What is a Palmetto Bug?

Eric Benson, Ph.D. professor and extension entomologist at Clemson University states that “usually when people are talking about palmetto bugs, they’re talking about the smoky brown cockroach. While both smoky browns and Americans are referred to as palmetto bugs. Smoky browns have the most legitimate claim to the name. If I look in the palmetto trees down on the coast, I’m usually going to see smoky browns as opposed to Americans. If I look in a sewer or storm drain or commercial kitchen, I’ll see American cockroaches first”.

A palmetto bug is just another name for the American cockroach or water bug. They average around four centimeters long. It is the largest of the domestic cockroaches. After German roaches, American roaches are the second most common. You don’t have to look far in Georgia to see palmetto bugs. American cockroaches in the US were first sited in 1625 and they came from Africa. 

Why is it called Palmetto?

Palmetto means any of various palms having fan-shaped leaves, as of the genera Sabal, Serenoa, and Thrinax that are in the southern US to Northern South America. The Palmetto bug likes to hide out in the Palmetto Palms.

General Description

As adults, American cockroaches range between 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 inches and have a dark body, yellowish thorax region and dark brown to black spots or markings on the yellow and they can fly.


They typically make their homes outdoors. In the garden and yard, they hang out in dark, moist and humid areas. They make their homes under mulch, in piles of leaves, in dead trees and holes, and under other types of vegetation.

They can appear inside your home if they migrate or are accidentally carried in. Excessive mulch can draw palmetto bugs to your home, as can food and water left outside for pets.

Palmetto bugs around your home are likely to be found in these locations:

  • Under sinks
  • Trash bins/dumpsters
  • Behind dishwashers
  • Under refrigerators
  • Bathrooms
  • Kitchens
  • Sceptic tanks
  • Attics, especially in attic corners
  • Crawlspaces
  • Mulch
  • Gardens
  • Leaf litter
  • Trees

Can they be dangerous?
Yes, Palmetto bugs can be dangerous and pose health risks since they serve as hosts to a number of harmful pathogens, including salmonella, which can contaminate food, leading to illness. If a Palmetto bug comes out of a sewer drain, and then walks up and crawls over your plate or your food, that is how they spread germs. Palmetto bugs can cause skin irritation by biting. They leave debris behind, including feces and sheddings contain proteins that can trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions.

Life Cycle

This bug has a three-stage life cycle: egg, nymph and adult. Nymphs are much smaller, lack wings and have slightly different markings. Adult females deposit their eggs in a case known as an ootheca that they carry around until the eggs hatch. Larger outdoor roaches of the types called palmetto bugs may take up to a full year to develop into adults.

How to Avoid or Minimize Keep Palmetto Bugs 

Here are some steps you can take to avoid or minimize Palmetto bugs from entering your home.

  • Keep your sink clean. No dirty dishes left around.
  • Reduce clutter and keep dark storage places organized and clean.
  • Close up food containers and trash cans with lids.
  • Seal doors, windows, etc. to keep them out.

If you start to see cockroaches, call in the experts to make sure they don’t multiple and cause major damage.

Houseman Services is the only complete service company in the Athens, GA area. We provide Weed control, fertilization, shrub care, mulch & pine straw, sod, annual plantings, irrigation, and commercial & residential lawn maintenance. We are also state certified and licensed in wood destroying organisms (termite control), household pest control, public heath, and turf & ornamental weed control. We are licensed to control and treat mosquitoes, termites, all pest problems and turf & ornamental weed control. Contact the professionals at Houseman Services and set up a free inspection of your yard. We have been servicing homes and businesses in the Athens, Clarke County area since 1985!