Wood Roach vs Cockroach: How to Tell the Difference

Written by Brandi Allred
Updated: October 23, 2022
Image Credit Melinda Fawver/Shutterstock.com
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Cockroaches may seem like nothing more than unclean pests, but they’ve actually been around for a very, very long time. Cockroaches first emerged as an Order of insects about 350 million years ago, during the early Carboniferous period. They’re members of the Blattodea Order, along with termites. Today, they occupy just about every environment on earth, with the exception of Antarctica. With over 4,500 species and counting, it’s no wonder we all know about cockroaches. But, what about wood roaches? Are they the same thing as cockroaches?

Here we’ll take a deep dive into the exact characteristics that make up a wood roach. We’ll determine whether or not wood roaches are the same as cockroaches, and how to determine if you’ve got wood roaches. Then, we’ll explore the natural habitat of the wood roach, and whether or not you should be worried about them infesting your home.

Are Wood Roaches the Same as Cockroaches?

Wood roaches are not the same as cockroaches in your home. While common roaches in the home include German and American cockroaches, wood roaches generally stay in outdoor habitats. In addition, they’re smaller than other common cockroach species in America.

If you live in a wooded part of North America, chances are good that you’ve seen a wood roach. But, just what is a wood roach? And, are they the same as cockroaches? Here’s the good news: ‘wood roach’ is the nickname for a specific species of cockroach: the Pennsylvania wood roach. Wood roaches are a type of cockroach, not a different type of insect.

Unlike other species of roach (like the German and American cockroaches), wood roaches don’t want to come into your home or eat your food. Let’s take a closer look at this wood loving cockroach species.

How to Identify a Wood Roach: 5 Key Characteristics

Wood Roach vs Cockroach - Pennsylvania wood roach
Wood roaches are cockroaches; they’re specifically Pennsylvania wood roaches.

Melinda Fawver/Shutterstock.com

The Pennsylvania wood roach (Parcoblatta pennsylvanica) is often mistaken for an American cockroach. The two species have similar looks; the best way to tell them apart is by size. American cockroaches are usually between 1 ½ and 2 inches long, while wood roaches are smaller. Let’s take a closer look at the main distinguishing characteristics of the Pennsylvania wood cockroach.

Life Cycle

Baby Cockroach - Cockroach Lifecycle
Wood roaches follow the traditional cockroach lifecycle that moves from egg, to nymph, to adult.

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Like all cockroaches, wood roaches start life as eggs. The eggs are encased in a tiny capsule called an egg case. Each egg case can have up to 32 eggs in it. Female wood roaches produce the egg cases, then, they deposit them in a safe place (like a dead tree) for incubation. 

Incubation takes around 34 days, at which point the nymphs (baby cockroaches) hatch. Nymphs may take up to two years to reach adulthood, though one year is more common. As the nymphs grow, they continually shed and regrow their ‘skin’, or, exoskeleton. Once they reach the adult stage, many live only a few months.

Size

Pennsylvania wood roaches exhibit sexual dimorphism (differences in appearance based on sex). This is most obvious in the size difference between males and females. Adult males are about one inch long, while adult females are only ¾ of an inch long. 

Additionally, males have long, functioning wings that actually exceed the total length of their bodies. Females, on the other hand, have only vestigial wings that don’t function. Male wood roaches are capable of true flight, but their wings allow them to glide effectively for short distances. Nymphs have no wings at all, those don’t grow in until adulthood.

Coloring

Male and female wood roaches are not only different sizes; they’re also different colors. While nymphs are entirely medium brown and lacking in wings, adults have more color variation. Males are light, amber brown, and females are dark brown with yellow bands on their pronota (the shield-like structures that protect the backs of their heads).

In addition to their heads, thorax, and abdomens, Pennsylvania wood roaches also have six legs and two antennae. Like all cockroaches, their antennae are one of their most distinguishing features; they’re longer than the length of the rest of the body. The legs have thick spikes that point away from the body; they help the roach to climb and forage.

Habitat

Wood Roch - Cockraoch on Wood
Pennsylvania wood roaches live in moist, wooded areas

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Though their name might suggest that these roaches are only found in Pennsylvania, they’re actually found across eastern and central North America. They’re common in wooded areas, particularly those with a lot of moisture. As their name suggests, they tend to live in forests, and have a particular love for stacks of firewood. 

Wood roaches love leaf litter and rotting forest vegetation almost as much as they love dead trees. They’re not indoor roaches,  but homeowners can unwittingly bring them in with their firewood. Pennsylvania wood roaches may also find their way into homes through open windows or doors.

What Do Wood Roaches eat?

Unlike other, more pestilential species of cockroach, the wood roach does not live on garbage or human waste. Instead, they feast on rotten vegetation and dead wood. For the wood roach, a dead tree or a pile of rotting leaves isn’t just home—it’s dinner. 

Because of this diet, Pennsylvania wood roaches play a vital part in the natural ecosystem. If it wasn’t for them (and insects like them) all the dead plant matter would accumulate, until a walk in the woods meant wading through a sea of decomposing leaves. If wood roaches weren’t around to eat all that rotting plant material, the world would be a much grosser place.

Can Wood Roaches Infest Homes?

Wood roaches are a species of cockroach. Specifically, they’re Pennsylvania wood roaches. They do not infest homes, though a few might find their way inside on firewood or by accident. Wood roaches love the outdoors, and aren’t attracted to leftover food or clutter. 

If you find one (or two) in your home, you might want to check your firewood, and make sure that all doors and windows are shut. You’re much more likely to encounter wood roaches if you’ve made your home in the woods, especially if you bring in firewood from outside.

Before you need to begin to worry about how to carry out wood roach treatment, you need to be sure you’re dealing with wood cockroaches rather than the German or American cockroach. Misidentification can lead to using the wrong treatment which is a waste of time and money.

Here is what to look for:

  • Wood roaches look similar to cockroaches but the American cockroach has a flat head with an oval-shaped body. They have spiny legs, long antennas, and are brown in color.
  • A wood roach measures about three-quarters of an inch long and can reach about a inch when full grown.
  • A male wood roach has wings and can fly long distances, whereas females can’t fly but still have wings. They are tan in color and will blend in with wood.
  • Adults and older wood roaches can also have a cream color stripe on the outer edge of their bodies.

Additionally, it would be best to look for wood roaches outdoors or in wet environments. They won’t crawl in buildings and won’t breed indoors. However, if one finds a suitable wet home, it may breed because they need moist conditions like decaying wood to survive.

Wood Roach vs Cockroach - Pennsylvania wood roach

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About the Author

Brandi is a professional writer by day and a fiction writer by night. Her nonfiction work focuses on animals, nature, and conservation. She holds degrees in English and Anthropology, and spends her free time writing horror, scifi, and fantasy stories.

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