why do cockroaches have wings?

Why Are There Flying Cockroaches?

Some types of cockroaches are born with the ability to fly. However, not all cockroaches have functional wings. The advantage of wings almost certainly enhances the survival prospects of cockroaches as a species.

Flying cockroaches can escape danger, reach greater speeds, and access new areas. Wings also help roaches to jump, improve their balance, and avoid getting stuck on their backs. American cockroaches, German cockroaches, and male brown-banded cockroaches can fly. Species with wings, such as Oriental roaches, are flightless.

Cockroaches will only fly when absolutely necessary. They don’t fly for social enrichment or to launch an attack. In fact, when a cockroach flies into your face, it’s usually a complete accident. Roaches aren’t strong fliers, so their aim is very poor when in the air. Flying cockroaches are no more dangerous or harmful than any other kind of cockroaches.  

Why Do Cockroaches Have Wings?

Cockroaches have wings because it boosts their chances of survival. Of course, the more roaches that survive, the more that they can breed. If more genetic memory is passed on, the species as a whole becomes stronger. No doubt, wings have their advantages, even if not used to fly. Roaches of every kind use wings to improve their ability to:

  • Forage
  • Escape danger
  • Reach new and better shelters

Wings add to their resilient, invasive, indestructible nature. They do this by giving roaches these advantages:

Speed

Cockroaches are already fast-moving creatures, able to run up to 3 miles an hour. When in flight, roaches can move even faster, at 3.4 miles per hour. If that seems like a negligible difference, remember a cockroach’s size. If scaled up to a human’s size, that’s nearly 200 mph. If roaches need to escape, their wings can give them a quick boost of power.

why do cockroaches fly?

Balance

A cockroach has the most impressive balance of any creature. In fact, scientists use this pest as a reference when designing robots for that reason. Part of what keeps roaches steady on any terrain is their wings. They can extend them at intervals to:

  • Readjust their center of gravity
  • Serve as a counterbalance
  • Use breezes or wind pressure to adjust their balance

Help Getting Off Their Back

For some species of roaches, getting stuck on their back is a death sentence. If sprayed with insecticide to a point where their muscle control is damaged, that’s still true.

However, for everyday accidents that place a roach on its back, wings can help. By fluttering or extending them, roaches can rock themselves side to side or flip themselves over. Once back on their feet, they’re not in danger of starving or being exposed to predators.

Jumping Skill

Just shy of flying, roaches can use their wings to improve their jump height. With a little flutter, they can lift themselves up with a greater range. It’s comparable to the way chickens will flap their wings to reach a low-sitting perch. The motion allows them to move away from danger or reach a more out-of-the-way spot.

Flight

Roaches can use these appendages to fly up onto:

  • Kitchen counters
  • Trees
  • Holes they can sneak in through

However, a roach will usually only fly when it’s in danger. Because they’re adept at scaling flat surfaces with their legs, wings are usually not needed. In situations where running takes too long, roaches will launch themselves into the air.

Do All Cockroaches Have Wings?

Most roaches do have a set of wings. However, that doesn’t mean that all roaches can fly. In fact, many winged species are completely unable to fly. The shape and size of their wings can play a role.

  • Small and stunted wings cannot lift a roach’s weight
  • Wings that aren’t long enough won’t catch sufficient air

If certain members of a cockroach species can fly, that doesn’t mean all of them can. For example, only male wood cockroaches are capable of flight. The reason for this is not yet known.

Flightless roaches certainly don’t let their wings go to waste. Instead, they’ll use them for balance and jumping. However, they won’t have control over how they land or enjoy much hang time.

What Cockroaches Have Wings?

If there are roaches in your home, will they fly at you? To tell, check if they’re one of the following species:

American Cockroach

The American cockroach is one of the largest household species. They measure about 2 inches in length.

Indeed, when these roaches take flight, it’s hard to miss them. The wings are reddish-black in color and long enough to cover most of their back. The overall size will depend on the roach’s sex.

  • Males tend to have longer wings, extending past their abdomen
  • Females, on the other hand, are relatively shorter

Brown-Banded Cockroach

The brown-banded cockroach is named accurately. You’ll spot them by the brown band that encircles its body. It’s smaller in size than other household roaches, but that only makes it more of a nuisance.

You’ll find that these insects proudly brandish short wings to match their short bodies. However, only the males of the species can fly.

Oriental Cockroach

The dark brown color identifies the Oriental cockroach. Sometimes it’s dark enough to appear black. Unlike other species, it cannot climb very well. Instead, it prefers to stay near sources of water, like leaks and buckets.

Oriental cockroaches do have wings. However, both sexes of the species are flightless. They are all about making a home near sources of water, so flight is unnecessary.

German Cockroach

The German cockroach is only made worse by its ability to fly. You can identify these roaches by their slightly brown, tan, or gold color. They are very aggressive and resilient. Matched to their wings are their powerful legs, allowing them to run on nearly any surface.

Both sexes are capable of flight. While they rarely use their wings, their ability to fly does increase their survival rate. They will only take to the air if they feel threatened.

When Do Cockroaches Fly?

You may have encountered roaches several times but have never seen one fly. Why don’t cockroaches use their wings all the time? Rest assured, cockroaches know exactly when their wings are needed and use them sparingly.

