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Feeder Hissing Cockroach Zoology

Feeder Hissing Cockroach Classification
Feeder Hissing Cockroach Biology

Cockroaches consists of 14 Families which contains more or less 3 500 species. Modern entomologists use the term Hexapoda (hex"sah-pod'ah - hexa meaning six) as a more inclusive class name. Hexapods (insects) are characterized by having three pairs of legs. Some have wings and the body is divided into a head, thorax and abdomen. Insecta is used as a more restricted term referring to hexapods whose mouthparts are more or less exposed. Hissing cockroaches belong to the Superorder Exopterygota (eks-op-ter-i-go'tah) meaning they are hemimetabolous or have incomplete metamorphosis and to the Order Blattaria (blat-tar'eah) denoting an oval and flattened body and a concealed head when looking from above. The head is protected by a shield-like extension of the prothorax.

Basic Hissing Cockroach Anatomy

As mentioned above, the body of Hissing cockroaches are divided into a head, thorax and abdomen. The part of the thorax that is just behind the head is called the prothorax. The antennae are long, whip-like structures found on the head.

Hissing cockroaches have thousands of tiny hairs on the last segment of their legs (tarsi) which increases the overall contact area to to surface they walk on. This makes it possible for them to have a tight grip on almost any surface and make them able to climb almost any vertical surface including plastic and glass.

Hissing Cockroach Distribution & Natural Environment

Hissing cockroaches originates from the central, tropical areas of the world. Although the name implies that they are mainly found in the forests of Madagascar, they have also established themselves in other climatic zones mainly as the result of transport. They are ground dwelling insects which are like most cockroaches mainly active at night (nocturnal). During the day they hide under forest debris like leafs, pieces of bark and rocks where they establish themselves in suitable habitats or "niches".

All cockroaches are known to establish themselves in human homes where they are attracted to and lives from animal and human food.

Hissing Cockroach Life Cycle

Female hissing cockroaches lay their eggs in a purse-like capsule or egg case known as the ootheca. This capsule is retained within the body of the female. While the ootheca is formed it is extruded and visible to the naked eye, but once it is completely formed she will retract it into a special cavity in the caudal tip of her abdomen. The egg case will remain in the female body for about sixty days until the eggs hatch, where the young will be expelled.

This means that when you breed Hissing cockroaches the "gravid" females can be left with the rest of the roach colony without any problems. Under optimal conditions new born roaches will not be consumed by the adults which makes it possible to keep all the life stages in the same container.

Nymphs must grow and moult or shed their skin several times before they reach adulthood. They will usually moult six times during the course of their lives. The last moult occurs about five months after birth. After the last moult the nymphal roaches become sexually mature adults. Adult roaches never moult again and may live for two or more years.

Sexing Hissing Cockroaches

Adults can be sexed by any one of three methods:

  • Protrusions on the prothorax

  • Antennae on the head

  • Tip of the abdomen

The easiest way to sex hissing cockroaches is to look at the thorax. In both sexes the upper surface of this prothorax is developed into two protuberances. This protrusions are slight in females and stand out in the males.

The second way is to look at the feelers or antennae. Adult males have antennae with many laterally-projecting sensory hairs, which gives it a fuzzy look, especially near the base. The antennae of the female lack these hairs.

The third way of determining sex is to look at the tip of the abdomen where there is a ventral plate. In the male this plate is much narrower when compared to the female. Some literature also suggests that females have raised abdomens.

a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach Male Picture b Madagascar Hissing Cockroach Ventral Abdomen Picture
 Figure 1  a Sexing Madagascar Hissing cockroaches (Gromphadorhina portentosa). a Adult male with with its well developed protuberances on the upper surface of his prothorax. Also note the sensory hairs on the antennae; b Adult male with a narrow ventral plate. 
Moulting & Exoskeletons

All insects, including Hissing cockroaches poses exoskeletons which consist of an inner, softer layer / membrane and an outer, harder layer. The outer membrane is also referred to as the skin. The exoskeleton supports the rest of the body and the internal organs. The exoskeleton consists of indigestible proteins and chitin, which becomes very hard when it is dried out. When the exoskeleton is hard, it is rigid and cannot bend or expand. This obviously prevents insects from growing. For insects to be able to grow, they need to shed or moult to get rid of the outer hard layer of the exoskeleton where after the softer inner layer will expand according to the new body proportions. The inner, which becomes the outer layer, will then dry out and harden to become the new outer protective layer.

With Hissing cockroaches, the outer part of the exoskeleton splits down the middle of the back and the roach slowly wiggles its way out. Newly moulted Hissing roaches are very soft and whitish. The new skin takes many hours to harden, which also cause the roach gradually darkens until it reaches its normal colouration. While the exoskeleton is still soft the body is supported by hydrostatic pressure from the lymph (insect blood). This gives roaches a bloated look.

The outer membrane over the abdominal area hardens in segments, which forms layers of articulating plates to form a semi-flexible layer which protects the abdomen of the insect.

Madagascar Hissing Cockroach Life Stages Picture 
 Figure 2  Different stages of Madagascar Hissing cockroaches. Note the white nymph directly after moulting.

The hissing sound is produced by one of the pairs of spiracles or breathing tubes on the segments of the abdomen. The spiracles allow respiration to take place. All the spiracles have a constant gas flow, but those on the fourth segment are modified to take advantage of this flow to produce a sound. The amount of air exiting the spiracle has also been increased by the development of air sacks within the body. These sacks act like bellows.

All stages of the hissing cockroach can hiss. Often an entire colony will hiss loudly if their container is bumped. Sometimes a colony will hiss for no apparent reason. Roaches also hiss individually, especially at night. Adult males hiss when fighting, courting and copulating. What is interesting is that there is a lot of literature on the hissing patters of of these roaches.

Hissing Cockroach Behaviour

Adult roaches can signal their intentions using postures instead of sound. Aggressive movements include flicking their abdomen, pushing with their abdomen, butting with their pronotum and lunging with their entire body. Submissive behaviour include crouching and retreating. Other behaviour include extending their abdomen, thrashing their abdomen and standing on their toes (so-called "stilting"). Most of these movements are used in encounters between competing males. Abdominal extension may be correlated with release of pheromones.

Hissing cockroaches are territorial. One adult male can defend a territory around several adult females where only he is allowed to show courtship and mate. Intruding males are pushed out of his territory by using his pronotal projections. A male may hold the same territory for several months, leaving only to feed. Females and nymphs are free to enter and leave a territory as they please. When a lot of males are seen without legs or antennae it is an indication that there are too little space or too many roaches in one area.

Males that get pushed out of a territory do one of two things. Some males may group themselves just outside the perimeter of the territory and are called "satellite" males. Satellite males may move about from territory to territory. They may fight with one another or with males holding territory. When one of the territorial males becomes disabled or cannot defend its territory anymore, one of the satellite males will replace him.

The second option for males is to place themselves as far away as possible from other males to avoid fighting. Non-fighting males are called "subordinates." Female hissers can tell to which category a male belongs. Females approach territorial males for mating more often than they approach satellite males, and approach satellite males more often than they approach subordinate males.

Courtship begins with the male and female stroking each other's antennae. The pair then proceed to body stroking. All of this antennal stroking is accompanied by a subdued mutual hissing. Once attached to each other, the male and female stretch out so they are facing in opposite directions. They may remain in this position for twenty to thirty minutes. 

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