8 Types of Roaches and How to Tell Them Apart

Cockroaches are one of the most widespread pests in the world. They come in many different species, each with its own characteristics. Knowing how to identify the various types of roaches can help you better understand and control potential infestations. Here is an overview of 8 common roach species and tips for telling them apart.

German Cockroach

The German cockroach is one of the smallest roach species, measuring just 1/2 to 5/8 inches long when fully grown. They are light brown to tan in color and have two dark stripes on the pronotum (the area behind the head).

Distinguishing Features:

  • Small size and rapid, darting movements
  • Two dark stripes on pronotum
  • Egg capsule is light brown and less than 0.3 inches long

The German cockroach thrives in warm environments like kitchens, restaurants, grocery stores, apartment buildings, etc. They reproduce quickly and can form large infestations. Signs of a German roach problem include seeing live or dead roaches, molted exoskeletons, egg cases, and dark spots from roach feces.

American Cockroach

The American cockroach is the largest roach species found in homes, growing up to 1 1/2 inches long. They are reddish brown with a yellowish margin around the pronotum. Immature roaches are more grayish.

Distinguishing Features:

  • Very large size
  • Reddish brown color with yellow bands around pronotum
  • Egg capsule is reddish brown and about 0.3 to 0.4 inches long

American roaches prefer damp, humid environments and are common in basements, crawl spaces, sewers, and steam tunnels. They forage for food at night and can produce a foul odor. You may find them entering homes through open drains or cracks in the foundation.

Oriental Cockroach

Also known as waterbugs, Oriental cockroaches are large, measuring 1 to 1 1/4 inches in length. The females are dark reddish brown to black, while males are black. Nymphs are reddish brown.

Distinguishing Features:

  • Shiny dark body
  • Lacks stripes or bands on pronotum
  • Foul, fermented odor

Oriental roaches prefer damp, cool places like trash rooms, basements, and drains. They need high humidity levels to survive. Home invasions often occur when they migrate from sewers or drains during droughts or dry weather.

Brownbanded Cockroach

Brownbanded roaches are smaller, about 1/2 to 5/8 inches long. As the name suggests, they have faint yellowish bands across their brownish bodies. The bands are more prominent on nymphs.

Distinguishing Features:

  • Bands across wings and abdomen
  • Active climbers on walls, furniture, etc.
  • Egg case is dark reddish brown and less than 0.3 inches long

Brownbanded roaches can live in drier environments than other species. They are found behind picture frames, clocks, furniture, and in closets where they feed on starchy materials. Their small size enables them to sneak in through tiny cracks and crevices.

Smokeybrown Cockroach

The smokeybrown roach is the largest species in North America, reaching 1 1/2 inches at maturity. They are very dark brown to black with a glossy appearance. The wings do not fully cover the abdomen.

Distinguishing Features:

  • Very large size
  • Uniformly dark brown to black
  • Active fliers
  • Strong odor

Smokeybrown roaches live outdoors in mulch, firewood piles, trees, etc. but can invade homes through small openings. They are drawn to lights and may congregate near outdoor lighting. You’ll often find them near chimneys, attics, and upper floors.

Australian Cockroach

Australian roaches look similar to American roaches but are slightly smaller at around 1 1/4 inches long. They are reddish brown with a pale yellow band around the edge of the thorax. The wings are also edged in pale yellow.

Distinguishing Features:

  • Reddish brown body with yellow/cream edges
  • Distinct yellow band around thorax
  • Wings edged in yellow

Australian roaches prefer tropical climates but can infest homes, restaurants, zoos, etc. They live in moist garbage areas and sewer systems and enter buildings through drains and pipes. Their droppings have a musty odor.

Wood Cockroach

Wood cockroaches are also known as Pennsylvania wood cockroaches. They are large, around 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches long, and yellowish brown to dark brown. Males are uniformly brown while females have lengthwise black stripes.

Distinguishing Features:

  • Yellowish brown to nearly black
  • Broad body shape
  • Males uniform in color while females have black stripes

As the name implies, wood cockroaches live in forests and wooded areas. They can become indoor pests when they migrate into homes through cracks, vents, fireplaces, and plumbing openings. They are attracted to lights and can often fly.

Surinam Cockroach

The Surinam cockroach is also known as the greenhouse cockroach due to its preferred tropical habitat. They are about 1 inch long and chocolate brown with faint paler bands across the wings.

Distinguishing Features:

  • Smaller size
  • Chocolate brown color with pale bands on wings
  • Inflates abdomen and hisses when disturbed

Surinam cockroaches need very warm, humid conditions. They live in greenhouses but can infest homes with poor ventilation, basements, laundries, or boiler rooms. They emit a rotten cabbage odor.

Tips for Identification

  • Size – Compare roach size to a dime or quarter. The very small German roaches are about dime sized while large American and smokybrown roaches equal a quarter in length.
  • Color – Note the overall body color as well as any distinct markings like bands, stripes, or colored edges on the wings or pronotum.
  • Shape – Some species like wood roaches have a broad, flattened body while others are more oval shaped.
  • Antennae – The length of antennae provides clues too. Large roach species have very long antennae compared to smaller ones.
  • Habitat – Identifying where you see the roaches and where they congregate helps pinpoint the species.
  • Behavior – Some roaches actively fly while others prefer to run and climb. nocturnal/diurnal activity patterns are also useful identification cues.

Knowing what type of roach you are dealing with will help you locate nesting sites, entry points, and food/water sources so you can control them more effectively. If you are unsure of the species, it’s best to have a pest control professional inspect and identify roach populations. With the right information, you can target control measures and stop roach problems in their tracks.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most common roaches found indoors?

The four roach species most likely to infest homes are the German, American, Oriental, and brownbanded cockroaches. Their small size enables them to sneak indoors through tiny cracks and gaps.

How can you tell male and female roaches apart?

Males are usually smaller with longer antennae and narrower bodies. Females have wider abdomens to accommodate egg production. In some species, females have distinct striping patterns that males lack.

Do roaches prefer light or dark areas?

Most roaches shy away from light and are nocturnal. However, American, smokybrown, and Australian cockroaches are sometimes attracted to lights.

Can roaches climb smooth surfaces?

Yes, roaches have sticky pads on their feet that allow them to climb walls, counters, furniture and even glass. Smaller species like German roaches are especially good climbers.

How fast can roaches run?

Some roaches can run nearly 4 feet per second, making them extremely speedy insects. Their rapid movement and ability to squeeze into tiny crevices makes them tough to catch.

Do roaches bite humans?

While not common, large roach species like American and Oriental roaches will sometimes bite people. The bites are not poisonous but can cause allergic skin reactions in sensitive individuals.

What smells attract roaches?

Roaches are drawn to food smells and sources of moisture. Foul odors from trash, drains, damp wood, and fermented substances can lure many species indoors. Keeping things clean and dry is key.


Knowing the differences between roach species can significantly improve control efforts. Identifying key physical characteristics, habitats, and behaviors provides valuable clues to the type of roaches present. This allows for targeted inspections to find nesting sites and apply suitable insecticides. By taking time to correctly identify roach species, you gain useful insights to eliminate current and future infestations. With vigilance and prompt action, it is possible to prevent roaches from establishing themselves in your home.

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