Cockroach Facts: Do Cockroaches Fly?

The thought of flying cockroaches can be a nightmare for many people, but fortunately cockroaches don’t really fly all that often. 

The common species of cockroaches that live in New York City might have wings, but most are not good fliers. Some roaches are capable of flying short distances, while others can use their wings to glide from high locations to lower ones.

But if you’ve heard the stories about flying cockroaches during the hot summer in NYC, the truth is that cockroaches rarely fly — even if some of them are able to.

Can All Cockroaches Fly?

No, most cockroaches do not fly.

Almost all species of cockroaches will develop wings as adults, but only a few are good flyers — most household types of roaches aren’t capable of flight at all.

The ones that can fly only demonstrate this ability in rare situations, and only under ideal temperature and humidity conditions. That’s because their wing muscles are weak and require external heat to provide them with enough energy to get off the ground. As a result, flying cockroaches are usually only seen in cities during the peak of summer.

Furthermore, the wing muscles of cockroaches are far less powerful than their leg muscles — which allow them to travel up to 1.5 meters (or 50 body lengths) per second — so roaches will almost always prefer running over flying when they feel threatened.

Do Cockroaches in New York City Fly?

Out of the common roach species found in New York City, only the American cockroach and brown-banded cockroach can be considered somewhat capable of flight.

American Cockroaches

  • Can fly short distances
  • Requires temperatures over 85° F to fly
  • Typically glides from high places in search of food or moisture
  • Both males and females can fly

American cockroaches (Periplaneta americana) are the largest roach species in New York City, reaching 1 to 2 inches in length with reddish-brown bodies and large wings that cover their entire abdomen. They are usually found in humid areas like bathrooms, basements, boiler rooms, plumbing lines, and trash compactors.

This species of cockroaches can sometimes fly short distances, and only when temperatures are above 85° F.

According to PennState Extension, American cockroaches “are capable of flying but rarely do in norther areas of the United States.”

But rather than calling it “flight,” it’s more accurate to describe the typical use of American cockroaches’ wings as “gliding.” This species will occasionally use their wings to stabilize their descent from a high spot (e.g. the top of a wall or cabinet) to a lower spot in search of food or moisture.

It’s said that American cockroaches can fly for distances up to 100 feet, although this figure likely refers to their maximum horizontal gliding distance. They’re able to fly upwards as well, but their maximum vertical altitude is far more limited.

Brown-Banded Cockroaches

  • Only males can fly (sexual dimorphism)
  • Require temperatures over 85° F to fly
  • Typically flies only when threatened or disturbed

The brown-banded cockroach (Supella longipalpa) is much rarer in New York City compared to the American and German species. These roaches are much smaller in size (around 1/2 inch long) and are light brown in color, with two dark, distinctive bands behind their heads.

While both males and females of this species have fully developed wings, only the male brown-banded cockroach can fly. That’s because females have shorter and stockier bodies with smaller wings that don’t extend past the tip of their abdomens, making them incapable of flight.

Like American cockroaches, brown-banded cockroaches are also not active fliers by nature. The males will only use this ability when threatened or disturbed, and only do so when temperatures exceed 85° F.

German Cockroaches

  • Not capable of powered flight
  • Can glide short distances if disturbed

German cockroaches (Blattella germanica) are known for being frequent invaders of residential homes. These roaches are light brown or tan in color, around 1/2 to 5/8 inches long, and have two dark parallel stripes running down their backs.

Unlike their American counterparts, German cockroaches are incapable of powered flight. That means a German cockroach on the ground isn’t able to flap its wings to fly upward. However, they can glide short distances from a high starting point if they are disturbed.

Oriental Cockroaches

  • Cannot fly or glide
  • Males have small wings and females are almost wingless

Oriental cockroaches (Blatta orientalis) usually live in damp, cool dark areas like sewers and are not commonly seen in New York City. Sometimes referred to as “water bugs,” Oriental roaches are dark reddish brown to black in color, around 1 inch long, and have a strong, repulsive odor.

Oriental cockroaches have undeveloped wings and are not capable of flying or gliding at all. Males have wings that are only cover 3/4 of their abdomen, while females are almost completely wingless.

How Do Cockroaches Fly?

Most species of cockroaches possess two sets of wings (forewings and hindwings), but only one set is used for flying. 

The outer set of wings acts like a protective covering. These forewings are typically thick and have the same coloration as the rest of the roach’s body. When not in use, forewings lay flat on their back.

The inner set of wings, hidden beneath the outer set, are used for flying and gliding. These hindwings are thin, membranous, and semi-transparent.

When preparing to fly, roaches lift their forewings to expose their hindwings. The forewings are not used at all during flight — they simply remain lifted and out of the way until the cockroach has landed.

What Causes Cockroaches to Fly?

Most species of cockroaches have evolved to be much faster when crawling than they are when flying. However, under certain circumstances they may choose to take flight:

  • If threatened or disturbed and cannot run away
  • When searching for food or moisture in high places, such as in shelves and cabinets
  • During hot summer days when temperatures exceed 85° F. Entomologists at North Carolina State University believe that cockroaches take to the skies more often during warmer months because of their cold-blooded nature. 

Why Do Cockroaches Have Wings?

Besides needing their wings to find food or escape danger, roaches have other uses for their wings — especially for those species that aren’t capable of flight.

Cockroaches can use their wings to stay balanced on just about any type of terrain. Their wings readjust their center of gravity and serve as a counterbalance. 

Wings can also prevent cockroaches from getting stuck on their back. By fluttering or extending their wings, cockroaches can flip themselves back onto their feet. This will keep them from being vulnerable to predators or in danger of starvation.

How to Get Rid of Flying Cockroaches

Cockroaches rarely fly indoors. If they do, it’s most likely because room temperature and humidity are high. Turn heaters off or turn the AC on to let temperatures fall below 80 degrees, then you should be able to kill indoor roaches without fear of them taking flight.

If you find yourself faced with a flying cockroach, don’t panic. Treat it like you would a normal cockroach infestation and try to determine the source of the problem.

For example, American cockroach infestations usually start with moisture issues or openings around plumbing lines. Check to make sure you don’t have any leaky pipes and seal up any openings that these roaches are using to access your home.

If you need help dealing with a cockroach infestation in your home, call the pest experts at MMPC today! We are one of the highest-rated cockroach exterminators in New York City with 25+ years of providing reliable and eco-friendly pest control services.