Cockroaches pervade many types of human habitation. They’re found in homes, multi-unit apartment buildings, restaurants, and just about anywhere food is prepared. They prefer warm, dark places—and many scatter at the first sign of light. Though they have a bad reputation as pests, only about 1% of cockroach species ever come into contact with humans. The rest spend their lives in the wild, minding their own business. If you’re lucky enough (or unlucky enough) to have seen a cockroach in your home or business, then you may have seen what looked like a white, or albino cockroach.
Here, we’ll explore whether these albino cockroaches are a separate species, and just how worried you should be if you find them. We’ll go over what cockroaches look like, and how to determine the age of the roach you’re looking at. Surprisingly, in cockroaches, age determines appearance, and knowing the age of the roach just might help you get rid of your infestation. Finally, we’ll go over what to do if you have cockroaches taking up residence with you, and how to prevent infestations in the first place.
What Do Cockroaches Look Like?
Cockroaches are one of the oldest insect species on the planet. ‘Cockroach’ actually refers to any one of the approximately 4,500 cockroach species within the superorder Dictyoptera—the same order as termites. Unlike other insects (like stick insects) which have evolved to become highly specialized; cockroaches have retained extremely simple, generalized body features.
Cockroaches are segmented insects with six legs, a head, a thorax (located directly behind the head), an abdomen (the largest part of the body), and wings (in most species). They tend to be dark brown to reddish-brown in color, though some have distinct markings like spots or stripes. They range in size from only ¼ inch long for adult three-lined cockroaches, to four inches long for some species of giant cockroach.
Cockroaches are born to eggs. The eggs are encased in an egg case, which is either held inside the cockroach mother, or deposited in a safe place. The cockroach babies develop within the eggs; then, when they’re ready, they hatch as brand new, tiny, cockroach nymphs.
What Do Cockroach Nymphs Look Like?
All cockroaches begin life as nymphs. Nymphs, unlike adults, are pale white in color. In fact, some are so light that they almost appear translucent. If you’ve seen a white cockroach in your home or scurrying about, it was almost certainly a cockroach nymph.
Unlike adults, who have hard, thickened exoskeletons—nymphs have only soft, light exoskeletons. As they grow, they gradually molt their ‘skin’ several times, until they attain adult size. With each molting, the exoskeletons get incrementally harder. As they get harder, they also get darker, until they have the brown coloring of the adults. Studies show that nymphs mature faster when they’re around other nymphs.
It’s worth noting that cockroaches are at their most white phase after molting. After each molting, cockroach bodies will restore pigmentation, but this process takes several hours. During this time cockroaches will appear to be albino, even though albinism has never been observed in any cockroach species (more on this below).
Depending on the species, cockroaches may stay in the nymph phase for up to three years. One species—the oriental cockroach—spends most of its life as a nymph, living only a couple of months once it reaches adulthood. White, or albino, cockroaches are almost certainly juvenile versions of the dark brown adult cockroaches. It’s generally harder to determine species in juveniles; but no matter the species, the nymph will be white.
Are There Albino Cockroaches?
There are no species of albino, or white, cockroach. However: all cockroaches begin life as pale nymphs, which is why so many people think they’ve seen albino cockroaches. The nymphs aren’t albino though; they just haven’t gained their darker adult coloring yet.
There is one species of cockroach that may be considered at least partially albino; the ghost porcelain cockroach. These roaches have dark brown bodies, but look as if they’ve been sprinkled with flour from the head down. They’re also known as chrome roaches, and the name is apt. Though they’re not truly albino, ghost porcelain cockroaches are the closest thing to white cockroaches that scientists have yet discovered.
What To Do If You See An Albino Cockroach
Of the approximately 4,500 known species of roach, about 30 live among humans. Among those 30, about six species are common throughout the United States, including the American cockroach. Signs of a roach infestation include, first—seeing cockroaches, or white cockroach nymphs. Secondary signs include the presence of droppings, shed exoskeletons, and foul-smelling stains where the cockroaches have been.
If you suspect that you’ve got a cockroach infestation, your first step may be to call a pest exterminator. If you would rather take care of things yourself, there are a few options. Glue traps are a popular way to start, as they enable you to find out where the cockroaches are congregating, and potentially what species you’re dealing with. There are also various powders and insecticides (like boric acid) on the market that are designed specifically to kill cockroaches.
If you see white/albino cockroaches, it means that your cockroach infestation has begun breeding. The presence of nymphs is a good indication that you’ve got an established population, and action should be taken as soon as possible.
What Causes Cockroach Infestations?
Cockroaches are omnivores that feed on just about anything they find lying around. They’re not limited to only plant or animal matter either; they also feed on garbage, waste, and excrement. The best way to prevent cockroaches from taking up residence in your home or business is to clean up and dispose of garbage regularly. It’s also important not to leave food out, and to dispose of food waste before roaches find it. Additionally, you should keep all spaces clean, clear of clutter, and dry.
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