Madagascar Giant Hissing Cockroach
- Zoo Atlanta keeps a breeding colony in a 20 gallon long tank. One side has a heat pad and soil that is misted daily while the other side is kept more dry. A humidity chamber (tupperware with a wet sponge inside) is accessible at all times. The water bowl is filled with small rocks to prevent drowning.
- Zoo Atlanta’s program roaches are housed in an approximately 11×8 inch kritter keeper with cricket water (gel water). Animals are removed by handlers and placed in a small kritter keeper singly to be transported to programs.
- For our breeding colony: roaches get several hiding places plus a humidity chamber which we keep a moist sponge in. they seem to like to use it for molting. We use dirt for substrate and unless we see other issues we clean it 2x’s a year. We mist with water daily to maintain humidity. They get a water dish with rocks in it to prevent drowning. We also line the upper rim of the tank with vaseline to keep the babies in.
- Our program roaches are maintained a little different, with only 4 male roaches, we keep them on mulch, clean it every 2 months, provide hiding places and a closed humidity chamber (they can’t get into it and guests can’t see inside it, we fill it with moss and water).
- Madagascar hissing cockroaches are decomposers, eating fallen vegetation on the forest floor and returning nutrients to the soil. In captivity they eat fruit and vegetables.
- Madagascar hissing cockroaches are not considered a pest species due to their specialist diet. We offer them fresh greens and vegetables in addition to dog food as a protein source.
- At Zoo Atlanta: We offer our breeding colony Purina one dog food (which they only eat the soft kibble) and ensure they have fresh greens and veg all the time, and a water dish. For our program roaches, we use gel water for them instead of a water dish and also feed them dog food and produce.
- Never intentionally try to make the cockroaches hiss, this is a defense-related behavior and therefore can result in unnecessary stress.
- Please be aware that this is a USDA APHIS controlled species, and, as such, any item coming out of an enclosure with a cockroach should be frozen and sent to biowaste.
- Babies on program: MHCs are live bearing (ovoviviparous)- fertilized eggs are carried internally in an egg sac (called ooethecas) for 60-70 days, after which time the eggs hatch internally and are “born” from the mother. It should be noted that this could happen while on a program with a female cockroach, and a large zip-lock bag in which the whole display carrier can fit should always be packed in case this occurs. If a birth occurs, put the whole carrier into a well inflated zip-top bag until you can return to the Zoo. [Note: for this reason, some zoos only use males for programs to avoid transporting and stressing gravid females]
Notes on Enrichment & Training
- We offer bamboo leaves, pine cones, and leaf litter as enrichment
At The Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, we cull our colony of MHC every few months as they get crowded. We freeze them to kill them, and then after 24 hours we will thaw them out and feed them out to some of our other animals. Opossums, skunks, meerkats, armadillos, and other insectivores love them!
See: Temperature and Transport: Welfare Implications for Ambassador Ectotherms from AASAG Newsletter, Dec. 2016
- These animals are very easy to handle. Just scoop them up gently with your fingertips and place them into their prepared carrier.
- ALWAYS USE ADULTS for programs. This will prevent any accidental escapes with juveniles able to fit through breathing vents.
- A good method is the “envelope” method. Hold it as if you were passing someone an envelope. Hold it near the base of your fingers, with your thumb providing very gentle pressure and control on the thorax, leaving the abdomen exposed for touching. Adjust as necessary.
Tips on Presentation
- Presented on the hand, public touching allowed.
- The name “cockroach” can turn people off. Introduce it is an amazing insect from Madagascar, then reveal it’s identity as a cockroach after they have touched it. A rose by any other name . . .
- This is a great animal to let the public not only touch, but hold – it’s a great way to involve them in your presentations too!
Check out the AASAG Species Spotlight, Dec. 2016 on MHCs at the top of this page, which includes photos of how Oregon Zoo presents their cockroaches for public contact in a “choice” bin. This gives the roaches the choice whether or not to be touched.
- Guests may touch with one or two fingers on the carapace.
- They should not be allowed to touch the animal’s face or antennae.
