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Hissing Cockroach Keeping


Because female hissers are oviviparous (eggs hatch within the body of the female), they are relative easy to breed. Breeding and keeping Hissing cockroaches are the same in many aspects.

Hissing cockroach keeping containerWe obtained some of our initial roach stock in little boxes of four adult roaches at an reptile expo and the rest as individual roaches from a local pet shop. Hissing roaches are now more available and can also be bought as young adults for feeding stock. With the exception of mice they are probably still the most expensive feeder items in South Africa. Most breeding colonies in South Africa will probably start with only a few Hissers.

When buying Hissing cockroaches, always open the distribution container and determine the stage and weather the majority or all of the insects are still alive. It is preferable to buy Hissing cockroaches from well ventilated containers with adequate or fresh food and a water source.

Madagascar Hissing cockroaches are ground dwelling creatures which lives beneath forest debris including leafs, pieces of bark and rocks. When any individual feels uncomfortable in terms of hiding, temperature, humidity, food and dominance it simply moves on to another little "niche" which fits their profile. In captivity this is not possible so you need to create a variety of conditions to suit all Hissers.

Hissing Cockroach Housing

After buying the initial stock, the first thing is to move the Hissers to a larger, more permanent container. Although roaches are able to climb against most vertical surfaces, the housing container should still be be high enough to prevent easy escapes. Escapees can be prevented by using tight fitting lids on their own or in combination with a 2 cm / 1 " layer of Vasaline™ at the top of the container. 80 / 20 gal (US) plastic containers, such as the ADDIS™ "Store It" or the "SA Leisure" rollerbox containers (55 x 42 x 32 cm / 22 x 16.5 x 13 ") should be more than enough for a relative large colony of hissers. Another suitable container is a 900 cm / 3 ft aquarium / fish tank which is more practical in supplying the natural diurnal rhythm (day and night cycle) which might improve breeding performances.

Ventilation can be in the form of small drilled holes or metal gauze placed over an opening in the lid. Rather ventilate the lid instead of the sides of the container. The gauze should be fixed safely by pressing it against the plastic sides after the plastic has been partially melted with something like a soldering iron.

According to literature there are a lot of possible substrates which can be used for the breeding and keeping of Hissing cockroaches. The optimum substrate should most importantly provide a constant raised humidity for optimum reproduction. Other desirable properties include that it must be free of toxins, free from other bugs and insects, it must provide hiding for the nymphal stages, it must be able to absorb spilled water and wastes and it must obviously be cheap and easy obtainable. Some breeders also prefer that the substrate should be soft and easy to separate from the nymphal stages during cleaning.

Possible substrates include pine shavings, sawdust, potting soil, bark chips and red oats. Some breeders might also have some success with no substrate at all or with the main food source as substrate (i.e. a 2 cm / 1 " layer of milled or flaked dog food), but there are a lot of potential problems with that.

At this stage we have a lot of success with moist potting soil. Its cheap, easily obtainable from all nurseries and is a good medium for absorbing water and wastes and to keep the relative humidity high. Make sure the soil is not treated with insecticides. Non-treated potting soil brings a lot unwanted creatures into the colony. Potting soil need to be replaced in toto.

Pine shavings and sawdust are relatively cheap, easily obtainable from pet shops and wood work shops and a relative good medium for absorbing excess water and waste products. Although wood shavings offers excellent hiding for nymphs, they  tend to get stuck between shavings which makes this medium very difficult to clean efficiently. Cedar wood shavings should be avoided as it is usually protected with a toxin that inhibit insect reproduction and growth. Pine shavings and sawdust need to be replaced in toto.

Red oats have most of the properties of pine shavings, but being a fines substrate, its easier to separate nymphs from it. It is relative cheap and obtainable from most co-operations or farm feed suppliers.

Bark chips are relatively cheap, easily available from most large nurseries and makes excellent hiding for the nymphal stages. It is not an excellent absorbing medium, but can be re-used after sifting the faeces from the larger particles.

Substrates need to be replaced regularly, especially when excessively wet, full of unwanted organisms or excessively soiled with faeces.

Because Hissers are territorial there must be a lot of hiding. A nice way of provide natural hiding is by distributing flat stones (i.e. with a diameter of about 4.5 cm / 3") over the substrate, all over the floor space of the container. Each stone will create a little territory for individual males to occupy.

Other ways of supplying hiding are by using paper or plastic egg trays stacked horizontally or vertically over the entire floor space, by using groups of long toilet roll insides, held together with something like string or elastic rubber bands, or large pieces of tree bark. Paper egg crates and paper toilet rolls insides does not make good hiding when a moist substrate is used. Wet paper egg flats and cartons need to be replaced when excessively wet or soiled with faeces. Currently we use plastic egg trays (Fig. 1) as hiding for our colonies.

a Hissing cockroach keeping container b Hissing cockroang keeping & hiding c Hissing cockroach hiding d Hissing cockroach feeding containers e Complete Hissing cockroach housing
f Complete Hissing cockroach housing g      

 Figure 1  a 80 ℓ / 20 gal (US) ADDIS™ "Store It" or "SA Leisure" rollerbox container (55 x 42 x 32 cm / 22 x 16.5 x 13 ") should be large enough to house a colony of Hissing cockroaches; b Egg crates stacked on top of each other can be used as hiding for Hissing cockroaches; c Plastic egg trays are more useful on top of wet substrates; d Shallow containers, available from nurseries, used as feeding & drinking containers. Water containers can be filled with cotton or sponge to prevent smaller Hissers from drowning; e 80 ℓ container complete with food, water & stacked egg crates; f Complete setup with a 60 cm / 2 ft aquarium. Note the lid & Vasaline™on the bottom sides; g Vasaline™ are available from pharmacies, super- or hyperramas.

