Madagascar Giant Hissing Cockroaches
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Nasty looking at first but harmless.
Origin. Madagascar (just off the east coast of Africa) abounds with fascinating critters. Hissing roaches live on their forest floors and eat vegetation and whatever else falls to the floor. They digest it like our dogs and earthworms and help build their soil.
Size. Male hissing roaches top out at three inches; females stay a bit smaller. Our Iowa roaches rarely exceed two -- no matter how much we feed them, voluntarily or involuntarily.
Sexing. Male hissing roaches grow blunt “horns” on the front of their heads. They also grow hairier antennae. Males also like to fight by butting heads. Funny we never see these guys butting heads with Mountain Dew drinkers. Hissing roaches get quite involved in their arguments.
Temp and Humidity. Hissers will survive a wide range of temperatures -- probably coinciding with the day and night temps of Madagascar. They breed best at 85o and want to fight a lot at 90o -- male hissing roaches butt heads. Hissers go into a non-breeding phase below 75o. They like humidity, but misting can encourage mold. At Aqualand they breed like crazy in July and August.
Handling. Unlike our U.S. roaches, hissing roaches will sit on your hand as opposed to running away faster than you can dance the Stomp the Roach Polka. Hissers probably cannot survive in our locale because of their non-fear of humans. They certainly can’t survive an Iowa winter. They have no snow shoes.
Nocturnal/Diurnal? Most roaches prefer to work the night shift. You (and you know who you are) see them scurry for cover when you flip on the lights. Hissers prefer less light than you like. Some come out during the day. Hissing roaches prefer to spend their days in hidey holes or under anything. Day or night, you rarely see hissers scurrying. They usually lumber.
Substrate. You can keep hissing roaches atop nearly any substrate. Research indicates bran enables you to see the babies (nymphs) more easily when cleaning their cage. Contrasting colored aquarium gravels or sands should make for a more colorful display. You need not try to duplicate the look of forest floor litter, although you can easily do so. Obviously you want to avoid cedar chips. And ground corn cobs mold too quickly. Dirt and potting soil both make a hard-to-keep-clean mess.
Container. Critter cages with snap-on lids make ideal containers for hissing roaches. Hissers cannot fly (no wings) but they can crawl like crazy -- right up plastic or glass and on out. You don’t want the wee beasties escaping and stampeding about your domicile. They’d love a nice warm spot under your refrigerator. Ten-gallon tanks with screen covers work very well also. Add the locking clips. Paul says his breeders can easily lift screen covers. Glass tanks also provide more stability. Light plastic cages seem to get knocked about a great deal.
Hidey Holes. Bugs (especially roaches) always find a place to hide. You can treat hissing roaches like crickets and give them paper rolls or egg cartons. Both provide lots of hiding room. Even a piece of wood or bark will work. Better yet, add a little style with a colorful ceramic cave or painted plastic palace. We used the natural looking cork bark caves. No point in building a bug slum. Gentrify it with some plastic plants. Hissers would probably eat live plants.
Water. Provide a low water dish with a sponge in it. Foolhardy nymphs will wade out past the safety ropes just like any kids. The sponge provides a hissing roach Personal Floatation Device to prevent their drowning.
Foods. Any pelleted food works -- iguana food, bird food, dog food, cat food or whatever. Roaches (including hissers) adapt to nearly any substance with a carbon atom in it. Fresh foods like Romaine lettuce and bits of orange tempt their delicate palates. You will want to remove excess fresh food before it molds. Hissing roaches appear to love sliced baby carrots -- especially if you candy them by cooking them in butter and brown sugar like my aunt Ethelyn. No, Mike, my aunt was not cooked in butter and brown sugar. And, speaking of mold, pelleted foods mold also -- especially if they get wet.
Skin Sheds. Lots of critters shed their exoskeletons as they grow. Ditto hissing roaches. Some devour their ex-skins -- especially if no other food is at hand. The lower on the food chain (and the less picky), the more likely they are to eat their skins. Most newly shed critters are very vulnerable (and especially tasty) at this stage. If you insist on eating roaches, the newly shed ones taste best (but crunch less).
Breeding. Male hissers butt heads to establish dominance -- like mountain sheep and Mountain Dew drinkers. Females usually breed with the dominant males -- the best butters (real butt heads). Typical bug breeding (birds dew it, bees dew it, even educated fleas etc), but the female hissing roach pulls her ootheca (pronounced egg case) into her back end and totes her developing litter around internally for about two months. Timing depends upon temp.
Maturity/Lifespan. The larvae (nymphs) shed and eat their skins as they grow. They attain sexual maturity at about six months. They live two to five years. Female hissing roaches produce about 700 offspring during their careers.
If you can get past the
“creep factor,” hissing roaches make intriguing pets. Kids love
them. They make good class projects. LA
Jenny Liedkie, Rochester, NY, February 14, 2011
Hi, I came upon your website looking for an answer to my question...” why isn’t my Madagascar roach not shedding exoskeleton?”
Have you ever encountered this?
I have a pretty happy breeding colony in my office and yet, I have one roach that is definitely NOT interested in growing up....he is merely getting rounder and fatter....but is not shedding.
We are considering treating him with hormone therapy....but haven’t figured it out yet.
Have you had this experience before? All of my others are shedding absolutely deliriously, but for this one.....
Any info would be greatly appreciated...
Jenny, Lab Specialist, Biology
Rochester Institute of Technology
A: Very intriguing question. You have aroused my
curiosity. Who can differentiate male Madagascar roaches sufficiently
to keep track of individual sheds? Before I sold my 400 head
Madagascar roach ranch, it never occurred to me to keep track of which ones
molted and when. Now it's too late to determine empirically because I
have switched my allegiance to dubia roaches (far less hassle and a softer
body). I can tell you that mantids stop shedding once they grow their
wings. So maybe Madagascar roaches do the same thing (except for the
wings) They perhaps go thru their allotted instars and that's it.
American roaches go thru 6 to 14 instars -- even fewer if they get stomped
on. Madagascar roaches become adults at their seventh instar. I
cannot attest as to whether they cease molting at this stage. If you
ascertain the answer keep me posted. I'll recommend you for the Nobel
Prize. Nobel Prizes look great on a résumé. LA
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