Here are quick facts about cockroaches: There are more than 3,500 identified species of cockroaches, with many more species yet to be discovered. Most roaches are tropical in distribution – occupying a variety of habitats in rainforests and other moist, warm locales. A total of about 69 species inhabits the United States. Of those, about two-thirds are not native to this country. While that may sound like a lot, only about 10 species are considered household pests.
Now to our question, can cockroaches fly?
Cockroaches evolved from a flying ancestor. They are related to mantids and earwigs, then to grasshoppers and crickets. Many species of cockroaches have wings, but not all are good flyers. In fact, most cockroaches do not fly at all. There are several species capable of flying short distances and a number of other species – including American cockroaches – that use their wings to glide from high elevations to lower surfaces.
Male Pennsylvania woods cockroaches and smoky brown cockroaches are both strong flyers. Australian, Asian and Cuban cockroaches are also capable of flight, but none of these could truly be labeled flying cockroaches. Many cockroaches don’t fly because of their size. For insects, cockroaches are relatively large creatures. Their large body mass and flight wings are not conducive to speed or maneuverability. A large, slow flying insect is easy prey for birds or bats. So even though many cockroaches can fly, they still use their highly effective legs for running rather than flying most of the time.
In fact, according to some researches, cockroaches are some of the fastest running insects, capable of covering several feet in a few seconds. The American cockroach has been clocked at 59 inches per second, which is equal to 3.4 miles per hour. At 50 body lengths per second, this roach is about three times the speed of a cheetah. Cheetahs, the fastest land mammal, only cover about 18 body lengths in the same amount of time.
Note that only adult insects have wings. While adults of many species of cockroaches are endowed with wings, adults of other species, and all nymphs (regardless of species) are wingless. So in winged cockroach species, the juveniles will be wingless while the adults will have fully formed wings, making them look strikingly different. So if you see lots of little wingless roaches together with a few, giant winged roaches, you are not looking at two species, but one big happy family in the same species. Those adults that have wings tend to fly mainly when disturbed. Generally, they’re ungainly in flight, a bit more than just falling with style. Even then, they fly better than do some kinds of birds (such as ostriches, emus, rheas and penguins). The latter, of course, ‘fly’ quite well underwater.
No cockroach is adept beneath the waves. So many roach species still have wings while other species have lost their wings. The Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches you see in pet shops or movies are examples. Do cockroaches fly? Yes, some can, but if you observe cockroaches flying in your home, call a pest management professional to bring them down.