Roaches Fly When In Danger

Roaches are weak fliers. Their coordination won’t be nearly as impressive as when they’re running. Frontiers in Zoology determined that roaches can even change how they move to achieve faster running speeds. This is why the American cockroach, for example, has been recorded to reach speeds of up to 3 miles per hour.

As such, roaches don’t rely on their wings. They fly only when they need to escape. If they can’t outrun a predator, their pursuer may struggle to chase them on the ground and in the air.

Roaches Fly At Night

All cockroach species are nocturnal. Cockroaches belong to the order called Blattodea. In Latin, this means ‘insect that shuns the light.’ So, by the time roaches are doing their flying rounds, you’re probably still asleep.

On the other hand, some species aren’t nocturnal. For example, many flying tropical species are active during the day. Thankfully, these roach species aren’t found in homes.

Do Cockroaches Fly When It’s Hot?

Roaches prefer to run instead of fly. However, ambient temperature can change that, for these reasons:

More Energy

Since roaches are cold-blooded insects, they can’t generate their own heat. In the cold, roaches do not have as much energy, as their physiology slows down to adapt to the temperature. If they have less energy, they certainly won’t waste it by flying.

However, cockroaches enjoy when temperatures are around 77 degrees. In climates with balmy summers, a roach can safely choose the skies over maintaining its energy stores.

Cooling Down

On the flip side, roaches may fly to escape the heat. Cold temperatures place them at risk of freezing, but hot temperatures may cook a roach just as easily. The act of flying allows them to drag air across their body to cool down. You’ll only see this in more extreme climates.

Hot Surfaces

Roaches may be inclined to fly over dangerously hot surfaces. Whether this is hot metal, hot concrete, or other sun-warmed objects, roaches use their wings to their advantage. Instead of scorching their body parts, they can glide over to cooler areas. When the weather gets warmer, you might want to keep an eye out for flying roaches.

Why Do Cockroaches Fly Towards You?

There’s a unique terror that comes when a roach flies directly at your face. It’s a nightmare that keeps many people from approaching cockroaches at all, even to kill them. However, despite the popular rumor, it’s not a cockroach’s way of trying to scare you. Other untrue rumors are that roaches:

  • Smell the carbon dioxide on your breath and are targeting it.
  • Are trying to establish the dominance of an area through aggression.
  • Are attacking you before you can attack them, especially true if you’re trying to squish them.

There is no scientific evidence to suggest that roaches are attracted to humans and their odors. Unlike mosquitos, bed bugs, and fleas, a roach won’t target your smell. They are also non-aggressive insects that will flee instead of attacking. So, why would a roach fly at your face?

why do cockroaches fly when it’s hot?

Poor Aim

As mentioned, cockroaches aren’t strong fliers and lack coordination. The insect may have been:

  • Trying to get past you
  • Going for food or light around you
  • Flew in any direction, hoping to escape the nearest danger

Since roaches usually only fly when they’re threatened, this is the most likely explanation.

Attraction To Light

However, there are other reasons for catching a roach to the face. Roaches scatter when lights are turned on because they’re startled. Lights are not dangerous or repellent to cockroaches. For example, American wood cockroaches are attracted to light. Only males of the species can fly.

If allowed to approach slowly, with caution, a roach may pursue a light source. What if this is on your face? For example, when you’re looking at your phone? Then you may find that a roach flies into your face.

American wood roaches aren’t often found inside homes. They’d rather make their nests inside wood that’s found in the great outdoors. If you’re marching through the wild with a flashlight or headlamp, guess what? There’s a good chance one will fly towards you.

Overcrowding

Roaches that are pushed from their nest will act more impulsively. This is only the case when there is a serious infestation in your home. With the large population limiting the amount of space, roaches will revert to cannibalism.

This new status quo will make all the roaches feel far more at risk than before. Remember that cockroaches fly when they’re in danger or feel threatened. You may find the cockroaches in your home more prone to taking flight. This can lead to poor aim, quickly planting them in your face.

It Didn’t Fly At Your Face

A roach won’t purposefully aim for a human face or the face of any creature. Instead, you’re more likely to notice a roach coming at your face rather than, say, your shoulder. When you catch sight of the insect rapidly approaching, you’re also more likely to misinterpret its trajectory.

Are Winged Roaches Dangerous?

Winged cockroaches are the same as normal cockroaches. They do not have unique diseases, behaviors, or tendencies. As such, flying cockroaches are no more harmful than any roach. It may feel like they are since their ability to fly puts them at your height. However, those wings don’t officially make them more of a pest.

Nonetheless, roaches carry many different types of viruses and diseases. That’s driven home by an article published in the International Journal of Scientific Research. Here, it’s shown that roaches can carry as many as:

  • 29 types of bacteria
  • 17 different parasites
  • 7 fungi strains
  • Exotic viruses, like Hepatitis

With that in mind, you might think winged cockroaches are more capable of spreading that disease. After all, they can reach areas that flightless roaches can’t, right?

Cockroaches have an impressive ability to scale flat surfaces. There are few areas a flying roach can reach that a flightless one can’t. The main advantage of wings is the ability to escape danger. The wings, as a whole, just make them more annoying to humans.