How To Tell The Difference Between Wood Roaches And Cockroaches

While there are over 4,500 species of cockroaches, many look identical to one another, and they all like to nest and breed. This can make anyone feel concerned if they spot a ‘roach’ indoors. However, wood roaches are far less troublesome than traditional roaches.

Wood roaches are smaller, lighter in color, and usually have wings. Household roaches tend to be a darker brown or red, larger in size, and don’t grow wings until their final molt. Both are capable of eating decaying matter, but wood roaches prefer leaves, wood, and bark. They also prefer to live outdoors and actively avoid humans. Usually, they come inside by accident when they’re attracted to a porch light, hitch a ride on firewood, or find a crack near your home’s perimeter.

Wood roaches need high levels of humidity, so they die inside your home within a few days. They only breed from May to June, so they’re unlikely to form a colony indoors. They may be resistant to traditional pesticides, but they’re easy to deter. Using repellents will motivate them to return to the great outdoors, where they can live in peace. They don’t target human food, or any of the common attractants that lure in household roaches.    

What’s the Difference Between Cockroaches and Wood Roaches?

To the untrained eye, all cockroaches look the same. They’re small, dark in color, and scurry around near food during the night. However, there are thousands of different species of roach, each with its own agenda.

Although the wood roach looks similar to the average household roach, there are key differences that make it distinct in its own right:

  • Appearance. Wood roaches are a beige to light brown color. They’re also much smaller than the average roach. Even the nymphs will display different coloring and sizes than a German, American, Oriental, or other variety of household roach.
  • Habitat. Wood cockroaches prefer to live inside of wood, such as fallen logs. If they make their way indoors, it’s by accident. They don’t seek out human dwellings and will return to the wild if given an opportunity.  
  • Breeding. Wood roaches make their breeding grounds inside loose bark or wood piles instead of homes. They have a specific mating season as well, which lasts between May and June.

If a wood roach finds its way into your home, it reacts far differently than the average roach. Here’s how:

  • Light Sensitivity. Wood roaches are actually attracted to light, happy to forage during the day. They might get startled if a light flickers on abruptly, but they won’t actively skulk away from either sunlight or artificial light. They might even run toward a night light or lamp.
  • Food. Wood roaches prefer to eat decaying matter, such as with rotting trees or leaves. They can sample human food, but it’s less appealing than food located out in the wild.

No matter the species, having roaches in your home is a bad time. The good news is, wood roaches are one of the least threatening to find indoors. They carry fewer diseases, even if they’re highly resilient.  

  • Extermination. Wood cockroaches are resistant to many insecticides used against household roaches. With that said, they are slow to breed and easily deterred from a home that lays out traps or pesticides. Even if they don’t get killed off en masse, they’re easy to drive away.
  • Prevention. Prevention against wood roaches is simple. They don’t want to be in your home, so you can remove accidental attractants. Clear away wood piles, leaf debris, and plants that sit up against your home.
are wood roaches the same as cockroaches?

Are Wood Roaches the Same as Cockroaches?

Wood roaches are not the same as the cockroaches you view as a household pest. Of course, wood roaches belong to the same order as household roaches, which is Blattodea. However, they diverge when it comes to families. The species that infest most homes come from Blattidae, which includes:

Wood roaches, however, come from the family Ectobiidae. There are over 7 different families of roach, and for good reason. Despite having the same basic design, roaches evolved in many different directions. Some adapted to thrive in adverse climates, able to live anywhere and eat anything. Blattidae roaches eagerly target human homes as a way to find ample food and shelter.

However, many other species, such as those from Ectobiidae, avoid humans. They thrive in specific areas and make their homes in the wild. Wood roaches will prefer to stay outdoors, live in wood, and eat decaying plant matter. Even if they share some traits with the bugs of the same order, they are not the same thing.

According to Natural Sciences, even a wood roach’s genomes are smaller than the average roach. Since they’ve been put under less selective pressure, they did not evolve to be quite as adaptive. This may be why household roaches are so widespread across the planet. In contrast, wood roaches tend to stay isolated in their preferred habitats.

Let’s look at some of the differences between a normal cockroach and a wood roach. This will help you better understand the two species, and how to handle any in your home.

Appearance

Both wood roaches and household cockroaches have a similar appearance. They are oval in shape, flat, and tan or brownish in color. However, upon closer inspection, you can tell them apart.

In males, a wood roach nymph is equipped with wing buds. The female is either wingless or has wing bands, though they are rarely seen.

In contrast, regular cockroaches do not grow wings until their final molt. They will be sleek and wingless for the first 6 nymphal cycles.

As adults, household roaches tend to remain a darker brown or even a reddish color. Wood roaches, on the other hand, grow into a light beige or gentle brown color.

In that vein, wood roaches are much smaller than the average cockroach, at about ¾ and 1 inch in length. That’s as small (or even a little smaller) than the tiniest household variety, the German cockroach.

Habitat

Wood roaches, as the name suggests, are commonly found in the wild, not the home. They live in rotting wood or uprooted and dying trees.

Known as the accidental home invader, they don’t infiltrate human residences on purpose, preferring to live outside. Once indoors, wood roaches don’t fare well. They need high humidity levels to live, and struggle to adapt to the drier spaces found in human dwellings. Typically, once they’ve found their way inside, they die off within a couple of days.

A regular cockroach is the perfect home invader. It will be attracted to the even temperatures, trace moisture, and ample food supply we offer by accident. No matter how immaculate a home is kept, there is always a chance that roaches will take up residence. Even the humidity found in bathrooms and near kitchen sinks is enough to sustain them.

