Madagascar Hissing Cockroach

Gromphadorhina portentosa

Order: Blattodea

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • Housing:
    • Zoo Atlanta keeps a breeding colony in a 20 gallon long tank. Program roaches are housed in an approximately 11×8 inch kritter keeper.
    • Austin Zoo: 10 gallon tank lined with reptile carpet
    • Brandywine Zoo: the top 2-3″ of the inside rim of the tank are coated with petroleum jelly to prevent escapes. 
    • Lindsay Wildlife Experience: males are in one tank (20″x10″x12″) and the females and nymphs are housed in another (24″x12″x16″). Rim the top ½ inch of the tank with vaseline.
    • Use a pillowcase under the lid to prevent fruit flies. 
  • Substrate:
    • Brandywine Zoo: about 1″ of damp coir fiber
    • Lindsay Wildlife Experience: Substrate (dirt, sand, and/or bark) covering bottom of enclosure. Furniture includes small hide, rocks, browse and small dishes for water and kibble.
  • Heat:
    • Zoo Atlanta: One side has a heat pad and soil that is misted daily while the other side is kept more dry.
    • Lindsay Wildlife Experience: Heat pad on one half of the enclosure. Do not place water dish on heat pad. 
  • Humidity:
    • A humidity chamber (tupperware with a wet sponge inside) is accessible at all times.
  • Temperature
    • Okay at room temperature, but never keep your roaches’ at temperatures any lower than 68 F degrees.
    • Preferred day temperatures between 85 to 95 F.
    • Breeding will only occur in 
  • Hides:
    • Brandywine Zoo: coconut half-shells and cork bark are used
    • Austin: hides provided

Diet Requirements

  • Madagascar hissing cockroaches are decomposers, eating fallen vegetation on the forest floor and returning nutrients to the soil. Under human care, 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.
  • Merrist Wood Animal Management Centre & Animal Encounters: Kept on root vegetables (carrot, sweet potato), mushrooms, and greens.
  • Austin Zoo: Small salad with romaine, carrots and/or bell pepper. This helps keep fruit flies down. They do seem to love banana, though.
  • Lindsay Wildlife Experience: 5 g fruit + 5 g vegetable + 6 dog kibble [Males];  12 g fruit + 12 g vegetable + 12 tsp dog kibble [Females/Nymphs]. Use pieces from produce scrap bowl first. Select as large of pieces as possible. Feed on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Log what was fed. See enrichment schedule for food placement. If no specifics are stated, food can be scattered or put in pile.
    Change kibble on Monday only.
  • Water:
    • Zoo Atlanta: The water bowl is filled with small rocks to prevent drowning. Program animals get cricket water (gel water)
    • Brandywine Zoo: Natural sponge is provided and re-wetted daily.
    • Austin Zoo: sponge soaked in water
    • Lindsay Wildlife Experience: Water dish should be at least ½ full.
    • Other: damp paper towel with dechlorinated water

Veterinary Concerns

  • Madagascar Hissing Roaches bear live young after a gestation period of about 60 days.
    • The nymphs are born about a 1/4 inch in size and about 30 at a time. 
  • Hissing cockroaches will grow throughout their lives, and shed their exoskeleton when they do so. Young roaches will shed much more frequently than older animals. After a molt, it will be soft and white for several hours and handling should be avoided.

Notes on Enrichment & Training

  • We offer bamboo leaves, pine cones, and leaf litter as enrichment.
  • Merrist Wood Animal Management Centre & Animal Encounters: collect a variety of leaf litter, or provide corkbark. Miniature ficus growing in tank was also popular.
  • View Lindsay Wildlife Experience ‘s Enrichment Calendar for MHCs.  
  • Painting with cockroaches: this is a fun activity and demonstration to do for the public. Nontoxic tempura paint can be used- water it down to make it less thick. Provide wet papertowels in a separate carrier to allow the roaches to “walk off” the paint after. Gently wipe down any remaining paint.

Other

Colony or Breeding Management

Adults live peaceably with their young, not harming them. 

Austin Zoo: Males are kept separate from females in a bachelor group for programs. Breeding colony maintained elsewhere.

Brandywine Zoo: males are pulled and kept separate once gender is determinable. This keeps breeding to a minimum, but does not eliminate it entirely.

Lindsay Wildlife Experience: Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches are housed separately when they are not breeding. Keeps tank with adult males only, separate tank with females and nymphs. 

Individual Identification

This species is dimorphic, and males are easily identifiable from females. Check out images of sexing by horns as well as rear abdomen here

Programmatic Information

Transportation

  • Brandywine Zoo: Please be aware that this is a USDA APHIS controlled species. As such, any item coming out of an enclosure with a cockroach is frozen and sent to biowaste.

Temperature Guidelines

  • Brandywine Zoo:
    • Outdoor hot temperature range with shade only: 90-100° F
    • Outdoor cold temperature range requiring sunny conditions/direct sunlight: 60-70° F

Crating:

  • Zoo Atlanta’s  . Animals are removed by handlers and placed in a small kritter keeper singly to be transported to programs.
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Tips on Presentation

  • Many facilities only use male cockroaches for presentations due to ovoviparity in females, they can potentially be gravid while on program (or even give birth).
  • Public contact:
    • Presented on the hand, public touching allowed.
    • 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!

Tips on Handling

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Signs of Stress: Frantic behavior; Hissing; Lethargy; Failure to correct body when flipped upside down.

Potential Messaging

  • 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 . . .
  • 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 keratin, 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.
  • The species is unusual among insects in that the females appear to bear living young. Actually, the young emerge from an egg case (ootheca), which has been retained within the body of the mother. This is known as false ovoviparity.
  • Partial/incomplete metamorphosis
  • Garbagemen of the rainforest- clean up the forest floor so when other animals drop seeds, those plants can grow. Things like cocoa beans, vanilla beans, coffee, medicine, and the air we breathe comes from rainforests. 

Acquisition Information

Very commonly kept, and easily bred in captivity.

Acquire from: Brandywine Zoo, Zoo Atlanta

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

Madagascar
Found in forests

Physical Description

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.

Life Cycle

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. 

An adult Madagascar Hissing Roach can live and breed for 2 to 3 years or longer. Two to three broods a year would seem to be most common.

Behavior

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.

Photographs

Documents

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Contributors and Citations

  • Happy Hollow Park & Zoo, San Jose
  • Saint Louis Zoo
  • Baton Rouge Zoo
  • Brandywine Zoo
  • Austin Zoo
  • Merrist Wood Animal Management Centre & Animal Encounters