Cockroaches are often misidentified by homeowners. I think nearly everyone would agree that cockroaches are disgusting and quite a nuisance in the home. They come in many different variations, sizes, colors and quantities. They even have different appearances at different stages in their life cycle and these stages even vary from species to species amongst cockroaches.
How do you know then, if the bug you just saw scurrying across the bathroom floor is a cockroach or possibly some other uninvited guest in your home?
Well, unless you take a little time to learn other bugs that look like cockroaches, you may think another species of insect in your home is actually a cockroach. As with all types of pest control, an inaccurate prognosis of the type of pest you are dealing with will set you down the path toward an ineffective pest management strategy. As Sun Tzu famously stated in the art of war “understand your enemy.”
Perhaps the most common insects encountered in peoples’ homes and apartments that are mistaken for cockroaches are water bugs and bed bugs. At first glance the look similar, but keep reading and you will never make this mistake.
Water bugs are actually a species related to cockroaches but there are some marked differences in appearance, habitat, and behavior. Where a common cockroach likes to congregate and happily thrives on leftover food, whatever the dog or cat dropped or what falls behind the stove or fridge, the water bug is an active hunter that lives in and around water bodies such as ponds or small creeks. Water bugs will generally live on tadpoles, insect larvae, small fish, and the occasional dead animal that washes up.
Some species of water bugs have been known to bite and in some areas, they’re known as toe biters instead. Cockroaches don’t go out of their way to take a nip at you, but water bugs do and their bite can be quite painful.
From a quick glance, crickets and grasshoppers can look similar to cockroaches. These harmless visitors can wander in from outside sometimes and disrupt a good night’s sleep with incessant chirping. If this happens, you’ll start looking for ways to find and get rid of crickets (they stop chirping when you get close to them).
Aside from the noise, they are essentially harmless. Crickets eat mainly plant matter and are not in your home because of leftover food. You can tell the difference between a cricket and a cockroach by checking for the telltale cricket legs.
They are very distinct hind legs designed for long-distance jumps. Crickets, like cockroaches, come in ranges of browns and black, making it at times difficult to identify them correctly at a quick glance.
There are about 2000 species of ground beetles in North America and sometimes they wander into the house. They are sometimes mistaken for oriental cockroaches due to their shiny skin. There are so many different kinds of beetles that it can be difficult to make a positive identification. Some of the most common beetles found indoors are June bugs. They range in color from reddish-brown to almost black and their carapace is more rounded. June bugs are beetles that are not interested in your leftovers and live on strictly vegetarian diets.
Asian Longhorn Beetles are newcomers to North America and a threat to our local trees. If you see one in your home, chances are good your trees outside are infested with their larva. These beetles are not generally known to dwell in houses, but they may end up there in search of trees to inhabit. You can check your trees for round exit holes in the bark, a dead giveaway that you have a Longhorn infestation in your garden. These beetles are mostly black in color with whitish-grey splotches.
Not to say they’re any more welcome in your home, bedbugs can sometimes be mistaken for immature roaches or nymphs. It’s important to know the difference to effectively fight either infestation. Bedbugs tend to hide during the day, but they do so in your bedding, mattresses, and any crevices near your sleeping areas.
They live on blood and attack at night, resting during the day. Bedbugs are hard to find unless you search for them or you just happen to see one wander across your pillow. If you wake up covered in itchy swollen and red bite marks, you are probably dealing with bedbugs. Roaches are not largely known for attacking people in their sleep.
Another unwelcome visitor to your home can be the earwig. Though its coloration can be similar to that of the cockroach, you can always tell an earwig from a roach by the prominent set of pincers at the tail end of its abdomen.
These pincers are present in both males and females throughout most of their molting stages, becoming more pronounced as they advance in age. Earwigs live mostly on plant matter and you will usually find them hiding in dark crevices around the house, which can make them tough to get rid of. You can learn more about earwig removal here.
Cicadas are winged blackish brown insects and are responsible for the rhythmic ear-shattering buzz you can hear outside during late summer. They are big, some species can be about 2 inches long.
Cicadas swarm periodically and tend to remain outside in the cover of trees and bushes. Occasionally one of them can wander into your home, but don’t be alarmed, they are completely harmless. They feed on plant matter and they don’t have a bite or sting harmful to humans.
Cockroaches by other names
In different parts of the country, bugs that are, in fact, cockroaches are known by other names like palmetto bugs, croton bugs, or even foreign names, like Cucaracha. There are many different types of cockroaches, the American cockroach being the most prolific. They range in color and size as well as behavior and life cycle, so it can be difficult to discern if you are having an infestation or just a harmless outdoor visitor that strayed into your home.
You can always use roach traps as a precaution and when in doubt, call an expert. This most definitely holds true if you see more than one bug or if the visits are recurring and increase in frequency. The longer you wait to address a cockroach infestation the larger it gets and the more difficult it becomes to eradicate.
Further resources on bugs that look like cockroaches
- Is This a White Cockroach?
- Cockroach Control Manual – Know Your Enemy (Chapter 2) – UNL.edu
- Cockroach Identification by University of Nebraska
- What Baby Cockroaches Usually Mean (HINT: It’s not good!)