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What are Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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Madagascar hissing cockroaches are a species of cockroach native to the island of Madagascar, just off the coast of Africa. Like many of the unusual animals found on Madagascar, these cockroaches are quite distinct from their counterparts in other regions of the world, and they are a topic of interest among some biologists and entomologists. In addition to being subjects of study, Madagascar hissing cockroaches are also kept as pets in some regions of the world, because they are relatively calm, hardy, and easy to handle.

These large cockroaches can reach a full grown size of up to three inches (seven and a half centimeters), and they have glossy brown ovoid bodies, with pronounced horns on the males. Hissing cockroaches are not capable of flight, but they are excellent climbers, capable of scaling a wide variety of surfaces including glass. The unusual hissing noises produced by these animals are generated by forcing air through spiracles, small holes connected to their respiratory systems, on their abdomens.

Hissers, as they are sometimes known, hiss to communicate with each other in a wide variety of contexts, ranging from mating to establishing territory. They generally live in colonies, and the females bear live young, incubating the eggs in their bodies until they hatch into nymphs. It is common for Madagascar hissing cockroaches to live in family groups, establishing colonies in rotted wood in the natural environment.

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Male Madagascar hissing cockroaches will use their horns to fight with each other, in a scene which can be reminiscent of horned mammals. They also fight and establish dominance by bumping abdomens, typically hissing all the while. These insects eat vegetables and fruit, often getting the water they need through their diet, although when kept as pets, many people supply a moistened sponge to ensure that their Madagascar hissing cockroaches get enough to drink. A mixed diet of fresh fruits and vegetables most closely mimics the food eaten in the wild by these insects, although some people supplement with dry food formulated for mice and other small mammals.

The Madagascar hissing cockroach is formally known as Gromphadorhina portentosa, and it is not generally viewed as a pest, although the animals can certainly be startling to encounter. When kept as pets, Madagascar hissing cockroaches can live up to five years, preferring an environment well-supplied with wood chips and other organic detritus. Because they are from a warm climate, the temperature in their habitat should be kept around 75 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 32 degrees Celsius), and these insects prefer high humidity levels.

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WaterHopper
Post 3

@calabama71- The particular birth that I saw ended up producing 42 babies but they can have as many as 60 at one time.

calabama71
Post 2

@waterhopper- Just curious as to how many babies the female gives birth to at one time. Any idea?

WaterHopper
Post 1

Very informative article! In my college biology class, my instructor kept five Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches in a large tank in the classroom. We all participated in caring for the hissers. We had the amazing opportunity of watching one give birth. I have never seen anything like that in my life.

All of the babies were white. At first, they were all connected to one another as one big mass. Then, the babies started detaching themselves from each other and immediately started crawling up the side of the tank. I could not believe that all those babies were birthed at one time.

I still do not care for cockroaches of any kind and killing cockroaches still sounds pretty good to me. However, these particular creatures did catch my attention and I found myself fascinated with their every move!

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