Waterbug: What it is and How to Effectively Get Rid of it

waterbug vs cockroach
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Waterbugs or water bugs are often called roaches, however, true waterbugs are from a different order of insects called Nepomorpha. Even though there is a difference between cockroaches and waterbugs, no one likes to see either insect scurrying across the floor. Some common types of waterbugs are the giant water bug, back swimmer, water scorpion, and water boatman. Some species of waterbug can even grow up to 4 inches (10cm) in length.

Waterbugs live in bodies of water and you may be plagued with them if you have a swimming pool or live near a river, stream, or pond. Waterbugs can become real pests if they come into your home because they can give you a nasty bite. Thankfully, there are many effective natural ways to get rid of waterbugs.

In this article, you will learn how to identify true water bugs and find out the difference between waterbugs and roaches. At the end of the article, you will find out how to get rid of water bugs using natural methods.

Waterbug or Cockroach?

Many people refer to palmetto bugs, the American cockroach, and other roaches as waterbugs. This is possibly because cockroaches like to live near water sources in your home. Many people also confuse roaches with waterbugs because they look quite similar. However, there is a big difference between waterbugs and roaches.

Roaches are generally brownish in color and have long protruding antennae. On the other hand, waterbugs tend to be darker and their antennae aren’t as visible as cockroaches. Waterbugs are usually much larger than cockroaches, even the large palmetto bug.

Both waterbugs and cockroaches have wings and can fly if they need to. However, thankfully, both types of insects rarely fly.

Let’s look in more detail at some other characteristics of what a true waterbug is and how you can identify them.

Biting

Waterbugs can bite humans if they are disturbed or provoked. According to the Encyclopedia of Entomology, bites from waterbugs can produce a burning sensation that lasts several hours.1 Although, according to an environmental journal, it’s rare that waterbugs bite. But, if they do, their bite can cause excruciating pain and even numbness around the bite.2

The reason for this is that the saliva in a waterbug bite contains chemicals which are used to paralyze their prey.

Cockroaches rarely bite humans. However, a forensic medical journal stated that roaches will bite humans and cause skin injury.3 The bite can cause the skin to become inflamed, swollen, and itchy.

Habitat

Waterbugs are commonly found around bodies of water like swimming pools, ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams. According to EduWebs.org, water bugs like slowly moving water where there is vegetation growing. They hold onto plants near the surface and prey on other bugs, small fish, and frogs.4

Cockroaches usually live in dark, damp crevices near sources of food and water. The University of Minnesota says that depending on the species of cockroach, some prefer humid conditions whereas others prefer cooler areas. Cockroaches can be found under sinks, in basements, garages, and behind baseboards.5

Both roaches and waterbugs are more active at night and will be attracted to bright lights.

Diet

There is a large difference in the diet of waterbugs and cockroaches. The website Encyclopedia.com says that waterbugs prey and feed on small fish, frogs, snakes, and turtles.6 They kill their prey by biting into them and secreting enzymes which dissolve body tissue. They then suck up the liquefied tissue.

Cockroaches are scavengers that will feed on a variety of different kinds of foods. According to the World Health Organization, cockroaches like to eat decaying matter and starchy items. They eat meat, cheese, pastry, grain products, and chocolate. They will also feed on book bindings, cardboard, and leather.7

One way to avoid a cockroach infestation and prevent waterbugs from entering into your home is to never leave out leftover food or drink. This will attract the bugs and will make it harder to get rid of the pesky insects for good.

Lifespan

Unless you kill off waterbugs or cockroaches quickly, they can live for up to a year or even longer if they have enough food and water to feed on.

The University of Florida says that cockroaches take about 1 ½ years to grow from the egg stage to become an adult. They can live for another year in the adult stage.8

Waterbugs develop into adults in about 2 months and may live for a year or longer.4

How to Differentiate Between Waterbugs and Cockroaches

So, there is a big difference between the habitats, diet, and activities of waterbugs and cockroaches. However, because both look similar and there are different ways of getting rid of the large insects, it still might not be easy to tell them apart. There are 3 main characteristics that can help you identify waterbugs from cockroaches:

  • Waterbugs are aquatic. Waterbugs are often found near water and bodies of water and you may even see them swimming in your swimming pool. They use their legs as paddles to propel themselves forward.
  • Waterbugs are solitary. Waterbugs don’t congregate in groups like cockroaches tend to do. So, if you see a few together, then they are most likely cockroaches.
  • Color. Waterbugs are much darker in color and they range from dark brown to black. Cockroaches tend to be a lighter color of brown.

