Why Do Roaches Die on Their Backs? [3 Surprising Reasons]

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When was the last time you saw a cockroach dying upside down? You probably see this all the time, right?

But why do roaches die on their backs? Is it because of their body composition, or do they die upside down for a behavioral reason?

I know this question is confusing. So, here’s the answer upfront: there are three reasons behind this occurrence – one related to the insect body and two environmental. 

In this post, we’ll dive deep into these reasons in detail and learn whether roaches can flip themselves over. 

We’ll also explain what it means when you see a live roach on its back and how long it can survive in that position.

Table of Contents

Why Do Cockroaches Die on Their Backs?

As mentioned, cockroaches die on the back for environmental and physical reasons.

Here, we’ll quickly outline the three reasons why roaches die upside down:

1. When humans spray them with insecticides, the nervous system of roaches is destroyed. As a result, they fall over their backs, the heaviest body part, and can’t right themselves.

2. Roaches aging causes significant muscle weakness. As such, an old cockroach may find it impossible to self-right if it falls over on its back. It’s only a matter of time until it dies in that position.

3. The bodies of these insects can’t completely control movement on smooth surfaces, which are integral parts of our modern homes. So, roaches can find it considerably challenging to self-right after falling over, especially if injured.

Cockroach Upside Down: 3 Reasons They Die in This Position

A picture showing the three reasons why die in up side down

As quickly highlighted above, you’ll usually see dead roaches lying on their backs for three reasons.Let’s explain each in detail:

1. Insecticidal Effects

As you probably know, insecticides are one of the most popular methods for killing roaches. These pest control products are neurotoxins, meaning they directly target the nervous system

When roaches are exposed to these toxins, they experience muscular spasms. This causes the insects to lose their balance and fall onto their backs.

When this happens, in most cases, roaches can’t right themselves because of the severe damage to their nervous system. 

What makes it even harder is that these insects usually fall over smooth surfaces like those in your modern home.

Because of their nervous system damage and difficulty moving on smooth surfaces, cockroaches will stay in that position until they die.

2. Physical Characteristics of Cockroaches

If we look at the anatomy of a cockroach, we’ll notice the following: It has a greasy, rounded back, six long legs, and a flat body. 

We can say that these insects hold most of their weight on the back. Here’s when things turn problematic: as these insects age, they lose their muscle strength, negatively impacting their ability to balance their bodies. 

This way, the weak muscles can’t self-right the roaches when they fall over on their heavy backs in a chase or when exposed to insecticides.

Conversely, young, healthy roaches have much better chances to self-right when falling over. Still, if exposed to potent insecticides, they might face a similar fate to old individuals.

In that case, their nervous system might be severely damaged, causing them to lose control of their movements and be unable to return to their normal body position. 

3. Smooth Surfaces in Modern Homes

When cockroaches fall onto their backs in the wild, they can easily right themselves. This is because the natural surfaces such as tree trunks, twigs, and leaves give these insects a better ability to move and balance their bodies.

In contrast, your house is full of smooth surfaces that negatively impact the balance of these insects’ movements.

As such, a flipped cockroach would find it incredibly difficult to self-right in this environment.

Cockroach on Its Back but Alive: What Does This Indicate?

A graphical picture showing why a cockroach is alive will on its back.

When you see a cockroach on its back, the first thing that probably comes to your mind is that it’s dead or about to die. Although this is often true, it’s not always the case.

Cockroaches can sometimes self-induce this position, especially if they’re in a molting period. To clarify, molting is the natural process of shedding the old cockroach’s exoskeleton before growing a new one.

This process may cause cockroaches to lose their balance and fall over on their backs. By the end of that process, the insects regain their balance and return to their normal body position.

Still, there’s another less common scenario in which roaches may stay alive on their backs. Sometimes, cockroaches fall over on their backs and become wholly or partially paralyzed. 

This happens when these insects are exposed to low doses of insecticides. In this case, they’ll stay alive on their backs for a while before dying.

How Long Can a Cockroach Live on Its Back?

A picture showing how long can a cockroach live on its back.

We’ve conducted thorough research to get a decisive answer to this question, but we haven’t found one. 

However, during our research, we came across a bunch of interesting facts that can help us estimate the answer. Here are our findings:

  • Some sources claim a cockroach can survive on its back for over 10 days. Still, we didn’t find strong evidence supporting this claim.

  • Many reliable sources state that roaches can live for over a week without food or water.

  • Not all insecticidal exposure causes rapid death in roaches. These pest control products might cause severe damage to the insects, leaving them paralyzed in an upside position for a few days before dying.

Based on these findings, our best estimate is that cockroaches can stay on their backs for several hours up to multiple days before dying. The exact duration depends mainly on their condition.

Can Roaches Flip Themselves Over? Here’s How They Do It

Most healthy roaches can flip themselves over; they use various self-right strategies to do this.

However, the most common strategy consists of the following steps.

  1. They kick their legs against the floor while arching their bodies. 

  2. They make rapid wing movements to generate rolling and pitching motions.

  3. They continue doing the above movements until they create great traction with the ground, allowing them to self-right

Nonetheless, different roach species can implement this strategy differently. For example, American cockroaches focus more on leg movement when self-righting.

On the other hand, Madagascar hissing cockroaches depend more on arching their bodies to right themselves.

Besides Detecting Them Lying on Their Backs, 5 Other Signs Roaches Are Dying

A picture showing 5 Other Signs Roaches Are Dying

So, you started using a new pest control method and saw multiple roaches lying on their backs around your home. 

You might be unsure if this is enough to indicate that you’re getting rid of the cockroach infestation in your house.

In this section, I’ll provide other signs confirming you’re on the right path to eliminate these insects from your house. Let’s check them out:

  • You spot dead roaches in different decomposition stages.

  • You find killed cockroaches in open areas of the home, especially in the morning.

  • You start to see fewer live roaches during the day than you used to notice.

  • You no longer smell the musty odor associated with cockroaches.

  • You observe a decrease in damage to your home’s clothing, food, and other items.

The Takeaway

Hopefully, we’ve satisfied your curiosity about this topic, and you now know why roaches die on their backs. 

To give you the takeaway, I’d say:

Exposure to Insecticides, cockroaches’ anatomy, and smooth surfaces are the key reasons roaches die upside down.

If you enjoyed this article, I’d like to invite you to explore other interesting ones on this blog. I recommend you give a read to How Fast Can A Cockroach Run next. 


If a cockroach is on its back, is it dead?

If you see a cockroach on its back, it can be dead or alive, but the probability of death is much higher.

Nevertheless, the most common scenario is that it takes this position after its exposure to insecticide.

Why do I keep finding dead roaches upside down?

Finding a lot of dead roaches upside down means that they have probably been exposed recently to insecticides. 

As mentioned above, these pest control products destroy the nervous system of roaches. As a result, they make cockroaches unable to right themselves after falling over on their backs. 

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