High school students and other citizen scientists collecting and helping analyze American cockroaches using DNA barcoding.

Status: Project completed. We thank our intrepid specimen collectors!

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Genetic diversity is a window into evolution and patterns of migration. American cockroaches originated in Africa and hitchhiked around the world on commercial goods. This project asks:


To participate, collect a cockroach!

What you need

  • American cockroach (dead)
  • Specimen label with collection location, date
  • Mailing materials (click here for form with instructions)

What you get

  • Thrill of scientific discovery with DNA
  • Cool topic to talk about with friends
  • DNA sequences you can analyze to study evolution
See our list of contributors





What is the American cockroach?

The American cockroach (Periplaneta americana), sometimes called palmetto bug or waterbug, is the commonest large roach in the U.S. (adults 1 ¼ - 1 ½ inches).

Periplaneta americana commonly inhabits warm, moist environments in man-made structures including basements of large buildings, steam tunnels, and sewers. It is a year-round indoor resident as far north as Canada.

The smaller cockroaches seen in homes and apartments are usually the German cockroach (Blattella germanica) (adults 1/2 - 5/8 inch).

In warm weather American cockroaches may be seen roaming urban sidewalks at night particularly near large buildings, street drains, and manhole covers.

What are other large (body size ≥1 inch) cockroach species in the U.S.?

Name Distinguishing features vs. P. americana
Smokybrown cockroach (P. fuliginosa)Uniformly dark brown color
Australian cockroachi (P. australasia)Bright yellow along sides of head and body
Brown cockroach (P. brunnea)Most similar to P. americana
Oriental cockroach (Blatta orientalis)Uniformly dark color, short wings don’t cover abdomen

The other Periplaneta species are found mostly in southeastern states; the Oriental cockroach is widely distributed.

More information on P. americana and its relatives including pictures is available on BugGuideNet and University of Florida Featured Creatures.

If you think your specimen is an American cockroach, mail it in!

How can you find a specimen?

Search around the basement of your school or apartment building, or ask for help from a building manager or a local exterminator. In warm weather keep your eyes open at night near large buildings, street drains, or manhole covers.

contact: mark.stoeckle@rockefeller.edu