What Is a Cockroach? | Comprehensive Overview

Written by George Climer

The chances are high that you have already encountered this terrifying creature in your house. Don’t worry they are everywhere as they are one of the more common pests. We will try to provide you with information that will make fighting this annoying pest more doable.

So, what is a cockroach? A cockroach is part of an ancient group of insects (their ancestors lived 300-350 million years ago). Cockroaches are known for being incredibly resistant – they can survive in practically any climate and tolerate terrible weather and living conditions. Some species can fly and they can even live for a certain period without their heads.

Where do these creatures come from? How to identify a cockroach? How long can they live? The better you know your enemy, the easier it is to fight it, right? Continue reading to find more helpful information about cockroaches. Let’s begin!

Cockroach Origin | Information

Cockroach Origin

Where Did Cockroaches Originate From?

To this day, we don’t know for sure where did these creatures originally come from. However, it all points out that cockroaches didn’t originate from Europe and Africa. Studies suggest that these insects first lived in North America. Over the years, the cockroaches would have migrated to Scandinavia and other parts of the world.

Related: Where Do Cockroaches Come From? | Information and Facts

What is the Origin of the Word Cockroach?

The English term “cockroach ” comes from a Spanish word with the same meaning “Cucaracha”. The scientific name of this insect comes from the Latin word “Blatta”, which basically means “an insect that shuns the light”.

Biological Classification of Cockroach

Are Cockroaches Insects?

Cockroaches are insects and they belong to the order that is called “Blattodea”. There are about 4600 species of cockroaches. These insects are flattened from top to bottom. The majority has two pairs of wings, but only some species can actually fly.

What are the Different Types of Cockroaches?

Only around 30 species live around humans. Other cockroaches live in the wild and are rarely seen by people. The most common types of cockroaches that can be encountered in a house are German, American, brown-banded, and Oriental cockroaches. You will also see a Madagascar hissing cockroach which is a relatively popular “pet” nowadays.

Related: Different Types of Cockroaches: Identification Chart

Cockroach Description | How to Identify a Cockroach?

Even though there are thousands of different cockroach species, all of them share some common traits. For example, the absolute majority have an oval-shaped body that is flattened and ranges between three-fourths of an inch (34”) to three inches in length.

Cockroach Description How to Identify a Cockroach

A lot of cockroaches look whitish right after the molting process but soon become reddish-brown, tanned, or black (depending on species). Now, let’s have a closer look at some of the most widespread species:

German Cockroaches

The German cockroach is the most common type and it’s, in most cases, the first insect that you think about when you hear the word “cockroach”. It has wings but uses them only to glide. This roach is about half of an inch long, light brown with 2 dark stripes running down the middle section of the body.

American Cockroaches

The American cockroach moves fast and has wings that can be used to fly in extremely rare cases. This roach is relatively big – around 2 inches in length. Typically, the insects are reddish-brown with a yellow band that outlines the middle section of their bodies.

Oriental Cockroaches

The Oriental cockroach is a bit slower than the other types and it never flies. These are the cockroaches that smell the most. An Oriental roach is about an inch long. The color of the body ranges from a dark-brown to black, it’s also shiny. The wings of a male are shorter than its body, while the female doesn’t have fully developed wings at all.

Brown-banded Cockroach

A male brown-banded cockroach can fly (in theory), but they prefer to jump if disturbed. The bodies of these insects are narrow and about half an inch long. This cockroach has a yellow or light-brown band (hence the name). The males have more of a tan color, while the females are darker.

Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches

A Madagascar hissing cockroach is around 2 to 3 inches long. This species is completely wingless (unlike the majority of roaches). However, they are great climbers and can even crawl up the smooth glass surface.

Cockroach Reproduction | How do Cockroaches Reproduce?

Cockroaches are egg-producing insect species. The female release some pheromones to attract a male, after that, the male roach deposit its sperm, and the process of egg growth starts.

Fun fact: Some female cockroaches can actually store sperm. That means that the cockroaches can potentially mate once and then lay multiple egg sacks during a certain period.