- Guests should be immediately instructed to wash hands or use hand sanitizer where hand washing is not available.
Tips on Handling
- Brandywine Zoo: Remove from travel carrier by scooping them out and holding in the palm of your hand. They may walk around on your hand, some may be very active. Just rotate your hand to accommodate that, and keep your other hand at the ready to catch a roach that may run off your hand.
- At no time should you hold the animal with any force or restraint.
- Cockroaches can also be presented in a plastic carrier.
- Zoo Atlanta presents these animals on a flat open hand allowing the roach to move about and using a hand over hand method if they are moving a lot. Handlers must keep a close eye on them as they move because a drop of even a few feet can be devastating for invertebrates.
- Insects are animals, too! Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches are a charismatic mega-invertebrate and so are a good introduction to what makes an animal an animal. They move, reproduce, eat, etc.
- Insects are a lot like you (and so deserve respect!) Their exoskeleton is made of keretin, just like human fingernails and hair. They have muscles, nerves and a beating heart. They have complex behaviors: Madagascar Hissing Cockroach males defend a territory and use their humps for fighting; females protect their young; they live together in groups and can make noise for communication.
- Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot with many endemic species. Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches live on this amazing island, along with lemurs, fossa, emerald green pill millipedes, tenrecs, many different chameleons and lots of other species. It’s important to conserve biodiversity for many reasons. The roaches can be used to start a discussion about how animals are chosen for conservation programs and which are important to conserve (they all are!)
- Importance of decomposers. Importance of all of the “little animals” to the web of life and the balance of nature.
Very commonly kept, and easily bred in captivity
See Invertebrate Acquisitions document for list of sources and testimonials.
Comments from the Rating System
- Natural Science Center of Greensboro: Do not allow volunteers to handle
- Henry Vilas Zoo: Teach insect and invertebrate attributes and ecosystem role
- Zoo New England, Stone Zoo: A fantastic, easy program animal for any handler. So many different educational messages, and kids (of all ages) love insects – or at least intrigued by them!
Natural History Information
Range and Habitat
Found in forests
The Madagascar hissing cockroach is a large species of cockroach, growing up to three inches long. Their hard outer shell, called an exoskeleton, is shiny and brown, and their head, legs, and antennae are black. Like other insects, they have six legs and three body parts – the head, thorax, and abdomen. It can be difficult to see the head, as it is small and carried beneath the pronotum, the first segment of the thorax. In males, the pronotum also bears two “horns,” bumps in their hard exoskeleton, which are used in combat. The females lack these horns, and tend to be a little larger than males.
Female hissing cockroaches will produce around 50 eggs inside an ootheca, a specialized egg-case around one inch long. This species retains the eggs inside her until they hatch, at which time she gives birth to live young. When the babies are born, they are the size, shape, and color of a grain of rice, and will get darker as they grow. As the juveniles mature, they molt their exoskeleton several times in order to reach their adult size
Madagascar hissing cockroaches are nocturnal, emerging at night to forage on the forest floor. They are communal and live in family groups with a dominant male presiding. Although they do not have wings and cannot fly, they are excellent climbers. These cockroaches also have a symbiotic relationship with a species of mite which live on the cockroach. The mites consume debris on the cockroach so the cockroach stays clean!
Threats and Conservation Status
Although their population in the wild is considered stable, their habitat is threatened by mining and agriculture.
Did you know…
- As their name implies, these cockroaches hiss. They do this by forcing air through holes called spiracles on their abdomen. It is believed that no other insects can hiss in this way. Hissing is a means of communication used when threatened by predators, when defending territory, and during courtship.
- Although quite large, hissing cockroaches are not the biggest cockroach species in the world – Australia’s burrowing cockroach, Macropanesthia rhinoceros, is heavier and the giant cockroach from the Caribbean, Blaberus giganteus, is longer.
AASAG Species Spotlight, Dec. 2016: Madagascar Hissing Cockroach Species Spotlight
Contributors and Citations
- Happy Hollow Park & Zoo, San Jose
- Saint Louis Zoo
- Baton Rouge Zoo
- Brandywine Zoo