Do cockroaches bite? It’s a horrid question to even have to ask. As if it’s not enough that they steal your food and contaminate it. Would they dare try to take a nibble at you as well?
One thing is for sure. Cockroaches are one of the most troublesome pest species on earth. And they cause a lot of problems. Perhaps the worst thing about them is that they can spread several diseases by carrying pathogens on their bodies.
Not to mention the fact that many people can develop allergies to cockroaches which can trigger asthma attacks.
On top of all that, roaches are also a major source of food contamination, so any restaurant that has them will quickly feel the wrath of the health inspector.
The worst news, of course, is that once a population is established, cockroaches can be very tough to get rid of.
But on top of all that, do they bite as well? Let’s dig into the ugly truth of cockroach bites.
Do Cockroaches Bite?
Cockroaches have been around for hundreds of millions of years, and one of the ways they have survived so long is by being willing to eat almost anything.
Unlike some other insects which specialize in a particular type of food, cockroaches are the garbage disposal of the insect world. As opportunistic omnivores, they will eat anything – including each other.
Although cockroaches prefers sweets, starches, and meat, they will also gladly consume other “foods” like:
- Cereal boxes
- Wallpaper glue
- Book bindings
- Grass clippings
As you can see, cockroaches are not picky eaters. But that being said, they have their limits. For starters, roaches are scavengers and typically do not eat things that are still alive.
On top of that, despite their strong bite, their mouthparts aren’t quite strong enough to pierce human skin. You see, a cockroach has a bite force 50 times its body weight but that’s not saying much for an insect that only weighs an average of 0.105 grams.
Last but not least, cockroaches aren’t like fire ants or wasps that lash out in self defense. Rather than bite a human as a defense mechanism, a roach will rather run away and hide.
So overall, roaches are very unlikely to bite. Yet, that’s not to say it doesn’t happen.
Do Roaches Bite People?
The bad news is that roaches can bite people. There are plenty of anecdotal reports of roach bites. And cockroaches have been recorded to eat the flesh of both alive and dead humans. They’ll really eat anything.
The good news is that roach bites are very, very rare.
Cockroaches don’t see humans or other mammals such as cats and dogs as a food source. Unlike bed bugs, mosquitoes, and fleas, they don’t drink our blood. And unlike maggots and dermestid beetles, roaches don’t have a taste for human flesh.
They like to live close to humans because of the food that we consume, which cockroaches will happily scavenge for themselves. But they don’t actively seek us out to bite us the way the bed bugs do.
As a rule, cockroaches try to stay hidden. And they typically won’t take the risk of nibbling on a potential predator as a food source.
The verdict: while cockroaches can bite people, it is extremely rare.
But I’ve Been Bitten by a Cockroach!
Roach bites may be rare, but what if the worst has happened? What if you’ve been bitten by a cockroach?
Well, we’re sad to say, but one of the only reasons why cockroaches may risk gnawing on humans is that they have exhausted all other food sources.
This can seem impossible because roaches will eat anything. But if a cockroach infestation grows large enough, the competition for food may entice some adventurous roaches to try a new food source – you.
When cockroaches do bite humans, they will generally go for fingernails and hair. Because these parts of our bodies don’t have nerves, we are less likely to feel the cockroach attempting to feed.
However, these are not great food sources for cockroaches, and so this behavior usually only happens in the case of extremely heavy infestations where all other food sources have been exhausted.
If you ever reach this unfortunate point where roaches are actively feeding on your fingernails and hair – you don’t need us to tell you you’ve got a serious problem at hand.
Do Roaches Bite Dogs and Cats?
From a cockroach’s point of view, you are not very different from a dog or a cat. It’s an unflattering viewpoint, but no one said cockroaches are nice.
Just as they will with humans, cockroaches will bite dogs, cats, and other mammals if they have exhausted other food sources.
Again, they will most likely start with fur and claws but may bite the skin in extreme circumstances.
American vs German Cockroach Bites
If you live in North America and you have cockroach bites, there are two most likely culprits: the American cockroach and the German cockroach. But is there any discernible difference between the two cockroach bites?
German cockroaches are by far the most common cockroaches in human homes. This species is relatively small by cockroach standards, and a small cockroach means small jaws, which make humans an intimidating food source for these bugs.
Still, you can’t put it past them – there have been rare cases of German cockroaches biting people.
The larger American cockroach is less frequently found in homes, preferring instead to stay in sewers and other areas with high humidity.
But these big cockroaches can infest human homes, and when they do, they are more likely to bite than the German variety – and if they bite, they can bite hard. That still doesn’t make it likely to happen, but it’s not unheard of.
In terms of what these cockroach bites look like, it is more or less the same no matter which type of cockroach bit you…
What Do Cockroach Bites Look Like?