Hissing Cockroach Feeding

Water must be supplied ad lib, especially when a dry or no substrate is used. Shallow containers stuffed with cotton, synthetic polyester fiber or sponge or bird waterers should be used to prevent the nymphal stages from drowning. Chick drinkers filled with sponge will also do. Moist substrates and fresh fruit and vegetables can also be used as to provide additional moisture to these insects.

Feeder Hissing cockroach diets should consist of separate dry and fresh / moist components. Dry dog or cat food (milled or flaked) mixed with fish flakes should always be available. A variation of fresh fruit and vegetables should be added on a dayly basis. Dry food with high amounts of protein and fat (i.e. kitten food) are beneficial over lower quality pet foods. Chicken starter mash can also be mixed in to add some bulk to the dry food mixture. Other popular foods include Iguana or Bearded dragon mixtures and rat & mouse pellets.

Favorite fruit and vegetables include carrots (on top of the list), celery, sliced apples and oranges, bananas (peals are better and less messy), pea pods and lettuce. We use flat plastic containers as food dispensers.

Hissing Cockroach feeding can take place on the ground. Food can be dispersed on the ground when no substrate is used or supplied in shallow plastic containers. Dry and fresh food must be replaced at least once a week before mould starts to grow on it.

Hissing Cockroach Humidity

There must be some sort of raised humidity present for a Hissing cockroach colony to function optimally. A higher humidity is needed for hissing, moulting and optimum reproduction. Unfortunately an increased humidity will also increase the amount of unwanted organisms such as mites, fruit flies, house fly larvae, bacteria, moulds and fungi and will moisten paper egg cartons which is undesirable.

A breeding colony can be sprayed once or twice a day with a hand water sprayer, or a substrate like potting soil can be slightly wetted on an "as needed" basis to increase the humidity. Large flat plastic container used as water bowls stuffed with sponge or cotton wool can also be placed strategically to increase the humidity in certain areas of the containers. At this stage we use moist potting soil as substrate to increase the humidity of our breeding containers.

The Hissing cockroach humidity is too much and need to be reduced when a combination of the following are seen:

  • Unwanted organisms are present

  • Increased amount of Hisser deaths (males, females and nymphs)

  • Bad smells / odors are present

The Hissing cockroach humidity can be decreased by misting less or less often or by increasing the ventilation.

The humidity needs to be increased when a combination of the following are seen:

  • Increase amount of difficult or abnormal moultings

  • Increased amount of roach deaths (males, females and nymphs)

  • A lot of weak nymphs which will also be seen as increased cannibalism

  • A lot of aggressive Hisser males (towards other males, females and nymphs) which will also be seen as increased cannibalism, increased deaths and increased injured insects)

  • Decreased amount of nymphs due to a decrease in reproduction

Hissing Cockroach Temperature

Hissing cockroaches can be kept at any temperature between 24 - 35 ºC / 75 - 95 ºF. Optimum breeding temperatures range from 27 - 33 ºC / 80 - 92 ºF, while optimum keeping temperatures, with lower competition and aggression between males range from 24 - 27 ºC / 75 - 80 ºF.

Decreased Hissing cockroach temperatures will make them sluggish and they will consume less food (i.e. increase morbidity). As the temperature start to rise above 32 ºC / 90 ºF, breeding will start decrease and morbidity will start to increase again. Temperatures of 24 - 27 ºC / 75 - 80 ºF are optimum for non-breeding populations. It will decrease aggressiveness in males, decrease breeding and increase the viewing of hissers because they move slower. Theoretically lower temperatures will increase the life expectancy of the population because of the lower metabolic rate and less fighting amongst males.

It is always a good idea to provide heat from one side of the container which will create a natural temperature gradient towards the other side. This will give the Hissers free choice of where they want to be most of the time. When the ambient temperatures are too low, temperature can be increased by using a low output heat source like a heat pad or heat strip. Heat pads and strips are available in different lengths / sizes and temperature outputs from specialized pet shops. The temperature can also be regulated with a thermostat or measured with a thermometer. Remember to insulate all open wiring when using an intra container heat source.

Possible Hissing Cockroach Keeping & Breeding Scenarios

  1. Moist potting soil as substrate with a few plastic egg crates as hiding, with food dispersed in a flat plastic container on the substrate and water supplied by a bird waterer or in a flat plastic container covered with sponge or cotton wool.

  2. No substrate with a few paper egg flats as hiding, with food dispersed on a area on the floor or in a flat plastic container and water supplied by a bird waterer or in a large flat plastic container covered with sponge or cotton wool. Humidity is increased by daily misting of the container.

  3. The food as substrate, i.e. a 2 cm / 1 " layer of milled or flaked dog or cat food with water supplied by a bird waterer or in small flat plastic container covered with sponge or cotton wool.

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