Do Cockroaches Play Dead?

Do-Cockroaches-Play-DeadWhether a flood, deadly storm, or nuclear explosion, nothing can eliminate cockroaches from this planet. These tiny pests are resilient against hunger, dehydration, and extreme temperatures. In fact, they can regrow their limbs and play dead for several hours.

This makes people believe that roaches can return from the dead, but is it true? Cockroaches can play dead like a pro but can’t come back to life. When encountering deadly situations, these bugs go into a state of shock and freeze.

After some time, they restore to life and start crawling.

So if you think you have killed a cockroach, but it came back to life after a few minutes, it wasn’t actually dead. Instead, it manipulated you into believing so. That is why it’s almost difficult to eliminate roach infestations from your home.

Let’s learn more about why cockroaches play dead and how you can know if they’re dead.

Do Roaches Come Back from the Dead?

Like every mortal being, roaches can’t come back from the dead. However, they have exceptional survival skills and resilience that help them tackle fatal situations. You’ll be surprised that a roach can live without its head for several weeks.

Some mind-blowing survival abilities of roaches are:

  • Limb Regeneration. These insects can regenerate their limbs after some time of losing them. There is no definite time for this regrowth, but it doesn’t happen instantly. It’s important to know that roaches can only regenerate their limbs, not the head.
  • Breath Holding. Roaches can hold their breath for up to 45 minutes. So even if you suffocate them, you may need to wait an hour to get your desired results.
  • Temperature and Radiation Resilience. Cockroaches can tolerate extreme cold and hot temperatures. Not only that, but they can even survive the radiation in a nuclear bomb.
  • Living Without a Head. A cockroach without a head can continue to live for an indefinite time. That’s because roaches have nervous systems in different parts of the body. However, they’ll eventually die if the mouth is their only source to eat and drink.

Despite their ability to automatically heal, cockroaches can’t come back from death. So if you have killed a cockroach, there is no way it can resurrect itself.

Do Cockroaches Act Dead?

A stationary cockroach doesn’t always mean it’s passed away, but it might be acting dead. Many insects have this trait to manipulate their predators into believing that they are deceased. While some do this intentionally, others experience this situation involuntarily.

This unique cockroach behavior is also known as:

  • Apparent death
  • Tonic immobility
  • Playing possum

In most cases, cockroaches play dead due to their biological functioning, which puts the roaches in shock. You can’t do anything to bring them back to life. These bugs are mostly paralyzed and unresponsive to all stimuli.

Even if the roach in tonic immobility wants to move, it can’t, no matter how hard it tries. However, it returns to its normal state after some time on its own.

Cockroaches usually play dead when exposed to life-threatening situations, such as insecticides.

You may be wondering: “How long do roaches play dead?” They can act dead for a week if they have sufficient food and water supply.

Note: If you have sprayed the insecticide directly on the roach, it won’t survive that long. Also, if the poison entered the roach’s exoskeleton, it would surely die.

What Makes Cockroaches Play Dead?

Cockroaches play dead in response to certain situations. The 6 most common ones are:

Extreme Temperatures

Roaches are cold-blooded animals that can’t regulate their body temperatures. They only nest in those places with a temperature that supports their growth and reproduction. Every roach species may have different temperature and humidity conditions to thrive.

For example, domestic roaches are well-adapted to the temperature we keep in our homes.

Roaches can’t reproduce or survive in temperatures below 45° F and more than 115° F. Any temperature lower or higher than this range can cause them to freeze.

Many homeowners love canned sprays that fire cold air directly on the roaches to kill them. However, many people saw that these cockroaches returned to life even after frozen.

So why did this happen? It happened because:

  • Extreme temperatures only froze the roaches from the outside, not the inside.
  • The hard exoskeletons of roaches fought bravely against the canned spray and protected their internal organs from damage.
  • The roach wasn’t exposed to the freezing condition long enough.
  • When the cockroaches defrost, they regain control and try to find warmer conditions.

Insecticides That Starve Roaches

Insecticides are the easiest and quickest way to kill roaches, but some have different purposes. For instance, you can find an insecticide that only paralyzes roaches to starve them to death.

Almost all insecticides have neurotoxins, which cause severe damage to the cockroaches’ nervous systems. When exposed to these poisons, a roach may play dead because:

  • When sprayed directly on the cockroaches, the insecticide compromises the insects’ neurotransmitters and causes muscle spasms. These tremors make the roaches turn upside-down.
  • Cockroaches have most of their weight centered on their backs. When flipped, they find it hard to restore their original position, especially on smooth surfaces. If roaches stay this way, they’re likely to starve and die.
  • Once their muscle spasm relieves, they can get up and turn over.
  • If roaches sense humans nearby, they play dead until you leave them alone and get up.

Insecticides That Kill Roaches

The resilience of roaches enables them to fight the strongest insecticides. They do so by playing dead. After getting sprayed, cockroaches go into shock, freeze up, and wait for some time. That’s because of two reasons:

Strong Exoskeleton

The neurotoxins in insecticides sometimes don’t poison the cockroaches. These bugs close their respiratory openings (spiracles) when exposed to danger. This enables their strong exoskeletons to prevent the roaches from inhaling the poison.

If the poison doesn’t go beyond their outer shells, a roach can survive and may play dead to deceive humans and other predators.

