We've all been there. You're washing that last dish and finishing your glass of merlot when, out of the corner of your eye, you see this emboldened little thing scuttle from underneath the fridge to behind the waste bin. Putting on your detective hat, you investigate and move the bin only to screech in repulsion and fear as the inch-long dark brown bug bobs and weaves to escape your enormous biped frame. The immortal cockroach wins again. Or was it a cockroach? Perhaps it was a palmetto bug. To understand the formidable opponent you're up against, read further.
A palmetto bug is a cockroach, but a cockroach is not always a palmetto bug. Cockroach is a general term used to classify about 4,500 species of the bug, according to the Smithsonian Institution. The palmetto bug, or American cockroach, is one species. The name refers to the leaves of the palmetto plant, which the bugs like to live under, particularly in the Southeastern United States. But like all cockroaches, palmetto bugs can survive in any number of climates. It is thought that the palmetto bug came to North America from Africa in the mid-1500s.
Growing up to an inch and a half long, palmetto bugs are the largest cockroaches. As they age, their exoskeletons become dark brown, and two spots appear behind their head. A palmetto bug's exoskeleton is super flexible, allowing the bug to enter into spaces one-fourth of the size of its body. Though the bugs have wings, they don't fly -- but they are able to glide when they jump. They are insects, so they have six legs and two antennae.
Because this decomposer is so adaptable, it should come as no surprise that it will eat almost anything. It will eat vegetation or meat -- pretty much anything organic. This includes household items that are made of cotton or hemp, such as curtains or old books. Even though palmetto bugs eat a variety of foods, they don't need to eat a lot or often.
Cockroaches have been around for at least 300 million years. They are older than the dinosaurs! Because of this, many people joke that they could survive a nuclear holocaust, which isn't exactly true, but they could survive a whole host of ordeals that would kill most other animals.
Because they don't breathe through their mouths but through a series of tubes on their bodies, they can survive without their heads. Cockroaches can also go without eating for a month and without water for a week. Can you imagine walking around perfectly content while decapitated with zero need for sustenance?
Palmetto bugs can live in a wide variety of environments, but they prefer warm, moist ones, which is why the bugs are so common in the Southeastern United States. It's also why you will find them in your house during the winter, since they are escaping the extreme climate.
Despite assumptions that these critters only invade filthy environments, they can actually enter even the nicest facility. They aren't attracted to garbage but to food in general, from your compost to the bananas in your fruit basket.
Palmetto bugs enter your home hoping to find moisture, warmth, and shelter in addition to food. Pipes and cracks are the main ways the bugs access your home. Once inside, they congregate in warm or humid spots like the bathroom. If you're unfortunate enough to have an infestation, their nests and eggs will most likely be behind your stove or refrigerator, since those are warm, protected environments.
The nests are mounds of dead skin containing egg capsules, live or dead bugs, and droppings. Females carry an average of 15 eggs per lay in a casing called an oothecae, which is dark brown and about eight millimeters in length. According to Orkin, an Atlanta-based pest control company, each female palmetto bug can produce up to 90 oothecae during its lifetime.
A female palmetto bug will lay eggs every 15 to 20 weeks for the duration of her life, according to Mom.Me. This means that an infestation can happen quickly -- probably before you realize you have even one roach in your house, much less all of its brothers, sisters, and cousins!
The easiest and fastest way to get rid of palmetto bugs is to call an exterminator who can spray poisons around the interior and exterior of your home. There are also traps you can buy.
If you don't want to use toxic chemicals, you can keep a bottle of oil and water or soap and water around and spray the bugs when you see them scurrying. The oil or soap will seal the exoskeletons and suffocate the bugs. But this may be hard to do, since palmetto bugs are really fast!
You can also try to kill the bugs by preparing your own poison of three parts boric acid and one part powdered sugar. According to the Mother Nature Network, the sugar will attract the bugs, and the boric acid will kill them. If you spread the poison near the area where the bugs reside and enter, you will kill them and prevent more from invading.
It's easier to prevent palmetto bugs from entering your home than it is to get rid of them. It may take some effort, but it's worth the effort to ensure your home is secure and bug-free. Here's how to prevent the bugs from invading your space:
Unlike other insects like mosquitoes, lice, or fleas that can carry Lyme disease, the Zika virus, or malaria, palmetto bugs generally aren't disease-ridden animals. More importantly, they very rarely bite humans, so even if they did carry something, the chance of them transmitting it to you would be slim to none.
That being said, palmetto bugs can carry salmonella and streptococcal bacteria, both of which are spread through their droppings. American roaches have also been known to spark allergic reactions in people, particularly asthmatics. Their shed skin or feces can cause reactions similar to those caused by dust mites. Although not life-threatening, these reactions certainly are annoying.
There's no place in our homes for these ugly, pesky, ancient pests. However, they are an integral part of our ecosystem. As decomposers, they are bottom feeders. They eat small particles of organic matter that contain trapped nitrogen and release the nitrogen into our soil, making it fertile to grow the plants we eat and keep our forests healthy.
Furthermore, as the low men on the food-cycle totem pole, they are food for a whole host of other animals, from small mammals to birds. Without roaches, these animals would not have enough to eat, and they would decrease in number. This cycle would continue to throw off our ecosystem's precarious balance.
While palmetto bugs may be uninvited houseguests who cause some annoying symptoms, they aren't dangerous. Their presence doesn't even mean your home is dirty. Millions of years of evolution have taught them to self-protect, which they may do in your home. So don't be mad at them -- they are just bugs being bugs.