How to Get Rid of Waterbugs

One of the first steps to get rid of waterbugs from your home is to prevent them entering in the first place. So, make sure and seal up all cracks and crevices where they could enter your house. This will also help you to prevent an ant infestation in your house.

To exterminate waterbugs that are in your home, you should use natural ways to get rid of them. These are safer for your family and pets and don’t contain harmful chemicals and insecticides. These natural pesticides are generally safe to be used around the home but are lethal to waterbugs.

Distilled white vinegar

Vinegar acts as a natural insecticide to eradicate waterbugs from your home. The acidic nature of vinegar is poisonous to waterbugs and will kill them off in no time at all.

Studies into vinegar show that it is a natural antibacterial agent and will also help to disinfect any surfaces that have been contaminated by waterbugs or cockroaches.9

How to use:

  • Fill a spray bottle with white vinegar.
  • Spray the vinegar around areas that you think waterbugs could be nesting. Also, spray any cracks where they may enter you home.
  • Pour vinegar down your drains, bathtub, and toilet.
  • Do this twice a day to prevent waterbugs from getting into your home.

Boric acid

Make a waterbug bait with boric acid to get rid of the insects quickly. Boric acid works in 2 ways to kill off bugs infesting your home. First of all, the acid destroys their exoskeletal system causing them to dehydrate. Boric acid is also toxic when the bugs ingest it. Be careful if you have children or pets because it can also be toxic to them if ingested.

A study published in the journal Cell Biology and Toxicology reported that boric acid is a natural insecticide, acaricide, and fungicide. The bugs also take the bait back to their nest where it destroys other bugs living there, including eggs.10   

How to use:

  • Sprinkle a fine, thin layer of boric acid around the nest.
  • Sprinkle the boric acid powder every few days until you no longer have any waterbugs around your property.

Another method is to use a combination of boric acid, flour, and cocoa powder. Mix one part of boric acid, 2 parts flour, and 1 part cocoa powder. Sprinkle the anti-bug remedy around areas where you think the waterbugs are nesting.

Boric acid is also effective in eradicating ants from your home by helping to kill them off in their nest.

Liquid soap

Liquid soap is a cheap method of killing off cockroaches and is especially effective for waterbugs. If you have noticed that waterbugs have infected your swimming pool, you can use liquid soap or detergent to drown them.

Waterbugs can’t live underwater because they need to breathe air. Putting liquid soap in your swimming pool changes the surface tension of the water creating a film over the water, preventing them from standing on the surface and coming up for air. This method will not affect your pool if used in a small amount.

How to use:

  • Turn off your swimming pool pump and mix a few tablespoons of liquid dish soap in your pool.
  • After some time, the bugs in your pool should die off and float to the surface.
  • Scoop out the dead waterbugs with a pool skimmer.
  • Repeat the process anytime you notice waterbugs in your pool.

You can also make an effective natural insecticide with soap and water. The journal Parasites & vectors reported that soapy water can effectively exterminate insects.11  

How to use:

  • Fill a spray bottle with dishwashing liquid and some warm water.
  • Add 20 drops of peppermint oil to increase the insecticidal properties.
  • Spray directly onto waterbugs if you see them in your home to kill the bugs.

You can also use this natural spray to get rid of sugar ants and to eliminate flying ants.

Peppermint oil spray

Peppermint oil is a natural and safe pesticide to use around the home. Peppermint oil has a proven toxicity against various species of roaches and may help to eliminate waterbugs from your home.

A study published in 2001 found that mint oil is very toxic to cockroaches and is an effective repellent when other pest management strategies haven’t worked.12

How to use:

  • Fill a spray bottle with water and add 20 drops of peppermint oil.
  • Vigorously shake this mixture to combine the oil and water.
  • Spray around “problem areas” in your home where you have seen waterbugs to get rid of them.