The majority of cockroach types are oviparous. That means that the eggs grow outside of the mother’s body. However, there are species that develop inside an ootheca (an egg capsule) that’s located in the female body.

Ootheca | Egg Capsule

Cockroach Ootheca, Egg Capsule

An ootheca is a special casing where eggs are stored. Usually, it is brown and about a fourth of an inch in length. Before the sack is released, the mother carries it on her abdomen. Depending on the species, one single ootheca can have between sixteen and fifty eggs. American cockroaches, for example, have 16 eggs, while German roaches (unfortunately) might have up to forty eggs in one capsule (ootheca).

A lot of females hide the sack somewhere in the house shortly before it is ready to hatch (sometimes, as little as 24 hours). Ideally, the mother would find a dark, safe place to store the ootheca. If the capsule dries out, the eggs won’t hatch, that’s why the ootheca has to stay moist at all times.


Baby cockroaches that emerge from the eggs are called “nymphs. Even though every insect has its own individual egg, all the future cockroaches join together in an effort to break through the capsule. Baby cockroaches are born white. Soon, their exoskeleton hardens the nymphs become darker (that happens in only a couple of hours).

The color of the baby cockroach will change every time it sheds its skin. A German roach, for example, will molt around 6 to 7 times before reaching adulthood. The nymphs look like grown-up cockroaches, except for the fact that they are smaller, don’t have wings, and are sexually inactive.


On average, it takes baby cockroaches 2 months to become an adult. However, the bigger species (like the American cockroach) might need up to 12 months. American cockroach females might lay anywhere between six and fourteen oothecae in their lifetime. A German cockroach will produce 4-8 capsules. So, one single cockroach can give birth to hundreds of babies. This is the main reason why infestations can get out of control in practically no time.

What Is the Average Lifespan of a Cockroach?

The lifespan of a cockroach depends on a variety of factors such as the species, the environmental conditions, and even on sex. Female cockroaches, for example, usually live longer than males.

It takes a German cockroach around 103 days to turn into an adult. After that, the lifespan for both females and males is rarely more than 200 days.

American cockroaches are the biggest “domestic” cockroaches, so it takes them the most time to turn from a nymph to an adult – about 600 days. Grown-up make American roaches can live for over 350 days. The females live even longer – for seven hundred days or sometimes even longer!

The development of an Oriental cockroach takes quite a while as well – 589 days. However, these insects don’t live for too long as an adult. The males can enjoy life for around 160 days and the females can live for three months.

What are the Signs of Cockroach Infestation?

In a lot of cases, it is easier to spot signs of cockroach infestation than the actual insects running around. Thankfully, there are quite a few things that you can notice and, later on, take action.

What are Signs of Cockroach Infestation

Cockroach Droppings

Finding droppings is certainly not a pleasant experience. Cockroaches leave behind tiny dark droppings that might remind you of ground coffee. Be extremely careful when attempting to clean them – dangerous bacteria can be spread through their droppings.


You already know that these insects produce special egg cases called oothecae. Those are relatively big and can be seen with a naked eye. The ootheca of a German cockroach, for example, has 18 segments, while those of an American cockroach have circular areas. You might spot an egg sack in a safe dark place, like behind appliances.

Skin Shedding

Baby cockroaches turn into adults by going through quite a few moltings. Basically, these creatures shed their skin. A lot of species shed around 5 to 8 times. Spotting skin lying around the house isn’t a great sign as it means that the roaches are not only reproducing but also growing without any obstacles.

Smear Marks

When cockroaches crawl or rest, they will leave smear marks behind. These marks are dark and have an irregular shape.


A lot of surfaces will get tainted by the stinky smell that the cockroaches produce. Usually, these insects do that to attract other cockroaches to the area. The smell that you notice is the odor of the chemicals that they use to communicate. Oriental cockroaches have the worst smell out of them all, but if there is a severe infestation, the odor will be pretty unbearable in any case.


Cockroaches can eat practically anything. At one point, you might find that not only food packaging, but also books, and leather items are damaged by them.

List of Sources

Cockroaches, University of Minnesota

Hopkins J., Cockroach Identification and Management for the Homeowner, University of Arkansas System