Hissing roach

Madagascar hissing cockroach

The Madagascar hissing cockroach (Gromphadorhina portentosa), also known as Hissing roach or simply Hisser, is one of the largest species of cockroach, reaching 2-3 inches at maturity. They are from the island of Madagascar off the African coast, where they can be found in rotting logs.

Unlike most cockroaches, they are wingless (though this is also true of some other wood-dwelling roaches). They are excellent climbers and can scale smooth glass. Males can be distinguished from females by their thicker, hairier antennae and the pronounced "horns" on the pronotum. Females carry the ootheca (egg case) internally, and release the young nymphs only after the eggs have hatched. As in some other wood roaches, the parents and offspring will commonly remain in close physical contact for extended periods of time. In captivity, these insects can live 5 years. They feed primarily on vegetable material.


The Madagascar cockroach has become a popular pet because of its hissing sound, large size and appearance. Their nickname, "hissing cockroach", is due to their ability to force air through the breathing pores (spiracles) found on their abdomen. The Madagascar hissing cockroach is believed to be the only insect that can hiss in this exact manner, as most insects that make a "hissing" sound do so by rubbing together various body parts. (Some longhorned beetles, e.g., the Giant Fijian long-horned beetle, can squeeze air out from under their elytra, but this does not involve the spiracles). This hiss takes two forms: the disturbance hiss and the fighting hiss. All cockroaches from the fourth instar (fourth molting cycle) and older are capable of the disturbance hiss. Only males use the fighting hiss; they use it when challenged by other males. This results in one of the males backing down and the fight being over. Males hiss more often than females.


The mite species Gromphadorholaelaps schaeferi lives on this species of roach, and takes part in its host's food. Technically, because these mites do not harm the cockroaches they live upon, they are commensals, not parasites.

Popular culture

It has featured in Hollywood movies, prominently in Bug (1975) (as roaches who could set fires by rubbing their legs together), and in Damnation Alley (1977) (as post-nuclear-war mutant armor-plated "killer" cockroaches). In Starship Troopers, a movie about a war against an enemy called "The Bugs," a teacher is shown encouraging her students to step on this species as part of a TV propaganda broadcast. Also, in Team America: World Police (a 2004 comedy film), a Madagascar hissing cockroach emerged from Kim Jong-il's body after his death, entered a tiny spaceship, and flew away.

Madagascar hissing cockroaches encrusted with Swarovski crystals have been used as necklaces and broaches. They have also been used as the driver of a mobile robot. It was used in the reality television series Fear Factor. The species also made an appearance in the movie Men In Black in 1997.

In September 2006, amusement park Six Flags Great America announced it would be granting unlimited line-jumping privileges for all rides to anyone who could eat a live Madagascar hissing cockroach as part of a Halloween-themed FrightFest. Furthermore, if a contestant managed to beat the previous world record (eating 36 cockroaches in 1 minute), he would receive season passes for four people during the 2007 season. This is a difficult record to break because raw cockroaches contain a mild neurotoxin that numbs the mouth and makes it difficult to swallow. The promotion ended on October 29, 2006.

As pets

Madagascar cockroaches make good pets. They cannot fly like some species of roaches. They are not aggressive and do not bite; they are unable to harm humans in any way, in fact they often hide when disturbed. Coconut fiber or bark should be used as substrates, and branches, rocks, or pieces of cork bark should be placed in their tank to keep them stimulated.

A heating pad should be placed under part of the tank. Day temperatures should be 75-90°F. Night temperatures should be no lower than 68°F. Roaches that are exposed to lower temperatures become sluggish, so the higher the temperature, the more active the roach.

Fresh vegetables should be fed along with any kind of pellet food that is high in protein, mainly dry dog food. For water, place a small empty container in their tank and put a soaked sponge in it. It is also acceptable to give them water through moist foods such as vegetables or fruits. Oranges are especially useful for this because they do not mold as easily as other fruits.


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