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Do Cockroaches Bite?

If you’re ever wondered “do cockroaches bite?” the answer is: yes, they can, but they rarely do so, and only in fairly extreme circumstances. You are unlikely to get bitten by a cockroach most of the time, but they are capable of piercing human flesh, and will do so in some limited situations.

What Does A Cockroach Bite Look Like?

A cockroach bite looks similar to the bite of many other insects. It will usually be a small, raised bump, slightly swollen. If you have ever been bitten by a mosquito, you can expect this to have a similar look, though it is less likely to be itchy than a mosquito bite.

Cockroaches usually only bite once, so if you have been bitten by one, you should see just one raised, red lump – not a whole line, or a cluster. If there are several, you have probably (although not certainly) been bitten by some other insect, not a cockroach.

Image Credit: iStock/Urilux

Do Cockroaches Bite Humans?

Cockroaches will only bite humans in very rare circumstances, usually when they are extremely hungry and food is in short supply. They are omnivores, so they are attracted to meat – which, of course, humans are – but do not usually go for large, living prey. You can read more about what cockroaches eat here.

In general, cockroaches scavenge. If you have leftover food on your skin, they might be more inclined to try a nibble, but on the whole, they will not come near a human willingly. There are very few anecdotal reports of cockroaches biting humans, and even fewer confirmed reports.

If you have a large cockroach infestation and there is very little for them to eat, they are more likely to bite you. However, this rarely happens in normal situations. 

It used to be more of an issue on ships, where cockroach populations might grow to great numbers, and find themselves without access to their usual food sources. In such circumstances, many sailors had to wear gloves to protect their hands – which sounds an unpleasant situation to be in!

Do Cockroaches Bite Dogs?

Again, cockroaches are capable of biting dogs, but they do not usually do so. Dogs are large and threatening to a cockroach so, as with a person, they will usually be reluctant to approach, and will leave dogs alone unless driven by the threat of starvation.

The only exception is if your dog has leftover food around its muzzle or on its skin. If your dog smells of food, it has a slightly higher chance of attracting roaches, which may bite it in an attempt to get at the food they can detect.

Even in that situation, however, most roaches would choose to forage and scavenge, rather than approach a large, potentially dangerous predator.

Do Cockroach Bites Itch?

Anything that breaks your skin can cause irritation and discomfort. A cockroach bite might itch, especially if you have a mild allergy to it. If you notice yourself scratching at a red, raised lump that doesn’t seem itchy enough to be a mosquito bite, it’s worth considering cockroaches as a potential culprit.

Do Cockroaches Bite Or Sting?

Cockroaches can bite, but they do not sting. They produce no venom, and have no equipment with which to sting a person. You don’t need to worry about being jabbed with a sharp needle or pierced by toxic fangs – they might nip, but they will not inject anything unpleasant into your blood.

Do Hissing Cockroaches Bite?

The Madagascar Hissing Cockroach probably sounds one of the scariest in the whole family, but you might be surprised to learn that this type of cockroach does not actually bite. 

Unlike many other cockroaches, its jaws are weak and it would be unable to pierce your skin even if it tried to bite you.

Although they may be a sign of uncleanliness and could carry bacteria, this type of cockroach is fairly harmless to people and their pets.

Do German Cockroaches Bite?

The German is one of the smaller cockroaches. It rarely bites humans, generally feeding on sugary foods, but it is capable of breaking the skin and in rare situations, it will bite humans in an attempt to find a meal.

Do American Cockroaches Bite?

The American cockroach is one of the most likely to bite. It is the largest common cockroach, and has extremely strong jaws. These cockroaches have been known to bite humans at times, often choosing to target their fingernails or eyelashes.

They will take the opportunity to eat dead skin if it arises, and will eat corpses. Although they are not a threat as such, you are probably more likely to get bitten by an American cockroach than most other kinds.

Are Cockroach Bites Dangerous?

Not particularly, no. 

While many people are afraid of cockroaches and – reasonably – associate them with dirty, disease-filled places, their bites cannot carry diseases in the same way that a mosquito might transmit malaria. 

You do not need to be careful of them as you do with ticks or with mosquitoes, both of which can carry deadly illnesses.

