Just how fast is a cockroach? These little pests are just about everywhere and have existed for thousands of years. You may be surprised by this, but cockroaches are one of the world’s fastest insects!
The American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) can run 1.5 meters per second. This equals 3.4 mph (5.5 km/h), and 50 body lengths per second. While this isn’t the world’s fastest insect, it is second only to the Australian tiger beetle, which can run 5.57 mph (9 km/h), a speed of 2.49 m/s.
This article is part of our huge set of information about cockroaches.
How to Measure Roach Speeds
So we’ve measured roach speeds in two ways – using both give us a good point of reference for how fast they run compared to other insects and animals. And compared to human speed.
The two ways to measure speed are absolute and relative.
- Absolute speed: meters per second (m/s)
- Relative speed: body lengths per second (bl/s)
Both are valid units of measure. But to me, the relative speed seems a little fairer when comparing these tiny insects.
The American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) can run 1.5 m/s (3.4 mph). This equates to 50 bl/s.
The Cockroach Speed Study
In July 1999, the results of a study of the fastest running insects. At the time, it was known that the Australian tiger beetles were the fastest known running insects.
The study involved three species. Two species of Australian tiger beetles and the American cockroach.
- The American cockroach, Periplaneta americana
- Australian tiger beetle, Cicindela hudsoni
- Australian tiger beetle, C. eburneola (subgenus Rivacindela)
How fast do each species run? Here are the results.
- The American cockroach, Periplaneta americana. 3.4 mph (5.5 km/h). This equates to 1.5 m/s and 50 body lengths per second.
- Australian tiger beetle, Cicindela hudsoni. 5.57 mph (9 km/h). This equates to 2.49 m/s and 120 body lengths per second.
- Australian tiger beetle, C. eburneola (subgenus Rivacindela). 4.16 mph (6.7 km/h). This equates to 1.86 m/s and 171 body lengths per second.
Source: Book of Insect Records, Chapter 39, Fastest Runner. Thomas M. Merritt of the Department of Entomology & Nematology, University of Florida.
Learn more about all types of cockroaches.
The Biology of Cockroach Speed
Cockroaches have developed giant fibers in their ventral nerve cord that transmit the sensory info from their cerci to their thoracic ganglia.
The thoracic ganglia control their leg muscles, and when the cerci sense air currents, their legs will move incredibly quickly.
- This is a very powerful reflex, which means the cockroach’s brain does not need to make any decisions. So when a predator is nearby, this system is fast enough to detect airwaves in front of a predator allowing it to get away quickly.
- In addition to these reflexes, their legs have a hook-like structure that lets them seamlessly move between surfaces and swing under ledges in the blink of an eye.
Since each species of cockroach differs slightly in their biology, they all have a different top speed they can reach.
Ever wonder: Where do roaches come from?
How Fast Can an Average Cockroach Go?
When their speed was first tested, scientists tested the start speed of a cockroach. The start speed is the time it takes for an object to start moving from a complete stop.
From a complete stop, cockroaches have a start speed of 8.2 milliseconds. Relatively they can cover fifty body lengths of distance in a single second!
In 1991 a pair of scientists at the University of California tested to see how fast the American Cockroach (Periplaneta americana) runs. Using a pressure-sensitive plate and high-speed cameras, they tracked eight roaches.
These tests showed that they could cover 1.5 meters in one second. That is a total speed of 5.5 km/h or 3.4 mph!
This speed comes in handy when evading the many animals that eat cockroaches.
Fun Facts About Cockroaches
Cockroaches are not only extremely fast creatures, but they also have a load of other interesting attributes.
Cockroaches Multiply at an Incredible Rate
Cockroaches are not only fast with their feet, but they also multiply at an incredible rate. Most roaches can produce 200 to 300 offspring in a single year.
And what’s even crazier is that if you include their offspring, they can produce over 300,000 offspring over their lifespan!
This is a big reason why roaches are difficult to get rid of. Many species hide their eggs instead of carrying them, protecting their offspring from predators and dangers.
Cockroaches Do Not Need Heads to Survive
This is a fact you have probably heard of already, but roaches can survive without their head.
Cockroaches can survive due to numerous reasons:
- They have a unique circulatory system.
- They breathe through openings on their body called spiracles.
- They are cold-blooded animals.
- They have clumps of nerve tissues distributed throughout their body.
A cockroach’s head can survive without its body(not as long as the body).
Cockroaches Are Very Clean Insects
Cockroaches clean themselves often. They do this so their sensory bristles can effectively sense things. And more than that, they do it so they can appear as a desirable mate for other cockroaches.
But while they keep themselves clean to protect themselves, their GI tract still can harbor any disease passed around the area.
And while this might not seem like a big deal, they defecate over any surface or food they walk on and eat. Any disease being carried by a roach can be transferred to these surfaces through defecation.
Cockroaches Are Used for Medicine and Food
Did you know that Cockroaches are sold for medicinal purposes and human consumption? Scientists have found chemicals in the bodies of cockroaches that fight off harmful bacteria. This antibiotic is the reason why some use cockroaches for medicine.
In China, some people farm cockroaches for sale, claiming that there are numerous health benefits to eating them. Learn more about humans eating roaches.
Trouble with roaches in your house? Here are 8 ways to get rid of roaches.
Despite the bad rep they get as pests, cockroaches can turn out to be one of the most interesting insects on Earth.
The next time your try to catch that pesky roach on the floor, now you’ll know why. They can move 1.5 meters every second.
Have you seen a cockroach run? What’s your funniest roach story? Join me below!
- About the Author
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Bryan Haines is a co-founder and writer at The Buginator. And is working to make it the best resource for taking back the outdoors from biting, stinging pests.
He also blogs about travel at Storyteller.Travel and photography at Click Like This. Bryan is a partner at Storyteller Media, a publishing company he runs with his wife, Dena.