Though there are many myths about white cockroaches on the internet, finding a white cockroach is very common. A white cockroach is simply a cockroach that has just molted out of its old exoskeleton or hatched out of the egg!
In this post, we discuss why cockroaches turn white, if a white cockroach signals an infestation, and most importantly, what to do if you find a white cockroach!
What is Molting?
Molting is a process common to all arthropods (insects and crustaceans). These organisms create an exoskeleton, instead of an endoskeleton like humans and other vertebrates.
The exoskeleton is an extremely rigid structure made from the molecule chitin. Chitin is soft and white when it first forms, but as it is exposed to the air it dries out and becomes more rigid. It also changes color during this process – so a white cockroach will only be white for a short time.
As the insect grows, it will start to fill up the excess space within its exoskeleton again. Once it can no longer grow inside of its exoskeleton, the insect must burst out of the old exoskeleton.
Cockroaches, like other insects, molt many times as they grow into adults. Each time the cockroach emerges from the old exoskeleton it will be a bright white color – since the soft chitin takes time to fully harden and gain its coloration back.
Some websites call these cockroaches “albino” – though this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The term albino applies to animals that have a genetic abnormality and cannot produce pigment molecules in their skin or exoskeleton. White cockroaches do not have any genetic defects and all cockroaches will become white at many times during their lives as they molt into consecutively larger stages.
Does a White Cockroach signal an Infestation?
The general rule of thumb with cockroaches is that if you find one cockroach, there are likely more hiding out-of-sight. If you find a white cockroach, this not only signifies that there may be more cockroaches you are not seeing – it also means that the cockroach has found a place it felt comfortable molting in.
Cockroaches will not start the molting process in broad daylight, since they are much more vulnerable to predators when their exoskeleton is not yet hardened. Therefore, they usually find a harborage (an area where cockroaches gather) before the molting process starts. There is a chance that the cockroach was just passing through and found a warm dark place to carry out the molting process.
But, more often than not, if you find a molting cockroach it likely means that you may have a cockroach infestation on your hands!
Are all Cockroaches White when they Molt?
Most cockroach species are either completely white or slightly yellow when they molt. As stated, the color of the cockroach will slowly change from nearly pure white to whatever the normal color for that species is within a few hours. So, if you find a darker yellow cockroach it likely molted a few hours earlier and is simply half-way through the process of hardening its exoskeleton.
Each species of cockroach has a different coloration when they are finished molting. By and large, all species of cockroach are almost pure white when they first emerge from their old exoskeleton.
However, some species are a very light brown color as adults, whereas others are almost pure black. These differences can result in different shades of white, yellow, and brown as the exoskeleton of a molted cockroach slowly hardens into place.
What Should I Do if I Find a White Cockroach?
If you find any cockroaches in your home – white, yellow, brown, or black – you should immediately look for more. Make a note of where you found the first cockroach and search the immediate area.
Most cockroach species do not travel far from their harborage, and you can often find this hiding place if you look for gaps or cracks in the walls, floors, or ceilings that lead to warm, humid voids within your house. Kitchen cabinets are one common place to find cockroaches.
If you don’t find any others near the site of the first cockroach, you should conduct a full inspection of your house. Look in crawl spaces, around your sinks and toilets, and inspect any holes that lead into your walls. These are prime harborage locations.
Plus, you should consider hiring a professional to do a more thorough inspection. A professional exterminator will have a variety of tools – like inspection cameras that can access hard-to-reach areas. These tools are often necessary to find infestations since cockroaches often form harborages in the nooks and crannies of your home that cannot be inspected visually.
Remember, if you find one cockroach (of any color), it is likely that there are many more roaches hiding somewhere. Cockroaches usually like to be around other cockroaches. Even a single cockroach can signal to others that there is food and shelter in an area, and will quickly attract more roaches and start laying eggs. Taking action quickly is the only way to stop an infestation from spiraling out of control!