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What is a Hissing Cockroach?

G. Melanson
G. Melanson

Growing up to three inches (7.6 cm) in length, the Madagascar hissing cockroach, “hissing roach,” or “hisser,” is one of the world’s largest species of cockroaches. Native to the island of Madagascar, hissing cockroaches prefer dark and damp environments, often living in colonies in rotting trees or under wet leaves. The hissing cockroach feeds mostly on vegetable matter, and may live as long as five years in captivity. It is also adept at climbing almost any surface, including smooth glass. The male hissing cockroach can be distinguished from the female by its knobs, or “horns,” and thick, hairy antennae.

Unlike some other “hissing” insects that make their distinctive sound by rubbing together their wings, The Madagascar cockroach makes its signature sound by pushing air through the breathing pores located on its abdomen. The hissing cockroach will utter its snake-like hiss during courtship, when it has been perturbed, or -- if male -- when it has been challenged. Predators of the hissing cockroach include various birds native to Madagascar as well as the ring-tailed mongoose.

Hissing cockroaches are native to Madagascar.
Hissing cockroaches are native to Madagascar.

Due to its bright, fiery coloring and inability to harm humans, the Madagascar hissing cockroach has become a popular novelty pet. Unlike some other species of roaches, the hissing cockroach does not have wings or eat other insects. As the hissing cockroach requires a warm environment in order to retain its normal energy and activity levels, domesticated hissing cockroaches are often kept in heated tanks or aquariums. They may be fed fresh vegetables, in addition to nutrient-rich pellet food high in fiber and protein. Certain states in the U.S., such as Florida, require owners of domesticated hissing cockroaches to have a permit for keeping them.

In fall 2006, Six Flags Great America launched a promotional campaign as part of its annual Halloween “FrightFest,” which granted front-of-the-line privileges to anyone who could eat a live hissing cockroach. In addition to offering these privileges on its amusement park attractions, Six Flags Great America also offered four season passes to any individual who could manage to beat the world-record for the largest amount of cockroaches eaten in one minute, which was then at 36.

In 2006, fashion designer Jared Gold of Salt Lake City, Utah transformed the Madagascar hissing cockroach into the latest must-have fashion accessory. Brightly colored Swarovski crystals and silver chains, or leashes, are affixed to live hissing cockroaches, which are then sold for $80 US Dollars each.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is unique about the hissing sound of the hissing cockroach?

The hissing cockroach, native to Madagascar, produces its distinctive sound not through vocal cords, but by expelling air through respiratory openings called spiracles on its abdomen. This adaptation is unique among cockroaches and serves various purposes, such as communication, mating rituals, and deterring predators.

Can hissing cockroaches fly?

No, hissing cockroaches are not capable of flight. While they have a pair of wings, these are vestigial and not suited for flying. Their primary modes of locomotion are crawling and climbing, and they are particularly adept at scaling smooth surfaces due to the specialized pads on their feet.

What do hissing cockroaches eat?

Hissing cockroaches are omnivorous scavengers, feeding on a variety of organic matter. In the wild, their diet consists of fallen fruit, decaying plant material, and small invertebrates. In captivity, they can thrive on a diet of fresh vegetables, fruits, and protein sources like dog or cat food.

How long do hissing cockroaches live?

Hissing cockroaches have a relatively long lifespan for insects, with individuals living up to 5 years under optimal conditions. Their longevity is influenced by factors such as diet, environment, and the absence of natural predators that would be present in their native Madagascar rainforests.

Are hissing cockroaches considered pests?

Unlike many other cockroach species, hissing cockroaches are not considered pests. They do not invade human dwellings and are not known to spread disease. In fact, they are often kept as pets or used in educational settings due to their docile nature and ease of care.

How do hissing cockroaches reproduce?

Hissing cockroaches are ovoviviparous, meaning the females produce eggs that hatch inside their bodies. They then give birth to live young, known as nymphs. A single female can produce several broods of young throughout her lifetime, with each brood consisting of 20 to 60 nymphs, contributing to their ability to maintain stable population sizes.

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    • Hissing cockroaches are native to Madagascar.
      By: Ruslan Olinchuk
      Hissing cockroaches are native to Madagascar.