Have you ever seen a winged, beetle-like insect, and wondered if it was a cockroach? Most people think of roaches as nocturnal ground dwellers, who scatter at the first sign of light. But, do cockroaches fly? With over 4,500 distinct species of cockroach, the answer isn’t always simple.
Cockroaches are a very old insect; they’ve been around since the early Carboniferous period, about 350 million years ago. They belong to the Blattodea order of insects, the same order termites belong to. Though they have a bad reputation, only about 1% of all cockroach species ever come into contact with humans.
Here, we’ll learn more about cockroach wings. Then, we’ll take a closer look at five species of cockroach that are capable of flight. We’ll analyze the type of flight they’re capable of, and whether or not both the male and female of the species can fly. Finally, we’ll go over a few species that, try as they might, just can’t make it to liftoff.
Do All Cockroaches Fly?
No, not all species of cockroach can fly. In fact, only a handful can successfully make it into the air.
Most species of cockroach have wings, but having wings is not the same thing as having wings that work. Some roaches, like the Central American giant cockroach, are so huge, and spend so much time underground, that they have no need for wings. Other species have only vestigial, non-functioning wings. No matter the species, nymphs, or baby cockroaches, do not have wings; they don’t grow them until adulthood.
Additionally, in species that do have wings, males and females don’t always have the same type of wings. Many species exhibit sexual dimorphism (physical differences between male and female) in the wings. Males of these species often have larger wings than females. This difference may be extreme enough that females are actually incapable of flight, while males can glide to wherever their hearts desire.
5 Cockroaches That Fly
Many species of cockroach fly, but not all do so with the same grace and agility. The length and efficacy of wings runs the gamut from tiny and non-functioning, all the way to body-length and fully functioning. Additionally, many species aren’t capable of true flight, like flying birds; they can only glide from high points down to the ground.
Let’s take a look at five varieties of flying cockroach.
Brown-banded Cockroach (Supella longipalpa)
These roaches fly and are one of the most common indoor pest species in the United States. They love warmth, and can often be found congregating near warm electrical appliances and behind items on shelves. Eggs incubate for about 70 days; once hatched, nymphs take about 160 days to reach maturity. Baby brown-banded cockroaches do not have wings; both male and female adults do though. Males’ wings exceed the length of their body, while females have smaller wings. Only male brown-banded cockroaches are capable of flight; they’re known for literally jumping when startled.
Pennsylvania Wood Cockroach (Parcoblatta pennsylvanica)
Wood roaches, as they’re often called, don’t often come indoors. Instead, they prefer to live outside in the woods, or in piles of firewood. Nymphs of this species can be found in piles of leaves or rotting vegetation. Eggs incubate for around 34 days, before emerging as nymphs. Baby Pennsylvania wood cockroaches may take up to two years to mature, but only live a few months once they reach adulthood. Like brown-banded cockroaches, male wood roaches have functional wings that give this species of cockroach fly abilities, while females have only tiny, non-functioning wings.
Smokybrown Cockroach (Periplaneta fuliginosa)
These species of cockroach fly are common in the southeastern United States. They can be found both indoors and outdoors, though they prefer being outside. Like other cockroach species, nymphs have no wings and cannot fly. Eggs can take up to 70 days to incubate, with the average total lifespan being 1-2 years. Both male and female smokybrown cockroaches are capable of flight. With two pairs of thin, membranous wings, they’re more than capable of true flight, rather than just gliding.
Cuban Cockroach (Panchlora nivea)
These roaches exclusively inhabit the tropical and subtropical regions of the southeastern United States, Cuba, and the Gulf Coast. They grow up to one inch long, and are characterized by their bright green and yellow color. Eggs incubate for about 48 days; nymphs do not have wings. Adult males are smaller than adult females, though both have wings and are capable of flight. They’re known as good fliers, and often make their way into trees and into homes through open windows or doors. They’re not considered to be a pest species.
American Cockroach (Periplaneta americana)
This species is the largest pest species of cockroach fly. American cockroaches fly, but not in the way that birds fly. They’re capable only of gliding from a high point to a lower point. Eggs incubate for only four days, and nymphs lack wings. Like most cockroaches, they feed on food waste, feces, and other detritus. Adults all have wings, and both males and females are capable of gliding. American cockroaches live up to three years; they’re often called palmetto bugs.
Cockroaches that Don’t Fly
One of the most common pests in the United States is the German cockroach. Fortunately, this species of cockroach does not fly. Another common species of cockroach that’s found throughout Asia – the oriental cockroach – is also incapable of flight. For all of the cockroaches that do fly, there are many more that will never feel the air under their wings.
Many larger species of roach are also incapable of flight. These include the Australian rhinoceros cockroach and the Central American giant cockroach. These species spend vast amounts of their time underground, and have evolved to burrow, rather than fly. It’s a good thing too; a four inch long flying cockroach isn’t something anyone wants landing on their shoulder, or in their home.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/gan chaonan
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