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Are cockroaches cannibalistic?

Of all the pests that commonly infest properties, cockroaches are one of the most despised by people. Adding further credence to their repulsive reputation, a number of roach species have been show to practice cannibalism.

Some of the most common species have been observed cannibalistic characteristics, especially in famine conditions. Yuck! While this behavior might not be true in all 4,000+ species, it has been documented in German cockroaches and Oriental cockroaches.

This unsightly characteristic could be one of the many reasons why cockroaches are such skilled survivors. One of the oldest creatures in existence, cockroaches date back before the dawn of the dinosaurs.

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Why do cockroaches eat each other?

Cockroaches will basically eat any and all organic matter.  They prefer to eat sweets, starches and meats – which is one of the reasons they some often infest man-made buildings where these food sources are readily available But what makes them switch to cannibalism?

Well, population density plays a huge part in it. The reasons behind cockroaches developing cannibalistic tendencies can be divided into two sections:

  1. Food
  2. Regulation


Cockroaches are prolific breeders. When an infestation intensifies a population of cockroaches can outgrow its available food source. Thus cockroaches will then turn to each other for food and survival.  Typically, the strongest cockroaches will feed on the young.

The cannibalistic behaviors of cockroaches can work in people’s favor. When a roach eats some bait left behind, it can pass that bait on to the rest of the population if it becomes the victim of cannibalism.


Another reason behind their cannibalistic instinct is due to self-regulation. Large populations mean less food to go around. Eliminating members of the intrusion means fewer mouths to feed, resulting in more food for everyone else. Usually, this occurs with the females consuming eggs and nymphs when food is scarce.

German cockroach nymphs can sometimes avoid being cannibalized by foraging for food during the day. Adult cockroaches usually operate during the night. These nymphs have also developed a pheromone that repels adult cockroaches.

Cockroaches are not the only creatures that practice cannibalism. Various species of spiders, beetles and even fish have been show to feed on their own species. In fact, there are some types of amphibians that practice cannibalism.

It has also been reported that female American cockroaches turn to cannibalism when mating. Just like black widow spiders, female American cockroaches can consume their male partner during copulation.

It is important to note that their cannibalistic traits are purely a survival mechanism. It allows cockroaches to continue existing when there is little to no food available.

Worried about cockroaches? Contact us to set up a free inspection with a licensed pest specialist in your local area.

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