The island of Madagascar off the coast of Africa is home to numerous fascinating species; the Madagascar hissing cockroach (Gromphadorhina portentosa) is just one of them. It is shiny brown in color, oval in shape, and has a single pair of antennae.
The Cockroach measures approximately 2 to 4 inches in length and weighs roughly between ¼ to ⅞ ounces. The species exhibits white coloration immediately after molting. Once the coat hardens, it turns back to brownish or black.
Referred to as hissing cockroaches or hissers, they live in colonies comprising roaches of all ages. The males are larger than the females, and sport a pair of horns on their head, which are used when taking on other males as a part of the mating ritual. In course of this, the two competitors hiss loudly, and the one which is louder wins over the female.
Other than mating, Madagascar hissing cockroaches also use their characteristic hissing sound to ward off the predators. This sound is produced by forcing air out of the abdominal air holes known as 'spiracles'. At 90 decibel (dB), their hiss is as loud as an average lawnmower.
Yet another fascinating aspect of their lives is related to their lifespan. The females carry a cocoon-like case known as ootheca, in which they carry their eggs. The nymphs are pushed outside after the eggs hatch. This gives an impression that she is giving birth to live young ones.
The roaches have a gradual metamorphosis stage, i.e., development as eggs, nymphs, and final adult stage. There are six nymphal molts and it takes 6 months for a nymph to develop into an adult.
Do They Make Good Pets?
Madagascar hissing cockroaches turn out to be great pets. Unlike other roach species, they don't infest human habitats, and thus, are not considered pests. In the wild, they survive on the jungle floors hiding under the leaves, logs, and rocks. They are active during the night as they are nocturnal species.
More importantly, these scavengers don't bite. In fact, they slowly walk on your hand, without harming you in any way. You can even train your roach to run a maze or step on a lever. During the active period, use food or water and train them to do such simple tricks. If you are planning to keep them as pets, then the following instructions may prove helpful.
Choose a plastic bin or glass tank to house your Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Smear about 3 inches wide strip from the top with petroleum jelly, olive oil, or any bug stopping product. It will ensure that these roaches, which are efficient glass climbers, don't escape. Flatten cardboard egg holders and place them in the bottom of the tank/bin.
You can also use wood chips, bark, pine shavings, or crushed corn cobs in place of the flattened cardboard egg holder. The best part is that their enclosures don't stink like that of crickets.
Provide your pet roaches a high protein diet. You can use roach diet products or dry cat food. Place water at the bottom of the tank in the form of water gel. This will not stink like wet sponges would, and―more importantly―ensure that the young roaches don't drown.
Carrots, apples, oranges, leafy vegetables, fruits, etc., can be given to the roaches once a week. Do not let the leftover food material lie in the tank for more than a day. It can lead to growth of mold and that will be fatal for your pets.
The temperature of their housing should not be below 66°F as they tend to become sluggish at such low temperature. Being tropical species, they need a warm climate, and therefore, the day temperature should be maintained at 85-95°F. These roaches breed at temperature of 85°F or higher.
Pick the roaches gently around the thorax. Madagascar hissing roaches have feet with sticky pads and hooks that grip tightly. Make sure you do not pull the roaches out; that might cause some injury to them. If you observe tiny light-colored insects on your roach, it means your cockroaches are infected by Gromphadorholaelaps schaeferi―a species of mites.
These mites don't hurt the hissing cockroaches―the two share a commensal relationship―or humans for that matter, and thus you don't need to worry about them unless there are unusually lot of them. If you observe such mites, just put the roach in a bag of flour and shake the bag. It will make the mites fall off the roaches.
The Madagascar hissing cockroaches are by no way similar to the other members of their family. After all, they play the crucial role of nutrient recyclers of the Madagascar forests.