Have you ever considered keeping a cockroach as a pet? Madagascar hissing cockroaches, otherwise known as "hissers," are a dark reddish-brown to black color with a hard exoskeleton. Unlike most cockroaches, they have no wings for flight or jumping. The hissing cockroaches make pretty fascinating pets, and they don't even mind humans petting their brittle exoskeleton. The easygoing nature of the Madagascar hissing cockroach makes it a good starter pet for owners who are new to insect keeping. Despite its fearsome name, the Madagascar hissing cockroaches are described by their human fans as hardy, docile, and easy to handle. Their housing needs are simple—just a warm, secure tank with wood shavings and a few hiding places. Plus, they aren't very picky eaters.
Common Name: Madagascar hissing cockroach
Scientific Name: Gromphadorhina portentosa
Adult Size: Up to 3 inches in length
Life Expectancy: Up to 5 years
Click Play to Learn More About the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach
Can You Own a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach?
Some U.S. states, including Florida, require individuals or institutions who want to keep Madagascar hissing cockroaches to have a special permit, whether for captive breeding colonies or even one lone roach. Permits specify and advise keepers not to ever take the females, especially pregnant females, out of their enclosed habitats. This is required to prevent the inadvertent introduction of an invasive species into U.S. environments.
It is legal to own Madagascar hissing cockroaches in the U.S., providing you follow your state's regulations for doing so. Therefore, unlike a number of other exotic pets, legality is not an ethical issue when deciding to keep hissing roaches as pets.
Just remember that keeping males and females in the same enclosure will result in breeding and lots of little roaches. If your goal is to establish a breeding colony, be sure you're prepared to deal with all the offspring with a dependable source of buyers or adopters established before breeding. Releasing baby hissing cockroaches into the wild is highly unethical because they are not native to the United States and do not fare well in the U.S. climate without human care.
Things to Consider
According to the Entomology Department at the University of Kentucky, Madagascar hissing cockroaches are the best arthropods to keep in captivity because they can thrive in a domestic environment if properly care for. Plus, they are not dangerous to humans or other pets in a household.
Madagascar Hissing Cockroach Behavior and Temperament
Despite their creepy reputation, cockroaches are mild-mannered forest dwellers that don't mean any harm to humans. Madagascar hissing cockroaches are larger and hardier than the common kitchen-raiding variety we think of in the U.S., so they are easier to handle and don't mind human contact. They will tolerate holding, petting, and gentle examining by curious owners. These roaches do not bite or scratch, even though their little feet might feel slightly sharp to the skin.
In their enclosure, they will crawl around and explore, eat food they find, and seek dark hiding places when they need a rest.
One of the most interesting things about these roaches is that they make an audible hissing sound.
The Hissing Sound
Hissing cockroaches have a pair of modified spiracles; these are the tubes insects use for breathing. These insects use these spiracles to produce the hissing sound that inspired their name. They will hiss when disturbed, and males also hiss when courting females. Sometimes a whole colony will hiss in unison for reasons that are as yet unclear to researchers.
Hissers force air through the spiracles to produce all of their various hissing sounds; one call is used to attract a mate, another is used when the cockroach is feeling threatened (known as the "disturbance" hiss), and a third known hiss is a warning, used when a male cockroach is preparing to attack another male.
Adult male roaches can be identified by their two large protruding bumps (tubercles) on their dorsal plate (prothorax) behind the head. Adult females also have tubercles in the same location but they are smooth.
The Madagascar hissing cockroach, native to the large island of Madagascar off the east coast of Southern Africa, is one of the world's largest cockroach species. In their wild habitat, these wood dwellers are commonly found living in fallen and decaying trees or dry leaf litter.
In captivity, a 5 to 10-gallon fish tank will house several Madagascar hissing cockroaches comfortably. Use a secure mesh lid to keep the roaches secure while allowing plenty of air circulation. Also, make sure your determined climbers can't get out by applying a thick coating of petroleum jelly to the top few inches of the glass walls inside the habitat.
It is important to make sure your enclosure is secure; while they're not known as escape artists, a Madagascar hissing cockroach that finds its way out of its tank can be killed by a fall from a tabletop (or by an unsuspecting human who steps on an escapee).
Being tropical creatures, hissing cockroaches are most at home when they're kept at just above room temperature; they tolerate temperatures of 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Specific Substrate Needs
Aspen wood shavings, 1 to 2 inches deep, are a suitable substrate for the hissers; avoid cedar or pine shavings which will make them sick. Because hissers do not like bright light, provide only very subdued ambient lighting, and add some hiding places. They will be happy with hiding places as simple as the cardboard rolls from toilet paper, pieces of cardboard egg cartons, cork bark, driftwood, and small cardboard boxes.
What do Hissing Cockroaches Eat and Drink?
Feed hissing cockroaches a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, including romaine and other leafy greens (avoid iceberg lettuce) in combination with a pellet food that's high in protein, such as dry dog food. Carrots are reputed to be a favorite, along with oranges, apples, bananas, tomatoes, celery, squash, peas, pea pods, and other colorful vegetables.
Remove uneaten food after a few days to avoid spoilage. Unlike some other cockroaches, hissers may not eat decaying or rotting food matter. Clean and clear fresh, non-chlorinated water should be provided in a shallow dish that has climbable rocks in it to prevent your pets from drowning.
Common Health Problems
Madagascar hissing cockroaches are hardy; just like most cockroaches, they don't have many health issues. One thing to watch out for, however, is dehydration; if your pet cockroach looks shriveled or wrinkled, it's probably not getting enough water. If it's not showing signs of dehydration and it hisses slightly when you first touch it (indicating alertness), then it's likely a healthy cockroach.
Cockroaches molt (shed their outer exoskeleton) six separate times before reaching maturity. These periods are when your cockroach is at its most vulnerable; it may hide and not eat the day before a molt as it prepares for the shed. This is normal and not a cause for concern. Once it reaches about seven months of age, it stops molting and has reached adulthood.
A full-grown hissing cockroach is about the length of an average adult's index finger, so it fits nicely in the palm of your hand.
Pros and Cons of Keeping a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach as a Pet
For people who are interested in insects, a Madagascar hissing cockroach is a great pet. This inexpensive cockroach is impressively large and makes a hissing sound, so it can be a fun learning tool for kids who are budding entomologists. This pet can also be a good pet for parents who want to help their kids get over a fear of creepy-crawly creatures. The hissing cockroach doesn't skitter like other bugs, which is a major fear factor for those with entomophobia (fear of insects).
Just make sure to check with your state to make sure you have the proper permit for owning this exotic pet.
These aren't your standard kitchen-invading cockroaches. You must buy them from a reputable insect breeder; they are low-cost pets to purchase, usually under 5 dollars each. If you want to set up your own breeding colony, purchase at least 10 individuals; request four adult females for every one adult male. This will increase the chances that your breeding colony will provide large numbers of roaches for many years to come.
Similar Pets to the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach
If you still aren't sure whether you want to own a pet cockroach but are interested in other invertebrates you can keep as pets, check out:
Is a Madagascar hissing cockroach hard to take care of?
Hissing cockroaches are easy to care for. They don't take up much space, have simple food requirements, and don't mind being handled occasionally.
Do Madagascar hissing cockroaches bite?
These roaches hiss when they are agitated, but they do not bite and are not harmful to humans.
How long do Madagascar hissing cockroaches live as pets?
Hissing cockroaches can live up to five years in captivity.