Resistance to Insecticides

Multiple scientific studies have found that cockroaches have developed resistance to insecticides over the years. In one study published in the Scientific Reports Journal, a cockroach group, which was just 10% resistant to chemicals, managed to reproduce.

The scientists examined the offspring of these cockroaches and found that:

  • The baby roaches, or nymphs, were immune to the poison their parents were exposed to. The point to remember is that these roaches were not exposed to the insecticide themselves.
  • They were also immune to other insecticides, apart from the ones their parents encountered.

Thus, cockroaches can develop cross-resistance to several insecticides and pass it down to the next generation. Because of this natural resistance, roaches stay alive after you spray insecticides on them and play dead.

Getting Stomped

Many people think smashing a roach guarantees its death. Well, that’s not the whole story. You may have seen that its stomped body vanishes after some time. So, where do you think it goes? It comes back to life.

Even if you stomp a cockroach, it can return to life unless you squish its internal organs properly.

A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found that roaches have an outstanding ability to withstand weights. They can effectively tolerate 300-900 times their weight.

So once these bugs feel that the danger is no more, they can quickly run and fly without any signs of damage. But how is it even possible? There are two theories related to this behavior:

  • The roach’s exoskeleton has high compressibility, so it can bend easily and prevent the internal organs from damaging.
  • Roaches have soft arthrodial membranes located between their bodies. These are flexible body parts that keep cockroaches protected.

So you must stomp on a roach hard enough to squish its internal organs perfectly. Otherwise, it may play dead and start running shortly after.

Losing a Limb

Cockroaches can even survive an attack that removes their limbs or larger body parts. That’s mainly because they are cold-blooded insects with an open circulatory system, so they don’t bleed.

Even if you squish a roach hard, you can never know whether it’s dead or just playing dead. This is because cockroaches have exceptional limb regeneration abilities. When “playing possum,” they stay still for some time till their limbs and muscle tissues regenerate.

So while you may think you have killed a cockroach, you actually have not.


There is one thing that cockroaches can’t do – swimming. But yet, they don’t easily drown. So if you think cockroaches will die in water, you may be wrong.

When completely submerged in water, these resilient bugs can hold their breath for about 40 minutes. Cockroaches close their spiracles under water to prevent the water from reaching their internal organs.

Thus, they survive for a long time and float on the water surface, playing dead. Doing so also helps roaches conserve their energy and avoid the attention of predators.

How Can You Know If a Cockroach Is Dead?

As you know, cockroaches are pro actors who can easily fool anyone into believing they’re dead. So how can you spot a lying cockroach? What is the right time to stop spraying insecticide on these bugs?

These methods can help you know if a cockroach is dead or playing dead:

Check If the Roach Is Attracting Other Cockroaches and Insects

Cockroaches eat the dead bodies of other insects and roaches. When a cockroach dies, its body releases a fluid called oleic acid that attracts other bugs and roaches.

So if you see other cockroaches surrounding the one you just killed, it is dead.

Poke It a Little

Roaches carry many disease-causing bacteria and allergens. So, never touch or pick them up without wearing gloves. Instead, take a pen or shoe to poke the roach and keep an insecticide in hand if it flies or attacks you back.

If the roach moves a little but doesn’t run, it is playing dead. Although the bug is paralyzed at that time, its nervous system is still working and may respond to certain stimuli.

Check Where Its Body Is Lying

Cockroaches can play dead for several days if they have eaten or drunk enough. So if you found the bug lying near a food source, it may not be dead. Similarly, if it’s floating on water, it’s playing dead.

Roaches also thrive on organic foods, such as:

  • Paint
  • Nails
  • Hair
  • Tissue paper
  • Cardboards
  • Glue
  • Soap
  • Clay

Check Your Insecticide’s Nozzle

Cockroaches have a higher chance of dying after inhaling the poison instead of just coming in contact with it. So if you want the insecticide to cause maximum damage to a cockroach, make sure that the bottle’s nozzle releases a fine mist.

A fine mist can reach the roach’s nervous system better than chunky sprays. Therefore, if you have sprayed a fine mist on the cockroaches, they’re likely to die.


Do Roaches React to Dead Roaches?

Roaches gather around dead roaches because insect corpses release oleic acid. Bugs love the smell of this fluid, so they come close to dead roaches and start eating them. It is one of the biggest signs of having dead cockroaches in your home.

How Do I Know If a Roach Is Playing Dead?

You can know if a roach is playing dead by checking if it’s attracting other insects, moving after being poked, and whether there is a food source nearby. If you have sprayed an insecticide that sprays a fine mist, cockroaches can’t play dead against it.

How Long Do Roaches Play Dead?

Roaches can play dead for hours and days if they have a food source nearby.


Cockroaches can’t come back to life after they have died, but they can play dead. It is their way of deceiving their predators and conserving energy. If they have sufficient food sources nearby, they can stay in tonic immobility for several days.

Here is how and why cockroaches play dead:

  • They have exceptional survival skills, including breath holding, limb regeneration, bearing extreme temperatures, and living without a head.
  • Roaches act dead when exposed to life-threatening situations, such as drowning, extreme temperatures, losing a limb, stomping, and coming in contact with insecticides.
  • You can know if a cockroach acts dead when it moves when poked, attracts more roaches, and has a food source close to it.