Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches
A little about Hissers
Hissing roaches are a very interesting insect. They are fun to keep just to observe and even display.
They are easy to produce as feeders because like nearly all roach species, hissers deliver live young, they are very easy to house and care for, and they have no odor. The lack of odor is particularly nice, and you can comfortably house a colony of roaches in the house with no problems. If your colony of hissers stinks, then something is wrong.
However, hissers are not as suited as feeders as many of the other species that have entered the market in the last 10 years. They are quite large, so adults are only suited for soemthing like a large monitor lizard. Young hissers can be fed to many reptiles, but their exoskeleton in much more substantial than many other species, so again they are probably not the best choice as a feeder.
Males and females are the same size as adults, and are easily sexed. The males have two large horns on their thorax (the section just behind the head) while the females lack these protrusions. Another method of sexing is to look at the antennae. The males antennae appear fuzzy because they are covered with tiny sensory hairs. The antennae of the females are smooth.
Hissing roaches do not bite, and can be safely handled. The hissing sound, which they make readily when disturbed, is produced by forcing air through special breathing tubes, or spiracles located on the fourth segment of the abdomen. These roaches can hiss at all stages of development. A side note just so you are aware of it, some people apparently have an allergy to hissers, along with other types of roaches. The symptoms can range from asthma like shortness of breath, to sneezing, running nose, and itchy eyes. The majority of people have no problems with them, but sometimes an allergy to roaches exists but is easily mistaken for other things.
Where to get them
You can start a colony with as little as fifty adults, but I suggest starting with 100 or more if you have several lizards to feed. The smaller the starting group, the longer it will take the colony to get to the point that it can sustain its numbers and have you feeding out of it regularly. When the colony is fully established however, with 250-500 breeding adults, the production rate is very high.
Hissers are not as widely produced anymore, as many people have turned toward a number of other species for their feeder needs.
They can be purchased at shows, but from what I've seen the last few years they are sold in very small groups and sometimes singly, for pets, and usually for a rediculous price.
Check the online classifieds if you're wanting to start a colony.
The method I will describe of housing hissers is aimed at the reptile keeper wishing to raise large numbers for the purpose of feeding his or her pets.
This is not the only way to house these roaches, and in fact, if you set up a few in a tropical forest type cage, you will see some very interesting behaviors. The males will stake out territories which they will defend. There are different rituals you will see such as mating and territorial displays as well.
You can initially house your colony in a simple 10 gallon aquarium. This size tank can house up to a couple hundred roaches. After that you can use bigger aquaria, or large rubbermaid tubs as I do. Remember, hissers are fully capable of climbing glass, and have a surprisingly strong grip, even on the vertical walls of the tank. For this reason you will need to paint a 2" wide band of vaseline around the top edge of the aquarium or tub you are housing them in. Hissers do not have wings, so I use no lids at all on my tubs, the vaseline is plenty to keep them in.
Put several pieces of egg carton in the tub stacked on one another to increase the space. You will need to keep the cage fairly warm. I sit the tubs on a piece of flexwatt heat tape and keep it around 80-85°F in the warmest area. Try not to let the temperature fall below 70°F. No lighting is needed.
Feeding and Maintenance
I feed my hissers primarily chicken laying mash. This feed is fortified with calcium, and I use it for all my roaches as well as crickets.
I provide water to my hissers by means of sliced oranges. You can also use cricket waterers or other inverted jar type water dispensers. I just find the oranges to be much easier to deal with. The roaches will devour the orange down to the peel, which I throw away and replace with fresh fruit. With a large colony there is no problem of the orange or other fruit spoiling.
They will also readily eat leafy greens, banana, mango, well come to think of it, I haven't come across anything they wouldn't eat.
Maintenance in my setups is minimal. I don't use food dishes, I just pour the food pellets directly in the corner of the cage. Every couple of months or so I scoop out the fecal pellets to keep them from getting too deep. Be careful when doing this as not to accidentally throw out any very small roaches.
The roaches will reproduce with no effort at all on your part other than feeding and watering the colony. Females give birth to a litter of around 30 nymphs which will go through several molts over the first 3-6 months until they reach sexual maturity. Sexually mature roaches no longer molt.
If you are starting a colony I would suggest you not feed any roaches off until you have at least 150-200 producing adults. You situation may vary though. When starting with 50 or so roaches, it takes a little while to get the colony established, but once going you will be amazed by the number of young produced.