No, That White Cockroach Doesn't Have Albinism

You're looking at something else entirely.


Rachael Funnell


Rachael Funnell

Digital Content Producer

Rachael is a writer and digital content producer at IFLScience with a Zoology degree from the University of Southampton, UK, and a nose for novelty animal stories.

Digital Content Producer

white cockroach

That white cockroach might not be an albino cockroach, but it's still something pretty special.

Image credit: Boomur, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

White cockroaches are a sight to behold, so remarkably lacking in pigment that many people think they’re looking at a rare albino cockroach. The truth is what you’re looking at is a perfectly standard cockroach, you’ve just caught it at the right time to see its pale get-up.

Cockroaches can live for several years and in that time they’ll undergo lots of molting as their hardened exoskeleton can no longer contain their ever-growing squishy bits. When you see a white cockroach, what you’re actually looking at is an insect that’s just busted out of its old exoskeleton and is waiting for the new one to harden.


White cockroach

White cockroaches aren’t rare at all as they’re a natural part of these insects’ life cycles. Cockroaches start from an egg, developing into a nymph, which is where all the shedding begins. As they grow and get bigger they molt old exoskeletons so they can wear one that’s bigger and roomier.

Like many animals with exoskeletons, when this fresh layer first comes out in the open it’s soft and pale. That’s why the cockroach appears brilliant white. If you were to watch that same cockroach for several hours, you would gradually see the exoskeleton darken until it's that same roach-brown as all its crunchy brethren.

Albino cockroach

Albinism is a genetic condition that’s characterized by an organism lacking in a pigment known as melanin. It’s the same thing that’s produced in human skin in response to ultraviolet radiation (like sunlight), which is why people with albinism have to be very careful during daylight hours. Melanin protects our cells by blocking radiation that can cause sunburn and certain cancers, so if you can’t produce it the sun is considerably more dangerous.

albino cockroach
Behold, the molting magic trick of insects with exoskeletons.
Image credit: KKPCW, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Albinism isn’t limited to humans, and there have been many documented cases of albino chimps, turtles, orangutans, pandas, whales, penguins… (we could go on). 

Trying to find evidence of an albino cockroach is complicated by the fact that every cockroach will look albino at some stage in its life, and if you google “albino cockroach” the results would certainly suggest they’re everywhere. What’s a lot more likely in almost all cases is that what you’re looking at is a white cockroach in a fresh exoskeleton, not an insect with a rare genetic pigment condition.

An ode to the humble brown cockroach

Cockroaches are among the most maligned insects on the planet, and it’s easy to see why what with all the invading people’s pantries going on. However, they are themselves remarkable critters.

Studies have found they can rapidly evolve to overcome humans’ chemical warfare, even adapting new mating strategies to swerve our sugary traps. Sequencing their genomes has also revealed why they’re quite so hardy, equipped with an internal detoxification system for when they eat the bad kind of trash, and a powerful immune system.


So don’t be dismayed to learn that the white cockroach you thought was an albino is just a plain old brown roach in a fancy new get-up. They’re still special guys, if not a little bit annoying.


  • tag
  • insects,

  • animals,

  • exoskeleton,

  • molting,

  • cockroaches,

  • albinism,

  • pigmentation