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What Is a Palmetto Bug?

Kristi Ambrose
Kristi Ambrose

Palmetto bug is a common name used to describe almost any large cockroach, but it's most properly used for the Florida woods cockroach. This insect, which lives in Florida and nearby coastal areas, is one of the largest species found in North America and is reddish-brown to black with very small wings. They do not fly often or well and are slow and clumsy runners. Their usual defense is an unpleasant chemical spray that has earned them alternate names like Florida stink roach and skunk roach. This species is not a significant household pest, preferring outdoor living conditions.


Palmetto bug.
Palmetto bug.

The scientific name for the palmetto bug is Eurycotis floridana. It is often confused with the American cockroach, Periplaneta americana, and many people use the name for either species. Both types are large, growing up to about 2 inches (about 5 cm) and are superficially similar. One way to distinguish them is to observe how the insects in question move, as the American cockroach is a proficient flier and runs much more quickly than the Florida woods cockroach. American cockroaches are also found in large numbers in buildings while palmetto bugs prefer outdoor conditions. This roach is sometimes confused with giant water bugs, but these are not closely related to cockroaches and live in or near outdoor pools, swamps and lakes.

Health Concerns

Palmetto bugs commonly live in swamps.
Palmetto bugs commonly live in swamps.

One of the reasons that people dislike palmetto bugs and other cockroaches so much is that they are known to spread disease. If they get into food, they can contaminate it and make the people who eat it sick. The chemical spray that this species emits can also get on dishes and kitchen utensils, as can roach feces, which contain pheromones that attract more roaches. Some people are also allergic to these bugs; the symptoms of an allergic reaction can include a rash, asthma, itchy eyes, and a sore throat.

Living Conditions and Diet

Palmetto bug, or large cockroach, lives in Florida.
Palmetto bug, or large cockroach, lives in Florida.

These insects prefer humid, warm living conditions with temperatures ranging from 86° to 96°F (30° to 36°C). They eat decaying vegetation such as that found in brushy woods or around buildings. When found near buildings, they most often are living in and around trees, shrubbery and flower or vegetable beds and compost piles. Outdoor sheds and garages with good access to vegetation may also shelter this species. Any palmetto bug found indoors was probably brought in with wood or other items stored outside, since they typically prefer to live outside.

Pest Control

A sore throat may be symptomatic of an allergic reaction to a palmetto bug.
A sore throat may be symptomatic of an allergic reaction to a palmetto bug.

Although the palmetto bug is not usually an indoor pest, there are still occasions when controlling the population is necessary or desirable. Individuals or small groups found indoors can simply be carried outside and released. Keeping vegetation, wood piles, and other places where the roaches like to live away from a house can help keep the bugs away. Roaches are attracted to water, so any leaks or standing water should be eliminated. If the problem persists, then searching out and blocking holes where the bugs are entering the house is usually effective. Roach control baits and sprays also work, but since an indoor infestation is rare, it's usually not necessary.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to a palmetto bug may include the development of asthma symptoms.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction to a palmetto bug may include the development of asthma symptoms.

Females lay their eggs in cases that range from 0.50 to 0.6 inches long (13 to 16 mm) then glue the egg case someplace dark and warm. The eggs hatch into juveniles called nymphs in about 48 days. Nymphs look like smaller adults and molt several times before reaching full size. It takes about five to six months from the time an egg is laid for the hatchlings to reach maturity. Adults can live for a year or longer.

How To Get Rid of Palmetto Bugs Organically

Preventative pest control measures are not always going to be 100% effective against palmetto bugs. Despite your best effort to eliminate standing water, trim exterior vegetation and store away woodpiles, infestations are still possible.

Not every homeowner knows how to get rid of palmetto bugs when an indoor infestation is detected. A natural tendency is to treat the problem with a chemical insecticide solution. However, there are a few organic methods people might consider using instead to eliminate these pests.

Citrus-Scented Sprays

Roaches are typically averse to citrus-scented substances. Consequently, lemons and oranges are ideal fruit choices to incorporate into a palmetto bug repellent spray. The do-it-yourself recipe for such a concoction is affordable, natural, and, most importantly, effective.

Essential Oil Sprays

For a few dollars more than the cost of making a citrus spray, the smell of essential oils is equally as objectionable to palmetto bugs. There are several essential oil odors that could serve as repellents when concocted into a spray. The most notable choices are peppermint, catnip, clove and cedarwood.

Baking Soda and Powdered Sugar Blend

One of the more simple, but scientific, techniques to get rid of palmetto bugs involves just two common household items. When an equal parts blend of baking soda and powdered sugar is scattered on a flat surface, the temptation is often too great for the roach to resist.

After it finishes eating the baking soda and the powdered sugar, it will seek a water source. The resulting chemical reaction created by the combined substances inside the palmetto bug's stomach, specifically between the baking soda and the water, will ultimately end up killing it.

