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Palmetto Bug (Florida Woods) 16 Surprising Facts

August 25, 2016
Palmetto bug on bread

Commonly found in the hot, humid state of Florida, the palmetto bug (pronounced as “palm meadow bug”) is a nuisance – to say the least. But what many people don’t realize is that the palmetto bug is actually just a common roach.

Whether you’re dealing with one or a major infestation of palmetto bugs, it helps to know the facts about these critters, so you can plan your attack wisely.American cockroach isolated on the white.

1. What Are Palmetto Bugs?

The term “palmetto bugs” is used to describe a number of species of roaches found in the southern U.S.

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These bugs got their name because of where they like to hide: underneath the leaves of palmetto trees, which is a type of palm tree.

People also call these critters water bugs, flying water bugs, palmetto water bug, southern cockroach and Bombay canary. But these nicknames can be confusing because roaches (a.k.a. palmetto bugs) don’t live in water – although they do prefer warm, damp places.

Like other roaches, the palmetto bug is reddish-brown in color. To get a better idea of what these creatures look like, try searching for a palmetto bug picture on the web.

Read more about Roaches

2. Do Palmetto Bugs Lay Eggs?

Yes. When a female is ready to breed, she lets other potential mates know this by raising her wings up in the air and releasing a special pheromone. Males signal their acceptance by flapping their own wings, and if she accepts, the two will mate.

After just a single mating session, female palmetto bugs can lay fertile eggs for the rest of their lives.

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A few days after mating, the female will create her first oothecae, which is a casing that contains eggs. She’ll lay the eggs in a safe place where they are not likely to be disturbed.

Females typically lay one oothecae per week for 15-20 weeks. It takes 50-55 days for palmetto bug eggs to hatch into nymphs.

3. How Big Do Palmetto Bugs Get?

Palmetto bugs are one of the biggest bugs to invade homes, with many spanning as long as 1.5” It’s no surprise, then, that people sometimes call them the giant palmetto bug.

While these bugs can be as long as 1.5”, they can also be as small as 1”.

4. How Long Do Palmetto Bugs Live?

Palmetto bugs can live for up to a year, sometimes longer – especially the females.

It takes roughly 50-55 days for nymphs to hatch. Before reaching adulthood, these bugs will go through 10-15 molts, with one occurring before they even leave the egg. It can take anywhere from 6-12 months for a nymph to reach adulthood.

When baby palmetto bugs hatch, they are typically less than a quarter-inch long and greyish brown in color. As they molt and grow, these bugs will change color and their bodies will harden. Eventually, they reach a reddish-brown color and a length of 1”-1.5”.

5. Are Palmetto Bugs Dangerous?

They can be. Palmetto bug is just a nickname for the American cockroach, which has been known to make people sick. They can bite, too, but bites are rare and harmless.

6. Do Palmetto Bugs Carry Disease?

They can. The roach likes to hang around in dirty places, like sewers and garbage. They have been known to eat feces as well. You can only imagine what types of bacteria these bugs come in contact with.

That’s all well and good until they infiltrate your home. Palmetto bugs, just like the common roach, will bring that bacteria into your home. And if they nibble on your food, you can easily get food poisoning.

Roaches have been known to carry Salmonella, cholera, polio, staphylococcus, E. Coli and more.

Palmetto bugs can also cause problems for people with asthma and allergies. Many people are allergic to a certain protein in roaches that can cause shortness of breath, rashes and more. People with asthma sometimes find it hard to breathe when roaches are around – especially if there’s a serious infestation.

7. Do Palmetto Bugs Bite?

They can, although it’s rare. Palmetto bugs are more likely to avoid humans because they perceive us as a threat.

Roaches also prefer to eat plants, garbage and decaying flesh, so living humans are usually not considered a tasty treat.

If anything, these bugs will try biting your fingernails, hair or eyelashes. And while their bites are harmless, it’s still important to keep an eye on the wound (and keep it clean) to prevent infection.

8. Do Palmetto Bugs Fly?

Palmetto bugs do have wings, and they can fly. It’s not uncommon for these bugs to fly a short distance or glide if launching off of a tree or building.

While they are capable of flight, most of these bugs won’t take to the skies in cooler weather, say below 85F.

9. Do Palmetto Bugs Make Noise?

While you may hear the sound of these bugs skittering across the floor or counters, palmetto bugs are generally very quiet. They don’t make a hissing sound like the Madagascar hissing roach, but you may hear scampering sounds or the sound of their fluttering wings.

Palmetto bugs don’t want to give their position away, so they stay relatively quiet. The last thing they want is for you to find them and disturb them while they’re out hunting for food.

10. Why Do Palmetto Bugs Come Inside?

What attracts palmetto bugs? Why do they come inside of your home?

Like other roaches, palmetto bugs love warm, humid environments. If you’re finding them in your home, it’s because you’re offering just the right type of shelter. You probably have food and water, too, which also attracts them.

Once inside your home, these bugs will look for the dampest and darkest spot to hide out. Basements are a popular hangout, but they may also hang out behind your appliances, in wall cracks, crawlspaces and underneath floor drains.

