Cockroaches are insects of the order Blattodea, which also includes termites. About 30 cockroach species out of 4,600 are associated with human habitats. About four species are well known as pests.The cockroaches are an ancient group, dating back at least as far as the Carboniferous period, some 320 million years ago. Those early ancestors however lacked the internal ovipositors of modern roaches. Cockroaches are somewhat generalized insects without special adaptations like the sucking mouthparts of aphids and other true bugs; they have chewing mouthparts and are likely among the most primitive of living neopteran insects.
They are common and hardy insects, and can tolerate a wide range of environments from Arctic cold to tropical heat. Tropical cockroaches are often much bigger than temperate species, and, contrary to popular belief, extinct cockroach relatives and ‘roachoids’ such as the Carboniferous Archimylacris and the Permian Apthoroblattina were not as large as the biggest modern species.
Some species, such as the gregarious German cockroach, have an elaborate social structure involving common shelter, social dependence, information transfer and kin recognition. Cockroaches have appeared in human culture since classical antiquity. They are popularly depicted as dirty pests, though the great majority of species are inoffensive and live in a wide range of habitats around the world.
Cockroaches are members of the order Blattodea, which includes the termites, a group of insects once thought to be separate from cockroaches. Currently, 4,600 species and over 460 genera are described worldwide. The name “cockroach” comes from the Spanish word for cockroach, cucaracha, transformed by 1620s English folk etymology into “cock” and “roach”. The scientific name derives from the Latin blatta, “an insect that shuns the light”, which in classical Latin was applied to not only cockroaches, but also mantids.
Historically, the name Blattaria was used largely interchangeably with the name Blattodea, but whilst the former name was used to refer to ‘true’ cockroaches exclusively, the latter also includes the termites. The current catalogue of world cockroach species uses the name Blattodea for the group. Another name, Blattoptera, is also sometimes used. The earliest cockroach-like fossils (“blattopterans” or “roachids”) are from the Carboniferous period 320 million years ago, as are fossil roachoid nymphs.