Do Palmetto Bugs Fly Vertically?

A question often asked about palmetto bugs is whether they have the ability to fly vertically. After all, once the insect enters a house, it is not uncommon to spot it crawling on ceilings and walls. The short answer to this question is, no, palmetto bugs are not vertical fliers. The reasons vary, however, depending on the species.

The Florida woods cockroach does not fly at all simply because it lacks traditional wings. It does not have a hind set, and its forewings develop into what is known as tegmina. These short, leathery pads just barely converge at the center of the body, unable to provide enough length for any sort of lift.

Most other species are incapable of flying vertically because the wings that they do possess are not anatomically designed for this purpose. The cockroaches are more apt to glide in a descending direction from higher to lower areas.

Do Palmetto Bugs Bite?

Although rare, palmetto bugs are able to bite humans. More than likely, this action would be the result of a scarce food supply as opposed to an aggressive, unprovoked attack. The resulting skin irritation associated with a bite, typically a small, red mark, is relatively harmless. There are a couple of natural home remedies that someone who has been bitten by a palmetto bug can use to treat the affected area.

Tea Bags

A tea bag that has been refrigerated for about thirty minutes holds the potential to soothe any skin irritation. The bag has nutrients that will help calm itching and inflammation. Alternatively, you could wet the tea bag and wring out the excess water to get the same relief as the refrigerated option.

Lemon Juice

The juice from a fresh lemon can be used as a topical treatment for a palmetto bug bite. It holds anti-inflammatory properties that aid in managing any common symptoms such as itchiness or swelling. It also hosts antibacterial elements that prevent infection and assist in the healing process.

Discussion Comments


If you have ever seen a roach 5 inches long with a head on a neck that it can swivel back and forth, has wings that spread to 10 inches, flies like a bird for a hundred feet or more, you have seen a palmetto bug! These are plentiful in Florida and I have been hit in the face at night on many occasions by one. They are never found indoors, but can be found almost anywhere else at night. They are a favorite prey for the Wolf or the Huntsman spiders.


I live in Iran and here we also deal with these creepy creatures. Once while I was sleeping, one of them crawled on my face and I have had similar nightmares since then. I really hate them. Please kill as many as you can so that we might get rid of them.


I live in South Louisiana where these nasty insects are plentiful. Your article states that inside infestation is rare. Well, I'm here to tell you that it's not as rare as you may think!

A colony of them made a nest in the insulation of my freezer. We bombed, sprayed, and did everything possible to get rid of them, not realizing where they were coming from until we moved to another house. When we pulled the freezer out from the wall, if 1,000 of them didn't come out flying, one didn't! It was like a real life horror movie!

Supposedly, there's a purpose for everything on earth. I think the purpose of these is to irritate people and make life as miserable as they can! I hate these things with a purple passion!


I hit a palmetto bug with fly swatter, then got a paper towel to pick it up off the floor. I must not have had the bug completely enclosed in the paper towel. When I put pressure on the paper towel, something pricked my thumb. That has been over 30 minutes ago and my thumb has a spot that is still hurting a little. It's kind of like a little pain going down into my skin, where the end of the bug's leg or a "thorn" on its leg went into my skin.

I poured hydrogen peroxide on my thumb, then put Neosporin that has pain relief. It is still sore. Feels likes it's either swollen a little or tender with a little inflammation. I could feel a little pain that kept coming and going in the spot where it penetrated my skin. Now it's starting to feel like my thumb is stiff, achy and tender to the touch. Do I need to be worried?


I live in Alabama. We have had problems with the Palmetto Bug for about 13 years. We have two large pecan trees and I think that has attracted them. There can be dozens running around the trees and on the patio at any given time. They are also coming into the house right now (October) and it appears they come in to die. We have a doggie door and I know they come in that way, but also am pretty sure they are coming in from very small spaces or cracks between the wall and trim around the floors or ceilings. Seem more prevalent in kitchen or bathroom. It is not an investation like cockroaches can be. But very likely to see one, two or several at times. In the evening the cats get in position waiting to find one. I am so grossed out by them! I'm sorry, I do use the fly swatter. One was on the floor after I swatted it. I used a paper towel to pick it us and I guess I did not have it completely enclosed in the paper towel, and I felt a stinging sensation in my thumb. I know that the way I was holding it put pressure on it, pushing the end of its leg or something into my skin. It has been approx. 20 minutes and it is still a little uncomfortable. I poured hydrogen peroxide on my thumb. Then put Neosporin that also says it relieves pain. I can't see anything sticking out of my skin (like if you get a splinter). It is a little red. I can't really tell if it is swollen or just tender from the prick. Does anyone know if there is anything I should be concerned about? THANK YOU


One flew into my house and I wasted a moment and lost the opportunity to kill it. I hate squishing large bugs.

