Palmetto Bugs vs. Cockroaches – What’s the Difference?

Palmetto Bugs vs. Cockroaches – What’s the Difference?


In North America alone, there are 69 different species of cockroaches. They’re one of the most common pests and they’re notorious for being filthy and repulsive invaders. Typically, roaches are relatively flat, oval-shaped insects with six legs and antennas. They range from a light brown/yellow color to almost black and go through three notable life stages: egg, nymph, and adulthood. Roaches are also prolific breeders with very high reproductive potential. A single female of some species can even produce up to 400 offspring in her short 6 to 6.5 month lifespan.

Palmetto Bugs

If you’ve ever been in the southern United States, you may have heard about the infamous palmetto bugs. They are flat, brownish bugs that can move swiftly on their six legs and have a knack for being utterly filthy. So, what is the difference between these palmetto bugs and cockroaches. The surprising truth is, there is no difference. “Palmetto bugs” is actually a regional term referring to roaches. Most commonly, the term refers to the American cockroach, a 4 cm long winged creepy crawler with reddish-brown bodies, however, over time, the term has extended to be utilized as a euphemism for nearly all roaches found in North America.

Why the New Name?

According to entomologist Eric Benson of Clemson University, South Carolina, the origin of the term is a bit of a mystery. One theory suggests that the term did not initially refer to the American roach, instead it was actually used in reference to the Smokybrown roach. This would be significant due to the species’ tendency to inhabit palmetto trees. Upon seeing this, it’s a fair assumption that people began to utilize the new, less negatively connotated term for the bugs. Then, since the appearance of the Smokybrown roach and the American roach is rather similar, the lines between the two were blurred for the average non-entomologist, resulting in the term being recognized as synonymous with American roaches. Benson believes the new term stuck due to it being a less unsavory sounding word and lacking some of the deplorable connotations that derive from the mere mention of roaches. “Nobody likes to have roaches,” he stated. “A cockroach is something your neighbor has. You have palmetto bugs.”


Antani, K. and Burgeson, A. (2011) Blattella Germanica: German CockroachAnimal Diversity Web. The University of Michigan. Available at: (Accessed: August 2020). Potter, M. (2018) Cockroach Elimination in Homes and ApartmentsThe University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment. Entomology at the University of Kentucky. Available at: (Accessed: August 2020). Wilkinson, J. (2018) Here’s the Important Truth About Palmetto Bugs – Most Importantly, How to Kill ThemThe State. Available at: (Accessed: August 2020).

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