What are Palmetto Bugs & How to Keep Them Out of Your House

Half dreary from sleep, you try not to scream as a sliver of brown scurries across the ceiling. While you wash your hands, another slash of reddish brown flits across your vision. This time, your muffled panic alarms your spouse, who rushes in to figure out what’s wrong.

“It was huge,” you say, then emphasize the point by stretching your fingers wide. To be sure, the critter was an alarming 1-1/2 inches long. Yet what was that… thing?

If you’re from the Carolinas — or anywhere warm and humid — chances are you are intimately familiar with this critter. Like the great debate of whether the word tomato is pronounced “toe-may-toe” or “toe-mah-toe,” it’s purely a matter of semantics whether this winged creature is a cockroach, a palmetto bug, or a waterbug. In any case, here’s the lowdown on the crawling critter that you never want to see darting through your home.

A Rose by Any Other Name…

No matter what you call the insect, they earned the name “palmetto bug” courtesy of where they liked to hide: underneath the palmetto tree, which is a type of palm tree. Though they are commonly referred to as a waterbug, the name is a misnomer. While they like warm, damp places, they don’t live in water. The pests were inadvertently introduced to the United States via trade with Africa.

Palmetto Bug Specs

As the biggest of cockroaches that invade people’s homes, palmetto bugs are able to grow 1-1/2 inches or more, yet can stay as small as 1 inch. They are reddish-brown in color with a cream-colored prothorax and can fly (though they rarely do if temperatures dip below 85 degrees Fahrenheit). Their flight patterns can be best described as rudimentary, as they tend to glide from place to place more than anything. Able to live up to a year or longer, the Palmetto bug goes through 10 to 15 molts before adulthood. Females tend to live longer than males.

Danger Factor

People mistakenly think they’re being “attacked” by palmetto bugs since the critters swarm toward the light when a door is left open. However, the actual danger factor of the insects is minimal. When they do bite, which is rare, the bite is small and red, but not painful or itchy. On the other hand, they can contaminate food with bacteria such as salmonella due to their tendency to hide in unsanitary conditions. They can also instigate health concerns, such as allergies and asthma. Since they love to gorge on decaying food and live in dirty sewers, they carry diseases.

Where They Like to Spend Time

Inside the home, they can often be found under bathtubs, in basements, and in crawl spaces. Since they find great pleasure in the sewer, they frequently enter houses via drainpipes. It’s easy to overlook an infestation until it becomes problematic since palmetto bugs tend to be most active at night. Some early warning signs include: 

  • droppings and shed skin around the home
  • a musty smell where it is damp and dark
  • chew marks on anything that has glue or starch, including book bindings, envelopes, and stamps

Outside the home, palmetto bugs hang out under palm leaves, in woodpiles, under roof shingles, and even in the foundation of homes. To find them, look around:

  • pools and pool sheds
  • foundations
  • hollow trees and under palms
  • sprinkler systems
  • roof shingles
  • sewers

How to Get Rid of Palmetto Bugs

There are some simple things you can do yourself to protect your home from cockroaches.  First, you will want to seal any holes on the exterior of your house where they could be entering your home.  You also want to discard any cardboard laying around the house.   Cockroaches can feed on cardboard and also use it as a place to lay eggs.  Lastly, you will want to make sure that your house, specifically the kitchen and bathrooms, are consistently clean and food isn’t left out overnight.

However, the most efficient and effective way to rid your property of palmetto bugs is to hire a pest control company. They have specially trained technicians, equipment, and techniques to control the pests quickly and prevent them from returning. It’s important to remedy the problem as soon as it becomes evident in order to avoid a heightened risk of disease and allergic reactions.

Clegg’s Pest Control offers both residential and commercial termite and pest control services throughout North and South Carolina. Contact Clegg’s pest management professionals today at (888) 972-0366.