11. How Do Palmetto Bugs Get in The House?

Palmetto bugs are resourceful, crafty bugs. Because their wings and bodies are flat, they can crawl through the tiniest of spaces. A crack in the foundation, a gap underneath the door or a tiny hole near a window gives these roaches just enough space to sneak in.

They may also walk right through your front door as you’re coming home. You may even bring them home with you. It’s not uncommon for roaches to hide in boxes, especially if they were stored in a damp place. Roaches love the glue on box tape, so they’re attracted to them. It’s also possible to transport them into your home after eating at a restaurant or staying in a hotel.

Some palmetto bugs will come up through the drains, too.

12. Do Palmetto Bugs Live in Palm Trees?Palm trees with shadow isolated on white.

Don’t let their name confuse you: the palmetto bug does not live in palm trees. The palmetto beetle (a.k.a. the Palmetto Weevil), on the other hand, does live in palm trees. The Palmetto Weevil only infects palm trees and won’t be found in your home.

13. Where Do Palmetto Bugs Live?

If they don’t live in palm trees, where do palmetto bugs live? These bugs are extremely adaptable, which means they can live just about anywhere. If the weather outdoors is particularly wet, too cold or too hot, these bugs seek out shelter – usually homes.

These roaches usually live in large groups, sometimes in the thousands, and prefer to take up shelter in dark, damp places.

The reason why palmetto bugs are so common in Florida is because the tropical climate is ideal for them. These pests are commonly found under, in or near:

  • Palmetto branches
  • Home foundations
  • Hollow trees
  • Roof shingles
  • Sprinklers
  • Pools
  • Crawlspaces and basements
  • Sewers
  • Drains
  • Dirty laundry piles
  • Woodpiles

As long as the area is dark and moist, roaches will likely consider it a prime location for hiding out or creating a nest. Females will typically only lay their oothecae in deeply hidden, dark locations where the eggs won’t be disturbed. That’s why it can be so difficult to find and destroy a nest.

14. What Do Palmetto Bugs Eat?

Palmetto bugs do not discriminate when it comes to food. They will eat just about anything and everything they can get their hands on, but if they were in charge of the menu, they’d eat:

  • Sweets
  • Starches
  • Meat

Roaches are omnivorous creatures, just like humans, which is why they’re often found in our homes. They’ll eat both vegetables and meat – fresh or rotting. And if one of their fellow kind dies, they’ll eat their decaying body, too. Yes, palmetto bugs can be cannibals at times.

If you’re seeing these critters in your home, check your kitchen for food scraps. Anything from overflowing garbage to opened bags of food and rotting fruit can attract these bugs.

15. How Can You Tell If You Have a Palmetto Bug Infestation?

You think you might have an infestation, but you’re still not sure. How can you know if you’re dealing with a lone bug, or a nest?

Palmetto bugs usually travel in groups of hundreds or thousands, and as you know, they prefer places that are dark and damp. Most people don’t even know there’s a problem until their presence becomes a problem (e.g. an infestation).

If you’re seeing one of these roaches out in the open during the day, that’s a clear sign of an infestation. These bugs will not risk venturing out near humans and during the day (when they’re naturally less active) unless their population is becoming overrun and food is scarce.

Some of the most common signs of a palmetto bug infestation include:

  • Palmetto bug droppings, which look like pepper grinds
  • Musty or oily smell
  • Shed skin
  • Chew marks on book bindings, envelopes and stamps (palmetto bugs love the glue on these products)
  • Dead palmetto bugs

And if you and your family are getting sick, this may be a sign of an infestation, too. These bugs are known to cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems due to contaminated food. They may also irritate people with allergies and asthma, which can be a sign that you’re dealing with more than a single roach.

16. What Kills Palmetto Bugs?

There are several ways to get rid of palmetto bugs – and all of the methods used to kill roaches will work on these bugs because they are roaches.

You can also contact a professional pest control company to see if they offer palmetto bug extermination (they probably do).

But if you’re looking to take the DIY approach, here two of the most effective methods:

1. Boric Acid

Boric acid is the go-to method for killing palmetto bugs and all other types of roaches. Available in powder form, boric acid kills roaches through ingestion or externally.

When roaches walk through the powder, it sticks to their feet, which means they’ll bring it back to the nest. When the powder comes in contact with the roach’s body, it tears through its exoskeleton and makes its way into the body. Once inside, the boric acid will absorb moisture and cause the roach to dehydrate to death.

The same thing will happen to other roaches if they come in contact the acid after the affected roach brings it back to the nest. They may also eat other dead affected roaches, and wind up dying themselves in the process.

2. Roach Motels

Roach traps, a.k.a. roach motels, can also help you get rid of your palmetto bug problem. These traps contain both lures and poisons to attract the bugs, and then kill them.

The only drawback here is that the poison won’t be taken back to the other roaches, and you’ll wind up with dead roaches near the traps. You’ll need to be diligent at cleaning up the dead bodies, and you’ll also need to be patient in making sure they all die.

Many people prefer to use these traps to find out where the roaches are coming from, and then use boric acid near any openings by the trap to tackle a larger group.

Don’t forget to seal up any cracks, openings or gaps in your home to keep the palmetto bugs from coming back inside. And remember – a clean home will help keep these critters out, but if you live in an apartment, you may need to continuously use the two methods above to keep the population under control.

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