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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.