The Madagascar hissing cockroach is a medium-sized insect living in Madagascar (surprise!). They inhabit the leaf litter on the forest floor. These bugs look much different than the normal roaches you might see running around your house. Although you probably normally think of cockroaches as pests, the Madagascar hissing cockroach is not a household pest, just like 99 percent of all cockroach species! In fact, these insects are sometimes household pets. They are one of the best insect pets because they don’t fly, jump, or bite and are not very active. This species is different than most cockroach species in that it does not have wings. Although you probably don’t usually see the wings on a cockroach, they are hidden under its hard protective covering. The main individual that you see in the picture above is a male. This is evidenced by the horn-like protrusions on its head as females do not have these.
Adult Madagascar hissing cockroaches can be from two to four inches (5.1 to 10.2 cm.). Despite being relatively long for insects, they only weigh up to .8 oz. (22.7 g). Males are larger than females.
These insects are detrivores, meaning they feed off dead matter. Although they are primarily herbivores, eating leaves, seeds, nuts, fruit, and lichen, they will also eat carrion, dead insects, fungus, and dung. Most of the plat matter they consume is dead or dying.
As you can probably tell by their name, Madagascar hissing cockroaches can make a hissing noise. This noise sounds almost like a snake hissing. Unlike almost all other insect noises, these cockroaches do not rub body parts together to make the noise that gives them their name. Crickets, grasshoppers, cicadas, and many other rub things together to make noise, but the Madagascar hissing cockroach doesn’t. Instead it creates this sound by pushing air out of its air hole. Insects have many small holes in their body, and air flows through these holes providing oxygen to the bugs’ organs. When this insect pushes air out of these holes, it creates a hissing sound. There have been at least five different types of hisses identified: a male combat hiss, a mating hiss, two hisses for courting, and an alarm hiss. They live in colonies, so when alarmed, many Madagascar hissing cockroaches will hiss all at once, making a startling sound. These hisses can measure up to 90 decibels, or about the noise of a lawnmower! Click here and scroll down a little to listen to the hissing noise these insects make.
Status, threats, and predators
The Madagascar hissing cockroach has not been evaluated by the IUCN or CITES. Although this insect only lives in Madagascar in the wild, it inhabits the entire island. Few conservation efforts have been done targeting this insect, but due to the number of endemic species Madagascar has, there are several efforts currently going on to protect the forests of Madagascar. Deforestation is the main threat of Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Natural predators include arachnids, ants, ground birds, and tenrecs (animals that look like a mix between a hedgehog and a shrew).
Mating, eggs, and young
Before mating, males use hisses to call and attract females. Males fight for prime mating spots by pushing each other and hissing. It is thought that either the loudest or the most constant hisser normally wins. When a male and female accept each other they mate and stay in the mating position for about half an hour. The female carries an ootheca (a long, yellow egg case) inside her body. The young hatch inside their mother, and she releases the nymphs after they have hatched. This takes from 50 to 60 days. Usually 15 to 60 young are born at once. Throughout their life, females can produce up to 60 ootheca, resulting in around one thousand young! Madagascar hissing cockroaches go through incomplete metamorphosis, meaning they are born as smaller versions of the adults. While growing up, the nymphs molt six times. This process takes about six to seven months. These insects live two to five years in captivity and in the wild.
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- Madagascar hissing cockroach – Public domain
- Mystery animal – Public domain