Water bugs vs cockroaches. It’s not a court case. It’s not an ultimate battle. It’s just the question that is keeping you up at night.
Because you’ve got a bug problem and you have no idea if it’s a cockroach issue or a water bug infestation.
Are water bugs roaches, you wonder? And if not, what’s the difference? You’ll soon know everything you ever wanted to know – and even things you didn’t – about water bugs vs cockroaches.
Water Bugs vs Cockroaches
Cockroaches have been around for millions of years. They were on this planet before the dinosaurs arrived, and were well-established by the time the first humans emerged. And from the looks of it, they may be here long after we’re gone.
Cockroaches have been a pest for the whole of human history, and so these bugs are very familiar to us. Over that time, they’ve acquired a few different names. Roach. Palmetto bug. Bombay Canary (I promise I didn’t make that last one up).
Sometimes, cockroaches are called water bugs, and it’s not hard to see why. After all, they are bugs. Also, they like areas of high humidity, which is why some of the roach’s favorite hiding spots are found in the kitchens and bathrooms of homes, close to water sources.
However, this nickname is misleading. Because there is another type of bug called a water bug. They probably don’t appreciate being mistaken for cockroaches. And they aren’t the kind of bug you want to get on the wrong side of.
Are Water Bugs Roaches?
No. Speaking technically, true water bugs are insects from the Belostomatidae family, whereas cockroaches belong to the Blattidae group.
Unfortunately, neither of them wear name tags to differentiate themselves. But these are entirely different families of bugs that are only very distantly related. In fact, they are about as closely related as we are to cats, moles, and other non-primate mammals.
However, confusion arises from the fact that many people call cockroaches water bugs. If someone’s talking to you about water bugs, it may be necessary to clarify whether they mean actual water bugs, or whether they mean cockroaches.
Because the two creatures are quite different. And more importantly, the best methods for getting rid of them differ depending on which one you’re trying to exterminate.
The Difference Between a Cockroach and a Waterbug
So how do you tell these wildly different but similar looking bugs apart? Here’s the profile for each one…
What Do Water Bugs Look Like?
In essence, the typical water bug fits this description:
- 1 1/2 inches to 2 inches long (though some species have been measured up to 4 inches)
- Brown to black
- Has wings and can fly
- Large pincerlike front legs
- Short antennae located underneath the bug’s eyes
Although water bugs and cockroaches – at least the American cockroach species, anyway – are similar in size and color, their habits and biology are quite different.
As the name implies, water bugs live in water, in pools or streams. They use their forelegs to grab prey before delivering a venomous bite. They prey on other insects, small crustaceans, snails, fish, and sometimes even young snakes.
They are sometimes known as a toe biter, because they are more than capable of delivering a very painful bite to anyone who gets too close to them.
Water bugs are much more comfortable living outside, and there isn’t much inside the average human home that appeals to them. However, water bugs can fly and are attracted to light. So often, they can be found buzzing around outside lights on a summer’s night. From there, one or two individuals may even accidentally find their way inside.
While this can be very scary, it doesn’t mean that they will establish a breeding population. Water bugs need ponds and lakes to live in.
What Do Cockroaches Look Like?
In short, the typical cockroach fits this description:
- 1 1/2 inches long ( applies only to the American cockroach, the largest species commonly encountered in human homes. The more common German cockroach is much smaller, at 5/8 of an inch long when fully grown.)
- Reddish-brown to dark brown
- Has wings, but is a poor flyer
- Large and well-developed hindlegs
- Long threadlike antennae
If you want to get a better idea of what cockroaches look like, check out these pictures of roaches in every life stage.
Cockroaches, unlike water bugs, are most comfortable living with us. A human home provides all the food, water, and warmth that a cockroach needs, as well as ample places to hide.
So seeing a single water bug in your home means nothing more than that an individual found its way inside. But a cockroach inside your home may well mean that you have an infestation on your hands.
For that reason, as scary as water bugs look, it’s probably better to find one of these giant creatures in your home than it is to find a cockroach.
How to Get Rid of Water Bugs
Water bugs don’t want to live in your home. If they end up inside at all, it’s by mistake. The only thing about a human home that attracts a water bug is light. Once they get inside, they usually realize their mistake. Unfortunately, they are far too dumb to find their way outside again.
If you’re feeling generous, the best way to deal with any water bug you find inside your home is to trap it inside a glass and take it back outside.
However, if you’re not feeling quite so kind, you could simply stomp on the bug to kill it. Remember to wear stout shoes, though. These creatures aren’t called toe biters for nothing.
To keep water bugs away from your home, it’s important to remember that it’s the light that attracts them. Try to minimize outside light sources during the summer when these bugs are most active. Or consider a bug zapper that will draw the insects to it and electrocute them.
Also pay attention to your window and door screens. Make sure that these are intact with no holes to prevent water bugs from finding their way inside.
And if the bug you found happens to be a water bug, thank your lucky stars. Because water bugs won’t infest your home and the few that get in won’t want to stay.
But with roaches, it’s a whole different story…
How to Get Rid of Cockroaches
Getting rid of cockroaches is a subject you could write a book on. In fact, many people have.
But there are a few basic principles that will both help to get rid of an active cockroach population and prevent one from establishing itself in the first place.
This is cockroach prevention 101. These bugs don’t live with us because they like our jokes. They come into our homes for food and shelter. So keeping clean will significantly reduce the food source these bugs need.
Wipe up any spills as soon as they happen. Store all food in sealed insect-proof containers made of either glass, metal, or hard plastic. Remember that cockroaches will eat just about anything, so take garbage outside regularly.
Also, put pet food away in a sealed container once your pet is done eating. If you have an indoor cat, empty the litter box regularly. Cockroaches aren’t above eating cat poop if the opportunity presents itself.
Remove water sources
Cockroaches can survive for over a month without eating, but they won’t last more than a week without water. They can get this from pet dishes and dishes left in the sink. But cockroaches can also find enough water from the droplets that condense on the outside of water pipes.
Dry up any moist areas in your home and cover water pipes with insulation. Don’t forget about the back of the fridge. Many fridges have a drip tray that collects the condensation that drips from the coolant pipes.
This is a bonanza for thirsty cockroaches and makes the back of the fridge one of the most popular areas in a home for cockroaches to live.
Use roach bait
Most commercially available bug sprays will kill roaches on contact. But cockroaches are very mobile and fast-moving creatures, and they are very sensitive to changes in their environment.
Spraying bug spray for cockroaches can often cause them to scatter, spreading the problem throughout your home. Instead, try to get hold of at least one or two of the most effective roach bait. The cockroaches will eat this substance and be slowly poisoned.
The bait is designed to work slowly so that the poison spreads through the entire population of cockroaches. Long term, this is hands down the most effective way to deal with the cockroach infestation. And it has the advantage that it is completely harmless to you and your family.
Although they may have some superficial similarities, cockroaches and water bugs are two very different creatures. They are both bugs that you don’t want to find in your home.
And while neither creature is likely to win any beauty contests anytime soon, if forced to choose, you’d be better off finding a water bug in your home, as terrifying as that prospect might be, than a cockroach. Now you know why.