Pest Identification

Learn More About the Pests Invading Your Home

How Many Kinds of Roaches Are There?

While some might think “if you’ve seen one cockroach, you’ve seen ‘em all” no one has “seen ‘em all.” Cockroaches live on every continent and in every environment from the Sahara Desert to the Arctic Circle. To survive under such diverse conditions, cockroaches have evolved into around 4,500 species and scientists estimate that an equal number have not yet been discovered. Of the known species, about 130 live in Europe while 57 live in North America. Only 20 or so species, less than 0.5% are equipped to live in manmade environments.

Only four species of cockroach are considered the bane of humanity. The American cockroach, at 1.6 to 2 inches in length, is the biggest roach. The Oriental cockroach is slightly smaller at about one inch, while Brownbanded and German cockroaches are a little over half an inch long. Add in their extended waving antennae and cockroaches appear to be twice their body size.

There is one funny thing about these otherwise sordid bugs: their names have nothing to do with their origins. They are invasive species that came to the USA as castaways on ships sailing from tropical climates. German cockroaches, which have been found in buildings at the North Pole, originated in Southeast Asia or possibly North Africa. American cockroaches, while as bold and hungry as many Americans, came here from tropical Africa. And the Oriental cockroach is most likely from Africa or south Russia.

Beyond the pesky breeds, some cockroach species are pretty amazing. The giant cave cockroach is the largest roach in the world, measuring in at 4 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. Found in the rainforests of the West Indies and Central and South America, the giants live in caves and eat bat guano. If threatened, they will emit a foul smell.

In Australia the huge rhinoceros cockroach weighs in at 35 grams, or 1.2 ounces. Like the giant cave roaches, the rhino has zero interest in making your kitchen its own personal buffet. However, some people consider these big roaches beautiful and keep them as pets.

Some cockroaches look like baby Ewoks, others are bioluminescent—they glow in the dark. Unfortunately, while there are thousands of interesting cockroach species, the only ones you’ll probably see are those four beasts mentioned. They have been the bane of humanity since the first pile of garbage was created thousands of years ago.