it approach (which, while effective, can be a bit messy) a can of bug spray can handily kill a few cockroaches. If you have a severe infestation, you’ll need to consider fumigation services. Standard bug spray won’t be able to penetrate inside your walls or under your floors where roaches may be hiding.
Fumigation services can eradicate your home from these annoying pests quickly and safely. We’ll help you identify the types of cockroaches you’re dealing with and advise on the best course of action to get rid of them quickly and thoroughly.
Todd Stebleton is the owner and operator of Universal Pest Control, a family-owned business for over 25 years in Ormond Beach, Florida. He and his wife Natalie are proud to have built a company focused on conducting business with honesty and integrity: keeping customers first, protecting the environment, and providing trustworthy, personal service.
Universal: Honest, Environmentally Friendly Pest Control