Breeding

Wood roaches are very unlikely to breed once they get indoors. Since they end up in homes by mistake, they will not choose it as the optimal mating spot. Instead, they prefer wood piles or loose tree bark to make their breeding grounds. If you don’t have anything similar within range of your home, there is no need to worry about a wave of nymphs.

Wood roaches have set mating seasons, while most household varieties mate whenever they can. Wood roaches choose a period between May and June to create eggs. During this time, a female will lay up to 36 eggs, which hatch within 30 days. According to Zoological Science, this may be partly credited to their smaller number of chromosomes when matched against normal cockroaches.

Normal cockroaches don’t like to mate in cold weather, but a normal home will circumvent this issue. Indoor heating will provide a year-round breeding season for the average roach. They can produce up to 50 eggs at a time, and hatch them within a few weeks. As such, an infestation quickly gets out of hand.

Light Sensitivity

The average cockroach only navigates under the cover of darkness. It will not be harmed by light, but it understands that it’s difficult to hide in broad daylight. Wood cockroaches, on the other hand, are attracted to light. In the same way that moths rush toward a flame, a wood roach may be lured toward your porch light, night lights, or indoor lamps.

All roaches will flee if a light is suddenly flicked on. They will be startled by the abrupt change, and sense that danger is near. However, a normal roach will always avoid going near light if there are other options available. It prefers to stay in the dark and move around when no one is present. In contrast, you might find a wood roach meandering closer to your light if it doesn’t sense movement or nearby predators.

Food

Wood roaches have a specific diet, while normal cockroaches eat anything they can find. Wood roaches feed on decaying matter, such as the kind found in trees and leaf debris.

To help them process these nutrients, wood roaches have as many as 18 strands of yeast in their gut. According to Mycologia, these include xylose-assimilating yeasts and ascomycete yeasts. They work to ferment the plant matter and break it down to glean the most nutrients. While normal roaches also have complex gut bacteria, it’s less yeast-heavy.

If necessary, wood roaches will also consume dead animals that are found near the wood they’ve claimed as their home. However, by nature, they are not attracted to meat. Likewise, they show little interest in the food you keep indoors. They may sample leftovers if they’re easy to reach, but it will be a last resort. Instead, the bugs will seek out any house plants or firewood they can locate.

In contrast, normal roaches eagerly take over human homes. The sugary, starchy, and fatty foods are ideal. They quickly breed and expand their colonies, and survive for multiple weeks without food if necessary. They will eat just about anything, so long as it contains starch, fat, or trace organic material.

Wood roaches are far pickier. They will avoid new foods if their ideal rotting wood can be found.

Extermination

Most insecticides have been developed with normal cockroaches in mind. Because of this, wood roaches are surprisingly resilient against your average pesticide. It’s not customized or targeted to their unique biology. While insecticides do kill wood roaches, they’re not as fast-acting or efficient.

The best way to exterminate a wood roach problem is to deter them. Since they have no desire to be inside your home, they will readily take an exit route if given the chance. Limiting their access to food, laying down repellents, and using residual pesticides will encourage them to go elsewhere.

On the flip side, it’s nearly impossible to drive normal cockroaches from your home. Instead, limiting their access to food and moisture will drive them to cannibalism. They will also be more willing to eat your poisoned baits and traps. That makes deterring normal roaches only one step of many. You also need to use pesticides, and ‘deterring’ the roaches means driving them toward those pesticides.

wood roaches vs. cockroaches

Prevention

It’s far easier to prevent roaches than exterminate them. Luckily, different species have different motivators. For a wood cockroach, the first step is to scrutinize the wood you’re bringing into your home. If you have a fireplace, avoid storing the wood indoors.

You should also remove any leaf debris or stray branches that have gathered near your home’s parameter. If you have bushes and shrubs that grow up near your home, consider moving them. If you can’t, spray them with plant-safe insecticides to drive away wood roaches. Of course, a few wood roaches may wander in by accident. You can prevent this by:

  • Sealing any cracks
  • Keeping screens and windows in good working order
  • Limiting porch lights

With normal roaches, prevention is far more difficult. Some will be naturally drawn to your home and seek a route in no matter where it’s found. They can travel between houses or apartments via boxes, clothing, and electronics.

If your home is clean, free of exposed leftovers, and lacks humidity, the roaches may simply lie in wait. In some cases, there is no way to prevent household roaches. However, good steps include:

  • Cleaning your home at least once a week
  • Packaging up leftovers in sealed, thick plastic containers
  • Cleaning drains and pipes in your bathroom or sinks
  • Drying out damp areas, such as in your basement or crawl space
  • Sealing up any visible cracks and keeping your windows in good condition
  • Inspecting any items that come into your home
  • Taking out the trash often, and keeping garbage in a well-sealed container

Wood Roaches Vs. Cockroaches

Wood roaches and cockroaches may appear identical at a glance. However, at their core, they’re very different creatures with different habits.

You don’t need to fear wood roaches any more than you would leaf bugs or praying mantises. They prefer the outdoors and will readily go back to the wild if they’ve wandered into your home by accident. On the flip side, normal cockroaches target the home for their even temperatures, food, and even the slightest amount of moisture. They will resist leaving at every opportunity.

If you find wood roaches in your home, they are easy to remove and far less bacteria-ridden. You can have them cleared out in a week or two, rather than the several-week endeavor that normal roaches promise.