If they are cockroaches, which it seems that they are, I'm really afraid they'll reproduce willy-nilly in my home. I have indoor cats with the attendant litter boxes, and since it's an apartment there may be years' worth of cucaracha "nutrition" available to it. Is there anything I can do?


I just saw one palmetto in a very high class restaurant in Sarasota, Fla. And wow was I flipped out! I'm considering reporting it. Should I?


We also have a problem with palmetto bugs where I live in south-central Texas. After going out of town for a month, I'd come home to find these nasty creatures in the toilet, bathtub and other places.

Now before I leave to go out of town, I mix up a strong solution of dish soap (handwash type) and water and pour it in the the sinks, bathtub, toilet -- all drains. The soap is a wetting agent, breaking down the surface tension between the roach and the water, causing it to drown. I haven't had any more problems since doing this, and it's safer for the environment too.


I live in Pennsylvania and tonight is the first time I have ever seen one, and I am 100 percent sure it's a palmetto bug. I saw them crawling around outside for a few days now but they hide when you get near then. Tonight, I caught one in a container. It looked like what I saw while visiting in-laws in Florida so I googled it and that is what it is. About an inch, maybe a little bigger. Since when do we have them in Pa.?


I just moved here from Ohio where we saw water bugs in the basement. I'm scared of them but I just a saw a palmetto here in Charleston S.C. and they make Ohio water bugs look like babies. they are huge. I keep plenty of spray.


yes palmetto bugs can crawl into drains and into your house. I am a plumber and have seen them in department store urinal pipes. in california, they are about 3" long and they clog the drains. A store manager saw these in his restroom that crawled out of a urinal. For real. We had to vacuum them out by the dozens out of the khols restroom drains in orange county, calif.


I feel relieved to know that seeing one of these does not mean an infestation. Thank you!


Can these bugs live in sewers and climb up into a bathtub through the drain? Very repulsive and probably carry diseases. RV-ing in Texas


I live in a single family home in Fort Myers, Fl. Yes, they are big and scare me to death when I see one. They do occasionally crawl into our bathroom, kitchen, etc., but they are not the problem as the Eastern cockroach, which I grew up with in Chicago! I now just put them in a plastic cup and put them back outside where they belong.


Actually, South Carolina's state insect is the Carolina Mantis (a.k.a. Praying Mantis) and the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. It is called the Palmetto State after the state tree: the Sabal palmetto (a palm tree).


A cockroach belongs in New York City. The "elegant" palmetto bug enjoys more sociable climates where such disgusting terms as "roach" are not mentioned!


Just got back from Fripp Island, SC--a high end, gated community. Place was absolutely beautiful except for these giant, disgusting bugs. Saw and killed about 12 of them in my four-day stay. Told the front desk that there was an infestation of cockroaches and they said "No, these are palmetto bugs!" Duh! Same thing!


Wow! These bugs are huge and nasty! I wanted to move to florida but after seeing one in my hotel room i think i'll stay in maryland.


Cockroaches can be more than just a disgusting pest – they can actually be dangerous. Some cockroaches have been found to carry Salmonella, a disease causing bacteria. While cockroaches rarely bite, if you are bitten by one it is a good idea to see a doctor as soon as possible just in case. In addition, larger quantities of their feces, as found in homes with cockroach infestations, have shown to have a strongly allergenic effect on humans, especially young children. There are plenty of good reasons that humans seem to feel naturally compelled to be grossed out by these things, but diseases are definitely the most rational of them. Just steer clear of these things or eliminate them if you can.


@anon58116 – haha, this is funny. Whenever South Carolina decided to name the cockroach as their state insect, there must have been a lot less stigma towards the bugs. Perhaps over the course of the 20th century, cockroaches have become far more prevalent in cities because of the larger amounts and densities of trash and filth. Seeing as how there aren’t really any major metropolitan cities in Southern Carolina, maybe they didn’t make as strong of an association between cockroaches and filth. This is all just speculation of course, but it is an interesting thing to think about.


It was quite disgusting to read that South Carolina's bug is a Palmetto Bug which is nothing more than an American Cockroach. Why would a state acknowledge that? LOL

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    • Palmetto bug.
      Palmetto bug.
    • Palmetto bugs commonly live in swamps.
      By: Paul Wolf
      Palmetto bugs commonly live in swamps.
    • Palmetto bug, or large cockroach, lives in Florida.
      By: Anna
      Palmetto bug, or large cockroach, lives in Florida.
    • A sore throat may be symptomatic of an allergic reaction to a palmetto bug.
      By: Kalim
      A sore throat may be symptomatic of an allergic reaction to a palmetto bug.
    • Symptoms of an allergic reaction to a palmetto bug may include the development of asthma symptoms.
      By: dragon_fang
      Symptoms of an allergic reaction to a palmetto bug may include the development of asthma symptoms.