Madagascar “Hissing” Cockroaches

Of the 4000 plus species of cockroach, the most popular is the Madagascar “Hissing” Cockroach, Gromphadorhina portentosa. The Hissing Cockroach is one of the largest species of cockroach reaching a size of about 4 inches. The Hissing sound is made by actively forcing air out of the spiracles. In nature, the sound can startle a potential predator and allow a Hissing Cockroach opportunity to escape.

Hissing cockroaches are slow moving, lack wings and breed only slowly. The females lay an egg case (ootheca) like most cockroach species. Once the case is laid, the female will take the egg case back into her reproductive system to incubate the egg case. The larvae hatch inside the female and are born live. This is sometimes a shock to people who have a single female and suddenly find a large litter.

In the US, they do not thrive in the absence of human care. It is some concern that they could survive in Florida where permits are required to maintain breeding populations. However, the species lacks many of the traits necessary to be invasive.

For many reasons, the Hissing Cockroach is a popular insect zoo animal. They are large enough to be picked up and held without harming them, but slow enough that they are not a threat to escape. These qualities make them good animals for “insect petting zoos”. People who are otherwise afraid of insects can learn that insects are not slimy and do not necessarily bite or sting.

At Purdue, we use the Hissing Cockroaches in classes and outreach programs. Students can learn a lot about insects (and science) by making daily observations of a Hissing Cockroach Pet. Observations are the basis for developing scientific questions (hypotheses). Hissing Cockroach pets are useful for teaching students about the scientific method.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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12 Responses to Madagascar “Hissing” Cockroaches

  1. Niki says:

    I love Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches! They are soooo cool! I have 2 of them now and I love to show them off and teach my friends about insects with them! They look creepy at first, but I’ve gotten most of my friends to hold them. I am obsessed with them!

  2. Niki says:

    One of my favorite shows, America’s Next Top Model, does a show with Hissers. I have linked a website that shows the “bedazzled” roaches. They run for $80+ as they are decorated with Swarovski crystals. There is also a clip from the show:

    So cool! I wonder how I could sparkle my roaches up safely?

  3. Pingback: Stolen nature center animals recovered | Taking care of your pet

  4. mathew says:

    I have a colony of about 30 hisser and I need them to start breeding. I have had then for about 4 -5 months and they won’t breed. I feed them a variety of foods and keep them very warm at 26-30 degrees celcius, but the just won’t breed. What can I do?

    • jjneal says:

      What are you using for bedding? Some of the chips (cedar chips) are bad for the colony. I suggest using the shredded coconut and making certain there is enough moisture. Madagscar cockroaches do well if they have dark. Provide good harborage and hiding places.
      Give them plenty of water and increase the amount of protein you feed them

  5. Anonymous says:

    I am currently caring for a Madagascar “Hissing” Cockroach as part of my ENTM 105 course at Purdue University. I decided to use an old shoe box for the cage. I stuffed the box with the left over shoe paper and created different levels where the cockroach could climb and move around. I also decided to place a toilet paper roll in the cage to allow the species some privacy. I placed a cotton ball and some water into a petri dish and gave the cockroach some croutons to munch on. So far, the cockroach has been scattering its frass around, which leads me to believe it is eating and doing well. I look forward to keeping the cockroach for a another month or two while I make observations about its behavior. I have to admit, I need to clean the cage tonight!

  6. Ginny says:

    My roaches had babies about two months ago. They seem to be developing at different rates and look different! Some are smooth and some look more adult like. Some have white dots around their outer sides. Does this sound normal and does it indicate sex?

  7. Toshi says:

    My female hissing cockroach aborted it’s ootheca and ate it, how many ootheca does a female have when it’s pregnant?

  8. Anonymous says:

    We have GMHC’s as classroom pet and LOVE them. Does anyone know if Dubai cockroach food will be suitable for Madagascan ones?

  9. jjneal says:

    Any cockroach food should work. I often kept colonies with high protein cat food pellets. My students would experiment by offering foods to see which ones they would eat.

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