However, you should remember that cockroaches often feed on dead and decaying matter. They crawl around in the dirt, eating whatever they find – so their jaws are not exactly “clean.” Combine that with an open wound, and you should treat their bites with caution at the very least.

We’ll carry on to look at some of the things that a cockroach could potentially transfer, either to a bite wound or just by crawling on your skin and in your home, exposing you to bacteria.

Cockroach Bite Disease

Cockroaches don’t spread specific diseases through their bites, but you should remember that if they have eaten things with certain bacteria on them, you could be exposed to nasty things like salmonella if they contaminate your food or your skin.

Cockroaches crawl around all parts of your home, meaning they can pick disease up from anywhere, including the bathroom. You really don’t those kinds of germs to be introduced to your skin.

While there is little direct study, it is thought that cockroaches may be able to spread (among other diseases):

  • Salmonellosis (spread through cockroach vomit and feces; the risk comes predominantly from eating contaminated food)
  • E.coli infection (cockroach can spread bacteria to food and food-preparation surfaces)
  • Cholera (cockroaches can spread the bacteria through feces and vomit)
  • Plague (cockroaches may be able to pick up and carry the associated Yersinia Pestis bacterium)
  • Dysentery (cockroaches can carry contamination from bathrooms to food prep areas)
  • Typhoid fever (cockroaches may eat contaminated feces and spread the bacteria further)
  • Campylobacteriosis (again, cockroaches can carry bacteria between uncooked food and cooked food, spreading this common food-borne illness)
  • Listeriosis (another food-borne illness potentially caused by cockroaches transferring germs and bacteria

These diseases aren’t particularly likely to be caused by a cockroach biting you, but it is best to take precautions as their mouths may carry disease, and they could spread it to your skin or to your kitchen.

It should be noted that the chances of humans contracting these diseases from cockroaches are relatively low, but it is still important to address cockroach infestations to prevent this from happening, and to practice very rigorous food hygiene in the interim period, cleaning all food prep surfaces thoroughly and frequently.

Can A Cockroach Bite Cause Leprosy?

It is thought that cockroaches also have a potential connection with leprosy. They can carry Mycobacterium leprae, spreading it through their feces. If you have cockroaches clambering around on your sideboards and furniture, there is a chance you could pick up this bacteria and become infected.

Leprosy is much more treatable now than it used to be, but it is still best to take every precaution when dealing with it.

Cockroach Bite Symptoms | Side Effects

Cockroach bites will usually just swell a little bit. The skin will become red and possibly irritated for a few days, but the effect should fade quickly. It is rare for people to experience other side effects from a bite.

If the bite introduces bacteria, you might end up with an infection, which will need to be dealt with – we will discuss how shortly. Other side effects could include those associated with the diseases listed above.

Allergic Reaction To Cockroach Bites

Some people are allergic to cockroaches, in which case, a bite could be far more dangerous. You will probably find that it swells a lot, and becomes very irritated and hot to the touch. If this occurs, you should take antihistamines and seek medical advice from a professional as soon as possible.

If you have a serious reaction, go to emergency services and get quick treatment. Like any allergy, an allergy to cockroaches can have major consequences, so you should not hesitate to seek help if you think you are suffering from a serious allergic reaction.

If you are allergic to cockroaches, you may also find that their feces and shed skin causes problems. In such cases, you should relocate to stay with friends or family or in a hotel until the infestation has been dealt with, and then get your home cleaned before you return to minimize the impact upon your health.

Why Do Cockroaches Bite?

Cockroaches usually only bite if they are experiencing extreme hunger and their normal food sources are not accessible. This usually happens when there is a very big colony that has outgrown the available food.

Cockroaches are unlikely to bite out of aggression or defense – they will almost always choose to run away from you.

