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Water Bugs vs Cockroaches: How to Tell the Difference?

The ability to distinguish insects is very important in everyday life. Some pests can be very dangerous to your health and can stay in the apartment for a long time. Given that many species of insects look very similar, it can become difficult to recognize them.

Both cockroaches and boat bugs are common in the United States, and they can be seen in places such as kitchens, basements, bathrooms, and laundries. In this article, I will explain the distinctive features of water bugs vs cockroaches so that you can distinguish them and know how to deal with both.

Water Bugs vs Cockroaches
There are several key differences between water bugs and cockroaches.

  • For one, water bugs typically have a more flattened body shape, while cockroaches are more oval-shaped.
  • Additionally, water bugs have longer legs and swim faster than cockroaches.
  • Finally, water bugs typically live in or near water, while cockroaches can live in a variety of different habitats.

water bug crawls

Guide on Identification of a Water Bug

  • Pay attention to the insect size: The croton bug is bigger than a cockroach;
  • These pests also often have a grayish tinge;
  • They have much shorter antennae;
  • Count the number of legs: They have only 2 pairs of legs;
  • They also have a wider body shape and can fly.

Difference between roach and waterbug

Although cockroaches and croton insects are similar at first glance, they still have striking differences by which you can distinguish them:

  • First of all, most water bugs are larger than cockroaches;
  • They are usually longer than roaches, about 1.5 inches longer.

However, the problem is that the American cockroach species are similar in size to water bugs, which makes them look alike. Therefore, you need to focus on other features for proper identification of this pest:


To tell the difference between a roach and a waterbug, you should look at their color. Water bugs have a grayer or browner hue that can fade into black, and you can recognize them by the characteristic yellow pattern on the back of the head. Meanwhile, cockroaches have a reddish-brown color with a warm undertone.


The difference between these insects is very noticeable when you look at their shapes. Water bugs have a wider body, and they all have wings. Some species of cockroaches don’t have them.

A cockroach has a more elongated, flat, and oval body. You might ask: can water bugs fly? These insects can fly, especially during the mating season. Among the cockroaches, only a few species can fly.


If you still have any doubts about whether it is a water bug or a cockroach, look at the antennae. Both types of insects have antennae, but they are narrower and much longer in cockroaches. Boat bugs have short, thicker antennae that are located under the eyes.

water bug on the floor on the side


If you see a water bug that looks like a cockroach, the easiest way to tell the difference is to take a look at the legs. Cockroaches have 3 pairs of legs; 2 of them are located along the body, and one pair of legs is closer to the head. A water bug has only two pairs of legs. Another important feature is that cockroaches have hairy legs, whereas water bugs’ legs are smooth.


Among the features that distinguish them are their habitat and way of life. Cockroaches prefer dark, closed, and warm places, and they are afraid of the light. That’s why they run away if you turn on the lights at night. Nepomorpha insects prefer to stay in dark and humid places, and light can attract them.

Another distinguishing feature is their nutrition. Cockroaches feed on everything and are not picky. It can be leftover food or garbage. Water bugs are predators and feed mostly on smaller insects, although they can also eat algae if necessary.

What causes water bugs in the house?

You can understand that these insects are attracted to liquids just by their name. That is, if you live near a pond, especially freshwater ponds and lakes, croton insects can settle in your home. Also, the presence of Belostomatidae can be caused by high humidity in your home. They can also be brought to your home by thirst.

They can last a long time without food. However, dehydration forces them to seek refuge where there is water. Unlike cockroaches, Nepomorpha do not seek shelter specifically in your home. However, the presence of liquid or the bright light at night can attract them. Сockroaches breed in the house, and your home provides them with food, water, and shelter.

water beetles on a houseplant

Both species lead a nocturnal lifestyle and are most active in the dark. That’s why you are unlikely to see them during the day. If you live in a private house and have a lawn, tall grass can also attract these insects. That is why regular lawn mowing can deprive them of their habitat near your home.

How to kill water bugs and cockroaches

Unfortunately, killing one or more insects is not enough to get rid of them forever. Usually, if you notice numerous cockroaches or boat bugs in your home, you should seek the help of pest control specialists. However, there are some tips to help you kill these insects.

Use boric acid

Boric acid is one of the most effective ways to kill these pests. Sprinkle a thin layer in the places of greatest accumulation. Then cockroaches or croton insects will swallow it, and the chemicals contained in it will poison their digestive systems.

Apply chemical pesticides

Dilute them in water as directed. Then spray the mixture in cracks and hard-to-reach areas where you suspect these pests to hide.

Use the bait

This method can help you destroy a whole colony of insects at once. Put the bait in a damp place. It can be near the sink, in the bathroom, or the basement. An insect will bring it to its hiding place, which will kill all the inhabitants.

Opt for preventive measures

To prevent these pests from reappearing, you need to remove moisture and keep the living area clean. It is necessary to get rid of sewage and not to leave food in easily accessible places.

FAQ on Dealing With Boat Bugs

When trying to get rid of pests, you need to understand what to expect and know the easiest ways to eliminate them. So you need to find out whether this insect is similar to other pests, as well as if it can physically harm you.

water bugs on the wood

Is a water bug a cockroach?

Do you wonder “are water bugs roaches?” Despite their similarity, these are two different species of insects. However, people still often confuse the oriental roach, which is a cockroach, because it also loves moisture. The Nepomorpha is a water insect that does not belong to the cockroach family.

Do water bugs bite?

In general, this species feeds on other insects, not humans. However, they can bite you like other bedbugs. This type of insect does not bite a person first, but it can do it when it feels threatened. The bite can be quite painful but not dangerous unless you have an allergy.

How to repel water bugs from your house?

There are various methods to get rid of these insects. Boric acid, natural or chemical pesticides, and bait are commonly used. You also need to seal the entrances to the house, take care of cleanliness, and remove excess moisture. However, the best option is to use professional services.

Learn How to Identify the Pest

In pest control, it is important not only to know how to get rid of pests but also how to identify and distinguish if it is a waterbug or a cockroach. Cockroaches and boat bugs look very similar, but if you take a closer look at their color and shape, you will easily recognize them. The easiest way to identify a water bug is to look at its antennae and legs. The antenna is much shorter, and it has only two pairs of legs.

Where have you encountered these insects most often? Which method of pest control have you already used?

Also read:


  • Their habitat (Rich Shah):
  • Boric acid ( NPIC):
  • Allergy (Astma and Alergy Foundation of America, Medical Review):
  • Natural (Ritu Thakur, MA)


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Nicholas Martin

Nicholas Martin

I am Nicholas Martin, and I am an entomologist. I combine the insect survey work with the consultation for private pest control agencies. My narrow specializations are both urban pests and agricultural pests. I studied their control over the previous 25 years. More about Nick

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