Can Cockroaches Fly?

wood cockroachQuestion

We’re having an argument in our family. I say that cockroaches can fly; my husband says they can’t. I know I saw what looked like a cockroach in our house once and it was definitely flying.

Answer

Some species of cockroaches can fly, while others cannot (no matter how hard they try). If you indeed had a flying cockroach in your home in our part of the country, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, I would bet it was a wood cockroach. The Pennsylvania wood cockroach is a seasonal pest that lives outdoors but often enters homes during its breeding season, May to July. The male wood cockroach is a good flyer and is known to travel far when he detects the scent of a female wood roach. The female, however, has reduced wings, covering only half of her abdomen and cannot fly. These cockroaches are attracted to outdoor lights. Males can congregate at outdoor lights and find their way inside, or they may follow the scent of a female already in your home.

Lucky for us, other cockroaches fly more frequently in the South. Even cockroaches that can fly, seldom do; they prefer to run. Those cockroaches that are capable of flight tend to use their wings to glide down from high points rather than fly from the ground up. The nymphs or immature cockroaches of any cockroach species have no wings at all. You never have to worry about baby cockroaches flying. This is true of all winged insects; wings don’t appear until the final molt when the nymph or larva becomes an adult insect. If wings are present on a cockroach, that means it’s an adult. But to confuse the issue, some adult female cockroaches appear to be wingless.

Our most common household pest cockroach is the smaller German cockroach. The German cockroach has wings that are held back over its body. Although it has fully developed wings, it doesn’t fly. You can tell a male German cockroach from a female German cockroach by the wings. The male’s wings are longer, completely covering the tip of its abdomen. The female has shorter wings that expose the tip of her abdomen. In parts of the southern U.S. there is an Asian cockroach that looks identical to the German cockroach except that it is attracted to lights and flies.

The much larger American cockroach is the cockroach most known for flying. Both the male and female have large, developed wings with the male’s wings extending beyond the tip of the abdomen. Although American cockroaches can fly, they don’t often do so inside buildings. They are most often found on the lowest level of commercial buildings or in sewers, rather than in homes. In southern states, American cockroaches live outdoors and often fly from palm trees.

The large, dark oriental cockroach does not fly. The oriental female doesn’t even have wings, to speak of. She has very short, nonfunctional wing “buds.” It’s hard to tell an oriental cockroach female adult from a full grown oriental nymph since both are about the same size and wingless. The oriental cockroach male does have wings but they are very short and not functional either.

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