Preventing Cockroach Bites

The best way to prevent cockroach bites is to get rid of the cockroaches, or not to end up with them in the first place. To thrive, cockroaches need environments that are:

  • Damp: they need water to survive, so a humid or damp home will attract them. Dry homes are less likely to suffer from cockroach infestations
  • Dark: if they can find dark hideaways, they will be happy. They need safe spots to dive into, so keep the insides of cupboards and any awkward nooks and crannies clean to deter them
  • Food: cockroaches are attracted by food. Maintaining good food hygiene practices, wiping down surfaces, covering up any excess food, and keeping on top of your trash are all good ways to deter cockroaches from moving in

Next, if you see a cockroach, act promptly. You will either need to call professionals or deal with it yourself. Cockroaches are rarely seen by people, so if you’ve spotted one (especially during the day), you may have a serious infestation.

Find out where they live, and decide whether you can clean it yourself or whether you need professionals. Remove all sources of food and water that you can, mop floors with soap and disinfectant, and clean any cupboard doors or other surfaces. 

It is also a good idea to do general cleaning, as cockroaches will find food in all sorts of odd places, even eating glue, so you don’t only need to deal with human food. Minimize dust, dark corners, and anything else that makes a place safe for cockroaches, and then start dealing with the infestation.

Finally, remember that cockroaches will only bite at night, when they are active and you are not moving – when you aren’t a threat. Wash your hands and face thoroughly before you go to bed, removing any traces of food, and remove any food items from your bedroom. 

Do not eat in your bedroom, as the smell of the food could attract them.

First Aid Treatment For Cockroach Bites

If you have been bitten by a cockroach, you may be wondering how to treat it. Unless you are having a bad reaction, you can probably do so at home without needing medical attention – but you should seek it if in doubt.

This method is similar for many insect bites, so even if you aren’t totally sure it was a cockroach, you can use it.

To treat a cockroach bite at home, you should wash the bite and the surrounding skin with warm, mildly soapy water. Don’t use strong soap or disinfectant as the broken skin may sting.

Gently rub a clean washcloth or cotton pad around until you are sure the bite is clean, and then pat it dry with a clean towel.

If the bite is swollen, you may want to apply an ice pack in a towel for about ten minutes, until it has soothed the skin and reduced the swelling. Don’t touch the ice straight to your skin.

You can apply an antihistamine if the person has a mild allergic reaction; continue to monitor the bite’s look and feel, and seek medical advice if it gets worse.

You can also apply aloe vera gel or other soothing burn or bite creams, but do not use scented lotions or strong creams on it; the broken skin may react badly to the other ingredients.

Keep an eye on the bite over the next few days. You should witness a reduction in the swelling and itchiness.

If the bite becomes infected, apply hot water for ten to twenty minutes, and gently clean it out. Keep cleaning it with hot water every few hours for a couple of days, until you are satisfied that the infection has gone. If it gets worse, seek medical attention.

Cockroach Bite Vs Bed Bug Bite

How can you tell the difference between a cockroach bite and a bed bug bite? Both bite at night and produce an angry, red mark on your skin. You are asleep, so it’s impossible to know which you have been bitten by, and as you’re unlikely to see either culprit in the open, how can you know what bit you?

Bed bugs tend to bite in clusters, often in a straight line along your skin, while a cockroach will just bite once. A bed bug is looking to drink blood, and a cockroach is just searching for food, not blood.

Bed bug bites may be itchier than cockroach bites, but this isn’t a very easy thing to judge when you have been bitten by one and not the other. The best sign you will have lies in how ferociously you have been bitten.

Because a bed bug is directly feeding on you, it will bite a lot more, while a cockroach is likely to just nip once and move on. A bad cockroach infestation could potentially lead to multiple bites, but it is unlikely.

You are much more likely to be bitten by bed bugs than by cockroaches.

Conclusion

Cockroaches are capable of biting, but do not do so on a regular basis. You may be bitten if the cockroaches in your home have reached large numbers and they cannot find enough food to sustain themselves, or if you smell strongly of food when you go to sleep at night.

You are unlikely to get bitten, and also unlikely to suffer from any ill effects besides a small, slightly painful bump on your skin, but cockroaches are serious problems that need to be dealt with, and they can spread nasty diseases.

Keep your home clean, deal with any damp and dark spaces that could become a home to them, and call professionals promptly if you are concerned about a cockroach infestation in your home. So, do cockroaches bite? Now you know that yes, but rarely!

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