Madagascar Hissing Cockroach
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
They are found in the tropical, lowland rainforests of Madagascar, typically under dry leaves on the forest floor.
The Madagascar hissing cockroach is a large species of cockroach, growing up to three inches long. Their hard outer shell, or 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.
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. 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 rice grain, and will darken as they grow. As the juveniles mature, they molt their exoskeleton several times in order to reach their adult size.
Madagascar hissing cockroaches are detritivores. They break down rotten and decaying plant matter on the forest floor.
Food source for many birds, small mammals including bats & genets, lizards, and larger arthropods including spiders and centipedes.
Scorpions are arachnids, related to spider, mites, and ticks. They have two body parts and eight legs. Their exoskeleton is a dark blue or black, but occasionally you will see a dark brown or green scorpion. Their pincers have a granular texture and a reddish coloring. They are actually pedipalps (extensions of the mouth) and not true legs. There are sensory hairs around the pincers, tail, and telson.
The cephalothorax is made up of four sections, each with one pair of legs. Behind the fourth pair of legs are the pectines, which is noticeably longer on the males than on the females. (Other sexual differences: males have broader tails and larger pincers than females.) The pectines are used to detect ground and air vibrations.
The tail, also known as the metasoma, is made up of six segments. It has a telson at the end, which is the large ball with a sharp curve used to sting. The telson contains the venom gland. The tail isn’t really a true tail, but is an extension of the abdomen.
Emperor scorpions are the largest of the existing scorprions. Adults can reach up to 8 inches long.
Life Cycle Natural History Relevant Information
- Diurnal, Nocturnal, Crepuscular
- Large mixed-gender colonies can be kept in a 10-20 gallon tank. A line of vaseline or petroleum jelly is applied around the top 2-3” rim to prevent climbing out. An additional screened lid is utilized to prevent escape or from other pests getting in.
Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles
- 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 a water dish on the heat pad.
- Zoo Atlanta: okay above temps of 68F, preferred 85-95F
- In a larger terrarium at Zoo Atlanta, one side has a heating pad under it that is misted daily while the other side is kept dry, with access to a humidity chamber (Tupperware with a wet sponge inside) is accessible at all times or misting the substrate daily.
- Require heated pad to successfully reproduce
- Can benefit from a low-level UVB light
Because of their fossorial nature and high humidity needs, a mixture of coco coir and vermiculite is ideal. Fully s
- 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.
- Zoo Atlanta: dirt and mulch mix
- Memphis Zoo: 1-2 inches of 50% coco coir, 50% repti bark mixture with sanitized leaves & some mulch
Diet in the Wild
- In the wild they are detritivores/ decomposers consuming fallen vegetation on the forest floor to return nutrients to the soil including leaf litter, fruits, flowers, and other debris from the myriad of plants within the forests. They are not considered a pest species due to their specialist diet.
Diet Under Human Care
- Mix of produce like greens, grapes, root vegetables (like carrot and sweet potato) mushrooms, banana, green pepper. Bananas are favored and usually devoured overnight. Moist fruits have a tendency to attract insects like fruit flies.A pillow case can be placed under the lid to prevent fruit flies.
- Dried food offered include singly or mixed omnivore chow, dog food as a protein source, insectivore chow, as long as they are kept dry, otherwise they will mold.
- Cricket water is also offered in some facilities.
- Veterinary services are not usually required and there isn’t much that they can do.
- MHC grow throughout their lives and shed their exoskeleton when they do so. Young roaches shed more frequently than older animals. After a molt, it will be soft and white for several hours and handling should be avoided.
- They will occasionally lose legs if handled roughly. Younger animals will molt and it will regrow, however, not adults.
- MHC bear live young after about a 60 day gestation giving birth to around 30 nymphs ¼ inch in size.
- Do not step on them.
Enrichment & Training
Behavioral Relevant Information
- They hide during the day, so numerous hides for many individuals in a necessity
- Food can also be spread throughout the enclosure.