Everybody’s skin is different, and will, therefore, react differently to cockroach bites. Remember that cockroaches are not like bed bugs, which have a specialized mouth designed for piercing skin.
A cockroach’s jaws are more like those of an ant, with large mandibles on either side of their mouth. These mouths are designed for chewing and gnawing rather than piercing.
In most cases, cockroach bites will form swollen red bumps on the bitten skin.
Generally, when a cockroach bites a human, it will be on the hands or face. Tough skin, for instance on the soles of your feet, might prove too much for them to bite through, but softer skin around those areas may get bitten.
But considering cockroach bites are not a common phenomenon, if you discover some itchy red bumps on your skin, don’t assume it’s cockroaches. It may be another nocturnal pest…
Cockroach vs Bed Bug Bites
Both cockroaches and bed bugs like to dine under the cover of night. And both can leave itchy, red welts on your skin.
But there are some crucial differences between cockroach vs bed bug bites that can help you differentiate between these troublesome pests.
- Very rare.
- Sharp, stinging pain when bitten.
- Can result in a red bump or welt, possibly with swelling.
- Rather than flesh, roaches are a lot more likely to go for a taste of nails, hair or even eyelashes. Deep shudder.
- When roaches do bite flesh, they will nibble on the body parts most normally used for eating, especially if there is food residue still present. Think: the mouth, face, fingers and hands.
- There is no pattern to roach bites.
Bed Bug Bites
- Very frequent, can happen every night.
- Painless because bed bugs inject an analgesic while they drink your blood.
- May or may not result in itchy red welts. Many people – especially people over 65 – don’t have any visible reaction to bed bug bites.
- Bed bugs can’t bite through fabric so bites will typically happen on exposed areas like the hands, arms, feet, legs, and the face.
- There can be a pattern like a zig-zag line caused by bed bugs “testing” a few areas to find the best source of blood.
As you can see, there are some big differences in the biting behavior of bed bugs vs cockroaches. But trying to figure out which pest bit you by bite marks alone is a very difficult task.
If you suspect you may have bed bugs, the best thing you can do is to do a thorough bed bug check.
Do Roach Bites Itch?
Like other bug bites, cockroach bites can become itchy. This is due to the body’s histamine reaction trying to stave off infection.
Itchiness will subside in a couple days at most so if this is the worst reaction you have to a cockroach bite, consider yourself very lucky.
Are Cockroach Bites Dangerous?
Itching is one thing but cockroach bites can result in something more serious: infection. Whereas roach bites don’t transmit disease, they can transfer pathogenic microbes. So infection is one thing you need to worry about.
To that end, even though the bites will most probably itch, try not to scratch them. Scratching only irritates the skin and increases the risk of infection.
Another risk of cockroach bites is the possibility of an allergic reaction. You are particularly vulnerable if you have a shellfish allergy, since cockroach tropomyosins are very similar to the shrimp and shellfish tropomyosin.
How to Treat Roach Bites
If a cockroach has bitten you, the first thing to do is to wash the affected area with soap and warm water. Cockroaches live in filthy conditions and will eat almost anything, including sewage.
And no, they don’t kiss their mothers with those mouths. Your first goal should be to clean the bite thoroughly to reduce the risk of infection.
To relieve the itching, try a soothing skin cream such as aloe vera gel. Available from grocery stores and pharmacies alike, this natural product is useful for relieving the symptoms of all kinds of skin conditions.
If you want something stronger, you could consider a topical corticosteroid from a pharmacist. These creams do a great job of reducing itching, but they are not recommended for long-term use as they can thin the skin over time.
Before taking any medication, consult with your pharmacist or doctor. This goes double if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or are on any other kind of medication.
Technically, it’s not the bite of the cockroach that causes the itching sensation, but your body’s attempt to fight infection. This histamine reaction can be reduced by antihistamine allergy medication, such as Benadryl.
Even pets can be given Benadryl, but make sure you consult with a vet to get the correct dosage.
How to Prevent Roach Bites
It bears repeating: you are very unlikely to be bitten by a cockroach, even if you have an active infestation. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
Treating the bites will provide some temporary relief and help to prevent more serious infection, but the long-term solution is always going to come down to getting rid of the cockroaches.
Luckily, there are a number of ways that you can do this. Practicing good hygiene by cleaning up any spills and sealing all food products will dramatically reduce the cockroach population.
So will sealing up harborage areas around pipes and in cracks and crevices in kitchen cabinets. And once you’ve got the basic prevention methods down, you can go nuclear with an assortment of the best cockroach killers on the market.
Whether cockroaches bite you or not, they make for very poor houseguests. Get rid of the roaches, and you won’t have to worry about things that go bite in the night.