Few things are worse than a cockroach that can jump at you. This scary thought haunts many people that have seen roaches leap across their kitchen or flutter up to countertops.
While roaches can technically jump, they rely on their wings to make this possible. A cockroach’s legs alone are powerful and muscular, but they have no real jumping ability. Instead, roaches use their wings to lift them off the ground and assist their legs in pouncing forward. Depending on the species, this jump won’t have much coordination. The roach will prefer to fly, if it can, since jumping means that it can’t land safely or on target.
The only type of cockroach found to jump using just its legs is the Saltoblattella montistabularis. It’s more commonly called the leaproach, and for good reason. This species can only be found in a shrubland habitat in South Africa. Discovered in 2009, it has shed light on why roaches have wings, even if they don’t fly.
Do Cockroaches Jump Like Crickets?
Roaches cannot jump like crickets. Although both have powerful legs, roaches use theirs to run at high speeds.
Roaches can sprint up to 50 body-lengths a second, or about 3 miles per hour. That seems unimpressive, but it means they can dart across a kitchen in seconds. The muscles in a roach’s back legs help it to angle its body upwards, so it’s more aerodynamic.
While those muscles should help a roach jump, in practice, they don’t. They lack the precise muscle control necessary to execute a powerful jump with their legs alone.
Meanwhile, crickets use their powerful legs to bound from one location to the next, without using their wings. They have greater muscle control, so they can aim where they land and evade predators.
How Do Roaches Jump?
To circumvent the jumping problem, roaches use their wings to help them leap. Instead of out-right flying, the insect will use its wings to flutter itself into the air while it pushes off with its legs. This quick boost can give a roach the ability to jump up to 50 body lengths in a single bound. That’s the same distance as its running speed.
However, when a cockroach flings itself, it never truly knows where it’ll land. The roach is all power and no aim. Because of this, most roaches will choose to run instead.
Flying is great, but roaches don’t have the best coordination in the air, so it’s also a dangerous risk. They only reserve their ability to jump or fly for when:
- They need to reach lofty areas
- They’re out of options to escape predators
What Is A Leaproach?
There is only one species of roach that is known to jump using its legs alone. Known as the leaproach, its scientific name is Saltoblattella montistabularis.
A group of researchers from the University of Cambridge discovered and observed it in 2009. It can only be found at Silvermine Nature Reserve on Table Mountain in South Africa.
The leaproach is similar in appearance to the grasshoppers that share its habitat. The hind legs of a leaproach make up:
- 10% of its total body weight
- 50% of its body length
These back legs more than twice as long as their other legs. The joints of the hind legs (the femoro-tibial joint, to be specific) have resilin. This is an elastic protein that helps the leaproaches jump the way they do.
They also have large, bulging eyes, which are different from the average roach. It’s theorized that the big eyes give leaproaches better vision, allowing them to see where they land more effectively than other species.
Adult German cockroaches belong to the same family as leaproaches. However, they possess hind legs that are the same size as their body. In contrast, grasshopper nymphs have hind legs that are nearly 4 times the length of their other legs. With that in mind, leaproaches have clearly evolved to fit in with their habitat.
Why Are Leaproaches Good Jumpers?
Like grasshoppers, leaproaches developed long legs so they could be excellent jumpers. It was the best way forward in their environment, so they adapted as necessary.
Because of their size, leaproaches have more muscles on their hind legs that help them to jump. The tibiae muscles are what power the jumps. The tibiae fully engage with the femora as the leaproach prepares to bound forward.
These muscles and joints come together to exert force. However, it is through the elastic resilin protein between the tibiae and the femora that leaproaches jump as high as they do.
For other cockroaches, their legs are too short, and they don’t have the same motor functions as leaproaches. They lack resilin between their joints. If they had well-developed wings, or even better-developed legs, they would be able to out-hop locusts.
Do Leaproaches Use Wings To Jump?
Leaproaches do not have wings. However, they don’t need them to escape danger and go about their daily lives. Jumping accounts for 71% of their locomotive activity. This allows them to keep up with the grasshoppers that co-habit their area.
Prioritizing the hind legs for mobility ensures they not only have an effective means of escape. Their legs are also well-designed, strong, and capable. From an evolutionary standpoint, they do not need wings. Their ability to jump helps keep them alive.
Meanwhile, other cockroaches have wings despite not using them because it’s evolutionarily advantageous. Their legs have developed to prioritize speed over jumping. Their wings operate as a last-ditch effort to make them faster and to protect their bodies.
The leaproach inhabits the same areas as grasshoppers, and other roaches do not. Because of this, they evolved differently.
What Cockroaches Can Jump?
The leaproach is only found in one specific part of South Africa. As such, most people will never meet a true jumping cockroach.
Depending on where you live, though, you might find a cockroach that uses its wings to leap at you. To be prepared for that, take a look at the table below.
|Cockroach Type||Found In||Has Wings?||Can Jump With Legs Alone?|
|Asian cockroach||Japan (seen in southern American states)||Yes||No|
|Australian cockroach||Australia (Seen in southern American states)||Yes||No|
|Cuban cockroach||Central America and southwestern United States||Yes||No|
|Megaloblatta||Central and South America||Yes||No|
|Pennsylvania woods roach||Eastern and central America||Yes||No|
|American cockroach||North America||Yes||No|
|Oriental cockroach||Europe, Australia, North and South America||No||No|
|Madagascar hissing roach||Madagascar||No||No|
How Far Can Cockroaches Jump?
When propelling itself horizontally, the average roach can jump 50 times its own body length. That’s the equivalent of 5-6 feet. In some cases, roaches have been known to jump even farther, assuming their wings can help them get better air time.
The leaproach has longer hind legs, which allows it to jump without wings. However, the average roach still outperforms these springy bugs when it comes to jumping distance. After all, wings allow them to glide, which adds distance even if it isn’t ‘technical’ jumping.
Female leaproaches can jump farther than male leaproaches. Despite being heavier than males, female leaproaches can jump 36 times the length of their bodies. Meanwhile, male leaproaches can jump 24 times their body length.
The maximum forward distance covered by a leaproach in a lab setting was 48 times its body length. If that doesn’t sound impressive, keep in mind that they can leap at impressive speeds. A roach will close that distance in less than a second.
How High Can Cockroaches Jump?
Roaches are impressive jumpers horizontally, but what about vertically? Unlike crickets, these insects don’t reach great heights.
For leaproaches, the males can usually jump higher than females. They achieve a 11.6 ± 2.7 centimeter horizontal jump, while the females have a 9.5 ± 2.4 centimeters jump.
When it comes to the average household roach, there are no reliable sources that confirm how high they can jump. Cockroaches mostly use their wings to glide. As such, gaining height isn’t their strong suit. They rely on casting off from a lofty position or gliding low to the ground.
Can Baby Cockroaches Jump?
Baby roaches cannot jump. That’s because only the leaproach uses its legs alone to jump. Other roaches need wings to achieve that.
To become adults, cockroaches have to go through molting cycles. Here, they shed their hard exoskeleton and grow in size. Nymphs do not develop wings until their final molt, which is when they become adults. As such, they are not able to jump or glide until they are fully matured.
It varies by species, but the average roach needs to molt 6 times to reach adulthood. That’s good news, since you don’t have to worry about baby roaches leaping for your face.
Roaches can jump, but they won’t be able to target you or other surfaces to land. Their jumps are badly coordinated. They’ll only fall back on this evasive maneuver if they can’t properly run away.