American Cockroach

The American cockroach is the largest of the species

The American cockroach, Periplaneta americana, was introduced to the United States from Africa as early as 1625. The American cockroach has spread throughout the world through commerce. It is found mainly in basements, sewers, steam tunnels, and drainage systems.

This cockroach is readily found in commercial and large buildings such as restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, and anywhere food is prepared and stored. The American cockroach is rarely found in houses, however, infestations can occur after heavy rain.

They can develop to enormous numbers, greater than 5,000 sometimes being found in individual sewer manholes. American cockroaches are found outdoors in moist shady areas such as hollow trees, wood piles, and mulch.

They are occasionally found under roof shingles and in attics. The cockroaches dwell outside but will wander indoors to search for food and water or to avoid extreme weather conditions.

American cockroaches have three developmental stages: egg, nymph, and adult. The eggs are laid in capsules that are dark brown, symmetrically shaped, and about 5/16 inches long. The female drops her egg capsule within a day after it is formed. She often drops it in a suitable location near a food source or in a protected area. Each capsule averages 14 to 16 eggs. Usually, one capsule is produced each week and is often glued to a hidden surface with secretions from the female’s mouth.

Each female produces from 15 to 90 egg capsules. The length of the egg stage varies from 29 to 58 days. At room temperature, nymphs hatch out in 50 to 55 days. Young nymphs are grayish brown and after the first few molts become reddish brown.

The nymphal stage varies in length from 160 to 971 days. The number of offspring per year averages 800. Under ideal conditions, an adult female can live up to 15 months, and males for a somewhat shorter period.

Adult American cockroaches average between 1.4” to 1.6” in length, but they can grow to exceed 2”. American cockroaches are reddish-brown in color with a yellow band that outlines the area behind their head. Both males and females have wings and can fly short distances.

The cockroach is divided into three sections; the body is flattened and broadly oval, with a shield-like pronotum covering its head. A pronotum is a plate-like structure that covers all or part of the dorsal surface of the thorax of certain insects. They also have chewing mouth parts, long, segmented antennae, and leathery forewings with delicate hind wings. The third section of the cockroach is the abdomen.

The American cockroach can run 5 feet in one second., which equals a speed of 3.4 mph. That is 50 body lengths in a single second. For animals the size of humans that would be the equivalent of 210 miles an hour!

The secret is in their legs. All six legs have three knees, 18 knees altogether. With so many joints, their movement has precision and accuracy, with very little wasted movement that could slow them down.

Once they get up to speed, they rise on their hind legs and run as humans do, which helps them run even faster. It has a pair of large compound eyes, each having over 3500 individual lenses. It is a very active night insect that shuns light.

American cockroaches are omnivorous and opportunistic feeders that eat materials such as cheese, beer, tea, leather, bakery products, starch in book bindings, manuscripts, glue, hair, flakes of dried skin, dead animals, plant materials, soiled clothing, and glossy paper with starch sizing.

They are particularly fond of fermenting foods. They have also been observed to feed upon dead or wounded cockroaches of their own or other species.

Further Reading


Entomology (University of Florida)
PennState Extension
Mississippi State University Extension

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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