Cockroaches are notoriously disgusting insects. Their name derives from the Spanish ‘cucaracha’; they’re members of the Blattodea order, which also includes termites. In Latin, ‘blatta’ means ‘insect that shuns the light’— and cockroaches certainly live up to that definition. They’re known for scurrying about in the dark, eating garbage and leaving behind filthy smells and stains. Like most insects, they have more than four legs. But, just how many legs do cockroaches have?
Here, we’ll discover more about cockroach appearance, how many legs they have, and whether or not all cockroaches have the same number of legs. Then, we’ll check out cockroach wings, and find out exactly what they use their appendages for. Finally, we’ll take a look at some of the signs of a cockroach infestation—and what you can do to prevent these garbage-mongering insects from taking up residence in your home or business.
What Do Cockroaches Look Like?
There are over 4,500 cockroach species worldwide, and they vary widely in appearance and size. Most are shiny black, dark brown, or reddish-brown. Out of all those species, only about 30 ever come into contact with humans. Out of those 30, only around five species frequent homes and businesses in infamous infestations.
Cockroach bodies are divided into three main parts: the head, thorax, and abdomen. The head is attached to the thorax at a 90-degree angle, with the generalized mouthparts pointing backward, towards the body. If human heads were attached to their bodies in the same way, our eyes would point straight up, and we would have to bend over to look at each other. The cockroach’s legs are attached to the thorax and abdomen.
How Many Legs Do Cockroaches Have?
Cockroaches have a grand total of six legs. Their front legs (alternately called forelegs or prothoracic legs) are attached to the thorax, just behind the head, with one on each side. The next four legs are attached to the abdomen; they’re called the midlegs and hindlegs.
Each leg comes equipped with hard, downwards pointing spikes that look like thick leg hairs. Cockroaches use all of their legs to run, though their forelegs are also used for things like feeding and grooming. In addition to the six legs, cockroaches also have body-length antennae. Many species also have wings, which are attached to the mesothorax, just behind the forelegs.
Do All Cockroaches Have Wings?
All cockroaches have six legs, but do all cockroaches have wings? The short answer is no; there are many species of cockroaches with no wings, and many more with only vestigial wings. Additionally, many species exhibit sexual dimorphism (differences in body structure due to sex). In these species, males have large, fully developed wings, while females have only small, functionally useless wings.
Furthermore, all cockroaches start life as nymphs (baby cockroaches) and nymphs almost never have wings. In species that do grow wings, they don’t get them until adulthood. So, while all cockroaches have six legs, not all cockroaches have wings—or wings capable of flight.
What Do Cockroaches Use Their Legs For?
Cockroaches are unique among insects in that they live in so many diverse habitats around the world. They can be found in desert sands, high in trees, living in basements, crawling on walls, and living in riverine environments. With so many options for living space, it’s no wonder their legs are so versatile.
First, cockroach legs come equipped with strong spikes. These spikes (and the small spikes on their feet) help cockroaches to grip any surface they encounter. This includes trees, plants, and walls. Cockroaches can move surprisingly fast up walls—both inside and outside buildings. These spiky legs also help them to quickly scurry out of danger, especially when the lights get turned on. But, cockroaches use their legs for more than just climbing; they also use them to dig.
Though they’re not commonly found in the United States, there are species of cockroaches that mainly use their legs to burrow into the ground. One prime example is the Australian rhinoceros cockroach. This roach grows up to three inches long. While they have six legs, they have no wings—they don’t need them. Instead of flying, these cockroaches spend their days underground, only coming out to feed. They use their strong legs to dig deep into the sand or dirt and hide for days at a time.
Signs of a Cockroach Infestation
No matter how many legs they have, cockroaches are often unwelcome guests in homes, restaurants, or apartments. Unfortunately, the few species that make a nuisance of themselves have given all roaches a bad reputation. But, species that inhabit homes tend to leave very distinctive signs.
First, seeing even one cockroach can be a sign of a deeper infestation. You may also see roach droppings, or shed exoskeletons. They’re also known to leave stains and bad smells in areas where they’ve been active; you may even find cockroach egg cases if your roaches have started breeding. If you suspect an infestation, you may want to call in a professional pest exterminator.
Cockroaches love food, and they love places to hide. So, to prevent them from moving in, you want to limit their access to these things. First—keep a clean environment. Put away leftover food immediately, take the garbage out regularly, and pick up any crumbs or morsels that may have fallen to the floor. Second, keep clutter to a minimum. This includes places like basements, and storage areas. Invest in plastic totes, rather than corrugated cardboard boxes (which roaches love). Cockroaches will infest areas beyond homes as well, so keeping a clean car can also prevent unwelcome cockroaches.
If you think you’ve seen a cockroach, but you’re not sure; take a look at how many legs it has. If the answer is six, it’s probably a roach.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/ViniSouza128
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