Sometimes mistakenly called American cockroach, the palmetto bug (pronounced “palm meadow bug”) can be found skittering around homes in areas where the climate is damp and humid. It’s not uncommon to see palmetto bugs in Florida, where the weather is usually hot and humid all summer. But you’ll also find these creepy-crawly critters in other areas of the southern U.S.
If you’ve spotted a palmetto bug or two crawling the walls in your home, there’s a good chance there’s more hiding somewhere nearby. While it will require some diligence and patience on your part, you can get rid of these pests without calling an exterminator – as long as the infestation hasn’t gotten out of control.
Table of Contents
- What’s the Difference Between a Palmetto Bug and American Cockroach?
- How Do Palmetto Bugs Get in The House?
- Do Palmetto Bugs Bite?
- Signs of Infestation
- DIY Palmetto Bug Control
- How to Prevent Palmetto Bugs
What’s the Difference Between a Palmetto Bug and American Cockroach?
While still considered a type of roach, palmetto bugs are not American cockroaches. They aren’t German cockroaches either, but people often mistake these bugs for one of these other two species.
The key difference between a palmetto bug and other types of roaches is that the palmetto is primarily found in Florida and other coastal states. Yes, you’ll find the American cockroach in Florida and other parts of the U.S. as well. But palmetto bugs differ slightly in body shape, size and color.
All three species look similar, although German cockroaches have smaller wings and aren’t great flyers, and they all behave similarly.
Chances are, if you live in Florida or another town along the coast, you’re dealing with a palmetto bug.
Fun fact: Palmetto bugs are often called water bugs even though they do not live in water.
How Do Palmetto Bugs Get in The House?
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If you know anything about roaches, you know that they can be crafty little critters. They’ll find their way into even the smallest of openings in your home. Palmetto bugs can easily make their way indoors through:
- Openings under doors
- Cracks in the foundation, basement or walls
- Gaps in windows
- The attic
- Right through the front or back door
Palmetto bugs can get into your home without you even realizing it – until it’s too late.
What Attracts Roaches?
Palmetto bugs are roaches, and roaches are attracted to two main things: water and food. You have a kitchen pantry stocked with food and pipes that bring you fresh water. Your home is like a five-star resort for palmetto bugs.
If you’re seeing roaches in your home, there’s a good chance you have food lying around somewhere that’s attracting them.
- It could be garbage outside.
- It could be an opened bag of crackers you forgot about in the back of the cupboard.
- It could be a piece of candy your child kicked under the stove.
And If you have a leaking pipe somewhere in your home, they may be attracted by that as well.
Do Palmetto Bugs Make Noise?
If you’re not sure whether you have a palmetto bug problem, you may wonder whether you can listen for clues. But these bugs are stealthy by nature, and only produce the typical clicking or scampering sounds you hear with other bugs.
If you step on one, though, you’ll know it. These bugs make a loud crunching sound when squished under a shoe.
Otherwise, palmetto bugs are quiet house guests, which only makes them even more devious.
They can, but they normally don’t. Palmetto bugs perceive humans as a threat, and will only bite as a last resort and out of self-defense.
How to Treat a Palmetto Bug Bite
If you do get a palmetto bug bite, no special treatment is normally required. The bites are mild and may leave behind a red mark. Just keep the bite clean and look for signs of infection.
In some rare cases, these bugs can carry disease, so do make sure that you clean the bite immediately.
Signs of Infestation
How can you tell if you have a palmetto bug infestation? Because these are nocturnal creatures, you don’t normally find them out in the open. They prefer to skitter out of their nest when it’s dark and the coast is clear (i.e. no humans are around).
Be on the lookout for these signs to see if you have an infestation:
- Bug sightings: If you’re seeing palmetto bugs out in the open, there’s a good chance you have a pretty severe infestation in your home. In this case, you’ll probably want to call in a professional – unless you don’t mind sharing your home with these critters.
