Living in northeast Pennsylvania, we’re no strangers to unwanted guests sneaking into our homes. Among the most notorious bugs in Pennsylvania are cockroaches and water bugs.

Despite common misconceptions, there is a species of giant water bugs, often referred to as Pennsylvania toe biters, that are separate from cockroaches. While Oriental cockroaches are often confused with water bugs, there are important differences between the two pests. The common denominator of each of these pests is fairly obvious: water.

We’ve prepared this handy guide to shed light on the differences between water bugs and cockroaches and tips to prevent water bugs so you can get rid of those big, black insects once and for all.

What Are Water Bugs?

Water bugs, also known as giant water bugs or Pennsylvania toe-biters, belong to the family Belostomatidae. These insects are aquatic predators commonly found in ponds, streams, and other bodies of water. Despite their name, water bugs can also venture onto land, especially during mating season or when seeking shelter.

Water bugs are typically larger than cockroaches, with elongated bodies and powerful legs adapted for swimming. They have piercing mouthparts used to inject enzymes into their prey, liquefying their insides for easy consumption. While some species of water bugs are harmless, one bite from these massive creatures can deliver shrieking pain for up to a week.

How Do Water Bugs Differ from Cockroaches?

Water bugs are often confused with Oriental cockroaches, as they share some similarities in appearance and habitat. However, some key differences include:

  • Appearance: Water bugs are much larger than cockroaches, with elongated bodies and flattened legs. On average, a giant water bug will measure about quadruple the height and weight of an Oriental cockroach.
  • Habitat: Oriental cockroaches prefer warm, dark, and humid environments, such as basements with standing water. Water bugs are often found outside, near streams, marshes, and ponds, though they have been known to make their way inside.
  • Behavior: Cockroaches are scavengers, feeding on a wide range of organic matter found in and around homes. They are nocturnal and often hide in cracks and crevices during the day. Water bugs, on the other hand, are predators, preying on aquatic insects, tadpoles, and small fish. They are more active at night and may venture onto land in search of food or mates.
  • Flight: While some species of cockroaches can fly, most are winged but prefer to run. Water bugs, however, are not capable of flight and rely on their strong swimming abilities to navigate through water.

Why Do Water Bugs Enter Homes?

If you spot a water bug inside your home, it is most likely an Oriental cockroach.

Oriental cockroaches typically enter homes through pipes in search of food and shelter. During dry spells or extreme weather conditions, they may seek refuge indoors where conditions are more favorable. Additionally, faulty plumbing or drainage issues can attract Oriental cockroaches into homes, providing them with a steady source of moisture.

In rare cases, giant water bugs may enter homes, though they will only do so if you have a large volume of standing water and aquatic life inside your home, such as a flooded basement.

Cockroach and Water Bug Prevention Tips

Preventing water bugs and Oriental cockroaches requires a combination of sanitation practices and exclusion measures. Learn what attracts cockroaches to your home and what cockroaches hate to get rid of them. Here are some tips to keep these pests at bay:

  • Eliminate Standing Water: Remove sources of standing water around your home, such as clogged gutters, leaky faucets, or birdbaths. Regularly clean and maintain drains to prevent water buildup.
  • Seal Entry Points: Inspect your home for cracks, gaps, and openings where all types of bugs could enter. Seal any potential entry points with caulk or weatherstripping to deny them access.
  • Maintain Cleanliness: Keep your home clean and free of food crumbs, spills, and clutter. Store food in airtight containers, and promptly clean up spills and crumbs to eliminate potential food sources for water bugs.
  • Reduce Moisture: Use dehumidifiers to reduce humidity levels in damp areas like basements, crawl spaces, and bathrooms. Repair any plumbing leaks or moisture problems to eliminate water sources for water bugs.
  • Outdoor Maintenance: Trim overgrown vegetation and remove debris from your yard to discourage water bug breeding sites. Keep outdoor lights off at night to avoid attracting insects.
  • Keep Pools Clean: If you have a pool outside, be sure to keep up on maintenance. Dirty pools full of bacteria and aquatic life may attract giant water bugs to your property.

When Should I Call an Exterminator

As most city-dwellers can attest, Oriental cockroaches are generally harmless and rarely ever spotted unless you shine a flashlight through a dark basement. Nevertheless, spotting an Oriental cockroach and, even more terrifyingly, a giant water bug can be jarring. While many home remedies for cockroaches exist, including essential oils, it’s always best to contact an exterminator if you are dealing with a large population of insects.

If you suspect you are dealing with an unnatural infestation of either species, reach out to the experts at The Pest Rangers. Not only will a professional take care of these bugs for you, but they can also suggest remedies that prevent other species of pests from coming to your home.


Do Water Bugs Carry Diseases?

Unlike cockroaches, which are known carriers of various pathogens and allergens, water bugs are not known to transmit diseases to humans. However, their bites can be painful and may cause localized swelling or irritation.

Can Water Bugs Fly?

No, water bugs cannot fly. They rely on their powerful swimming abilities to move through the water and may crawl onto land in search of food or mates.

How Long Does Professional Pest Control Take?

The duration of professional pest control treatments can vary depending on the severity of the infestation and the methods used. Generally, a single treatment may take anywhere from a few hours to several days to complete. Follow-up treatments may be necessary to ensure the long-term eradication of water bugs.