Peppermint oil is great for many uses around the home and is an effective way to kill existing waterbugs and repel any new bugs from coming into your home.

Food grade diatomaceous earth (DE)

Food grade diatomaceous earth can safely be used around the home and in the garden to repel waterbugs and exterminate them. Diatomaceous earth is an effective insecticide because it destroys the exoskeletal system of bugs, causing them to dehydrate.

Diatomaceous earth can kill off ants, get rid of fleas, stop a bedbug infestation, and eradicate termites. You can also use food grade diatomaceous earth around the home and in the garden to kill waterbugs. The good news is that food grade diatomaceous earth won’t harm humans or pets.

Researchers reported in The Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine that diatomaceous earth is effective in exterminating cockroaches. Its effectiveness in bug control is boosted by the fact that bugs don’t build up resistance to the powder.13

Diatomaceous earth loses its effectiveness if it becomes wet or damp. Therefore, you should only use it in dry areas around your home and garden. All you have to do is sprinkle a thin layer of food grade DE powder where the waterbugs are nesting in your garden or home.

How to Prevent Waterbug Infestation

If you have noticed one waterbug in your home, it’s essential to take preventative measures to stop more from entering your property. To prevent a waterbug infestation in your home, here are some practical tips:

  • Fill up any cracks on the exterior of your home and put mesh over any drains or ventilation openings.
  • Seal all baseboards, spaces between cabinets, cracks around door and window frames.
  • Fix all leaking pipes and faucets in your home, including in the basement and garage.
  • Keep any food stored in airtight containers to avoid attracting waterbugs into your home.
  • Fix any holes in concrete where water gathers and make sure that water drains away from your property properly.

Taking these measures will not only help prevent waterbugs from invading your home but will also prevent an infestation of cockroaches and other creepy crawlies.

Waterbug Images

Below you can find images of various types of waterbugs:

waterbug

Read these related articles:

1. How to Get Rid of Wasps Naturally
2. How to Get Rid of Flies Naturally
3. How to Get Rid of Ants Cheaply and Naturally
4. How to Get Rid of Spiders Naturally
5. 10 Natural Ways to Repel Mosquitoes

Article Sources:
  1. Encyclopedia of Entomology. Giant Water Bugs
  2. Wilderness Environ Med. 2010 Jun;21(2):130-3.
  3. Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 1997 Jun;18(2):177-80.
  4. EduWebs. Giant water bugs.
  5. UMN. Cockroaches.
  6. Encyclopedia. Water bug.
  7. WHO. Cockroaches.
  8. EntNemDept. American cockroach.
  9. J Food Prot. 1998 Aug;61(8):953-9.
  10. Cell Biol Toxicol. 2013 Apr; 29(2): 117–129.
  11. Parasit Vectors. 2014; 7: 211.
  12. Dept of Entomology and Plant Pathology. Repellency and toxicity of mint oil
  13. Asian Pac J Trop Biomed. 2014 May; 4(Suppl 1): S228–S232.
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2 Responses to Waterbug: What it is and How to Effectively Get Rid of it

  1. Susan Vose says:

    This is all interesting, but I have a small garden pond that I am concerned with. I’m quite sure I have the boatman type of water bug, but I also have frogs in my pond. As a matter of fact, I have a mated pair and expect to see polywog eggs shortly. I’m guessing the bugs will eat them before they stand a chance and I’m worried about toxicity even though this article seems to offer a more natural solution than chemicals. So, ???????

    • Jenny Hills says:

      You have indeed a tricky situation where, on one hand you want to get rid of the water bugs, and on the other hand you want to protect frogs and pollywog eggs in the same pond. From what I’ve read, most kinds of frogs lay their eggs in a pond (or other body of water), and then leave forever (some species guard their eggs). I guess many times it comes down to simply hiding their eggs as best as they can to give the best chance of the tadpoles to make it to maturity, while accepting that many simply will not make it because of competition from one another and other predators eating them (otherwise we’d be overrun in no time). I guess one possible option is to collect the eggs, as most egg masses can easily be scooped up in suitable containers, and then raise them away from the pond, be patient, and allow them to grow more so the water bugs will not eat them (see more information in wikihow on How to Raise Tadpoles). This is an involved process but with a big reward.

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