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.
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.