If you live near water, you've probably heard the term “water bug." You may have even seen these large insects zipping through the water around you. Water bugs are similar in appearance to a common household pest, the cockroach, and are even sometimes called “water cockroaches."

Learn all about water bugs, including how to identify them and what to do if you think they're in your house.

How to Identify a Water Cockroach

“Water bug" is a broad term that refers to several insects within the order Hemiptera (true bugs). One of the most common types of water bugs is the giant water bug which, as its name implies, is a large insect found in ponds and lakes.

Cockroaches are found in various habitats across the United States. Some of the most common species in the country include the American, brown-banded, German and Oriental cockroach. American cockroaches are the most likely to be mistaken for water bugs because they prefer to live in damp areas.

While water bugs and cockroaches may look a bit alike, they are very different insects. Some of the main differences between the two include:

Habitat – Water bugs spend most of their lives in water, including ponds and lakes. Some cockroaches may prefer damp areas, but they don't actually live in water. They are more likely to be found in cardboard or wood.

Size – Giant water bugs are the largest true bug found in the United States and Canada. Most measure about two inches long and one inch wide, but some species can measure up to four inches in length. Cockroaches are smaller, measuring three-quarters to one inch in length.

Diet – Water bugs are predators, feeding on insects, fish and small animals that they hunt and kill. Cockroaches, in contrast, are opportunistic feeders — or scavengers. They do not hunt, and will feed on almost anything that's been discarded or left behind, including crumbs, pet food and garbage. This makes them a major pest in homes and restaurants.

Physical appearance – Aside from their size, there are a few physical characteristics that help distinguish water bugs from cockroaches. Water bugs are flat, oval-shaped and tan or brown in color. They have clawed front feet, short antennae, and a piercing mouth and pointed beak. Cockroaches are also flat and oval-shaped, but they range in color from tan or reddish-brown to black. They have long antennae and “hairy" legs with a downward-facing head.

Are Water Bugs Dangerous to Humans?

Water bugs are not dangerous to humans, per se, but they do have a powerful bite. This has earned giant water bugs in particular a scary-sounding nickname – “toe-biters." Interestingly, this bite isn't actually a bite. It's an injection of venom from their legs. Fortunately, water bugs only bite humans in self-defense, so they're not likely to cause problems unless they feel threatened.

What Causes Water Bugs in Your House?

Water bugs fly between bodies of water during mating season, and they may be attracted to lights on porches or in parking lots. This has earned them another nickname – “electric light bugs." Because they prefer to live in water, you probably won't find a water bug in your house unless they're flying around your porch and you open the door, accidentally letting them inside.

If you find a pest in your house and can't tell if it's a water bug or a cockroach, it's much more likely to be a cockroach. These insects are comfortable living where humans do, feeding on scraps and garbage, and even making themselves at home in cabinets, drains and pipes.

How Do I Rid My House of Water Bugs?

As mentioned, you probably won't find a true water bug in your house, and if you do, it found its way there by mistake. Because of their preferred habitat, you're also unlikely to have a water bug infestation. If you do find one in your home, the best thing to do is try to remove it, taking extra care to avoid handling it directly to prevent bites.

If you see several bugs in your home, or are unsure what species you're dealing with, the pest control specialists at Terminix® can help. Contact us today for your initial inspection.