- Smells: Palmetto bugs do give off an unpleasant odor that’s oily and pungent when they’re in large numbers. Sometimes, it’s the smell that gives these creatures away.
- Shell casings: One of the most common signs of palmetto bugs is shell casings. These critters sometimes leave behind small, oval and brown shells. Look for these in kitchen cabinets, near dishes, under the stove, behind the refrigerator, or even in floor drains.
- Fecal matter: Yes, palmetto bugs do deposit fecal waste along the routes they travel. Depending on the size of the bug, these may look like little grains of black pepper or sand. You may also find brown matter on your walls or inside pages of books. These marks are from regurgitated food. Both are signs that you have a palmetto bug problem.
- Holes in clothing: Like other roaches, palmetto bugs will feed on just about anything. You may find holes in your clothing or waste left behind in books.
DIY Palmetto Bug Control
You’ve determined that you have a palmetto bug problem – now what? Do you call an exterminator, or fix the problem yourself? As long as you’re not dealing with a serious palmetto bug infestation, you can take the DIY approach.
Use these tips to rid your home of these critters once and for all:
1. Clean, Clean and Clean Some More
It can’t be stressed enough that you need to keep your home spotless when you’re trying to get rid of palmetto bugs. Every crumb, every dirty plate, every drop of food left out in the open will only keep these guys coming back for more.
- Store all opened food in airtight containers
- Keep your pantry, counters and stove free of crumbs and food residue
- Sweep and wash your floors daily
- Vacuum carpeting daily
- Clean dishes right away and put them away (or in the dishwasher)
- Make sure lids stay tight on garbage cans and pet food containers
- De-clutter your kitchen to give roaches no place to hide
The key important thing here is to remove all possible food sources, so these bugs have less of a reason to stick around.
Many experts also recommend restricting eating to just one room to prevent the bugs from spreading to other areas of the home. The kitchen or dining areas are ideal because they typically have floors and surfaces that are easy to wipe clean after eating.
If you have children, you will need to be especially diligent in cleaning up after them if you really want to get rid of palmetto bugs.
2. Fix Leaking Pipes
Sometimes, it’s not food that attracts palmetto bugs but water. Look for signs of leaking pipes in your home, and fix them as soon as possible. If water is what’s attracting these bugs, fixing a leak may be a quick way to push them out of your home.
3. Caulk Cracks and Crevices
Remember, these critters can make their way into your home through the tiniest of cracks. Take the time to caulk up any openings and crevices that you may find, particularly near doors and windows. Copper mesh or steel wool can also be used to seal up cracks.
If they’re making their way up through floor drains or vents, wire screens can keep them out.
Invest in a good bottom door sealer if you have a large opening underneath. A sealer will help prevent these bugs from skittering into your home in the middle of the night.
4. Boric Acid
Like other roaches, palmetto bugs are vulnerable to boric acid – it kills them. If you’re looking for an effective, (mostly) non-toxic palmetto bug killer, boric acid would be it.
Spread the powder out where the roaches frequent – usually kitchen counters and behind appliances. Walking through the powder is what will kill them.
Do be careful with boric acid. Never place the powder anywhere near where food is prepared, and keep it away from kids and pets.
5. Diatomaceous Earth
If you have pets and/or kids – or you just want a less-toxic way to get rid of these bugs – diatomaceous earth is a good option.
Non-toxic (you can even apply this powder to your pet’s fur to kill fleas), this powder kills palmetto bugs when they walk through it. The crystals scratch away at their feet, causing them to dehydrate and die.
How to Prevent Palmetto Bugs
There are two key important things you can do to prevent palmetto bugs from coming back after you’ve gotten rid of them:
- Keep your home clean – all food in containers, dirty dishes washed right away and garbage taken out regularly.
- Seal up all possible entryways.
If all else fails, you may need to call in a professional to put an end to your palmetto bug problem. These critters can be relentless, so hiring an exterminator may save you time and frustration.