- Natural items can be added like rocks, bamboo leaves, pine cones, cork bark, and a variety of leaf litter.
- Could try a miniature ficus growing in a tank.
- Mist enclosure during the week to change humidity.
- Provide a variety of novel textures to explore.
- Provide a variety of mild scents to explore.
At least 1 time per week.
Other Enrichment Resources
Reinforcers Used & Schedule of Reinforcement
Social Housing/Colony Management
- Can be housed in a mixed-sex, mixed-age group as adults live peaceably with their young.
- Mainly males are used on programs. Some facilities only house a bachelor group of males to prevent potentially pregnant females from giving birth on the program. Keeping males and females separate also minimizes breeding, but doesn’t eliminate it.
Colony or Breeding Management
- Adults live peacefully with their young, not harming them.
- Breeding colonies are maintained where surplus nymphs and females are offered to insectivorous species to prevent culling of expanding colonies. Males are often removed for programs and kept separately.
- Males are easily identified from females by the prominent horns on their head. In addition, the abdomen of males have three smaller segments at the underside and rear of the abdomen where females have one.
- Size and body characteristics can be used to identify individuals to a small staff of handlers. A drop of nail polish on the top of the pronotum can be used as well and doesn’t flake off as easily if placed there.
- “Cockroach” can turn people off. By introducing MHR as an amazing insect from Madagascar and reveal its identity after they have been touched.
- Insects are animals too. MHC are charismatic mega-invertebrate and are a good introduction to what makes an animal an animal. They move, reproduce, eat, etc.
- Detritivores are important to ecosystem health.
Threats and Conservation Status
- Although their population in the wild is considered stable, their habitat is threatened by mining and agriculture.
Interesting Natural History Information
- 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 lives on the cockroach. The mites consume debris on the cockroach so the cockroach stays clean!
Did you know…
- These cockroaches hiss 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.
Handling & Presentation Tips
- Not recommended for volunteers, although they are beginning level.
- Signs of stress include: frantic behavior, hissing, lethargy, failure to correct body when flipped upside down
- 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).
- Due to specific state restrictions and the USDA APHIS category of a controlled species, indoor presentations might be the only option for some outreach programs.
Public Contact & Interaction Guidelines
- These animals are often presented in the hand or in a carrier.
- When in the hand some facilities allow the roach to move hand over hand. Keep a close eye on them as they can move fast. A drop of only a few feet can be devastating to invertebrates, so know your animal.
- Touch is usually one finger on the animal’s back since they are so small.
- In a carrier, many designs provide a covered side for the animal to retreat under if they do not want to be touched.
- MHR are transported in a critter keepers with a mulch substrate and a hide. This critter keeper is often further protected by being placed inside a cooler padded with towels to keep temperatures consistent and from being jostled.
- Handlers remove the individual from the larger home enclosure to a lidded clear plastic critter keeper with mulch substrate is used to transport individuals.
- Temperature range of 60-100F. Take into consideration your area’s humidity, sun, and shade access and if the animal is presented inside a carrier when developing your guidelines. If traveling through an outdoor area to an indoor location outside of temperature range, ensure the Kritter keeper is insulated appropriately.
- When traveling to a program, ensure the vehicle is warmed/ cooled appropriately from ambient temperature.
- Some facilities present the animal for 30 minutes maximum before giving a break of equal time.
- Invertebrate Acquisitions
- TITAG Steering Committee Erin Sullivan Erin.Sullivan@zoo.org
- Brandywine Zoo
- Zoo Atlanta
Contributors & Citations
- Thank you to
- Zoo Atlanta
- Bradywine Zoo
- Henry Vilas Zoo
- Zoo New England
- Natural Science Center of Greensboro
- Happy Hollow Park and Zoo, San Jose
- St. Louis Zoo
- Austin Zoo
- Memphis Zoo
- Merrist Wood Animal Management Centre and Animal Encounters
- and the many other facilities that have contributed to this page.