Creature Feature: Hissing Roaches

Madagascar Hissing Cockroach

Gromphadorhina portentosa

Reptiles Alive Name: Too many to name

Hissstory: Our first few hissing roaches were donated to us by Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington, VA.  Within a few months, we had lots, lots more.

RA Diet:
 Chopped leafy greens, vegetables, monkey chow, dog food, fruit, leftovers. (Hey, they are roaches they like leftovers!)


Natural Diet: Roaches are scavengers – they will eat dead and decaying plants and animals laying on the forest floor.

Range: Madagascar

Habitat: Hissing roaches live in the tropical rain forests of Madagascar.

Hissing roaches are a relatively a large roach, growing to about 3 inches.

Lifespan: Hissing roaches live for about two years.

 Male hissing roaches have two large bumps on the tops of their heads. They use them to battle for females just like goats do. After mating, females will keep the eggs inside her body until they hatch. Gestation is 60-70 days. Females have about 30 young

Conservation: Cockroaches are one of the most important species on our planet!  As decomposers, they create soil by eating decaying plants and animals.  Without decomposers like cockroaches, plants and trees could not grow.  Without plants and trees, animals and humans could not survive.  So, you might not want to live with, hug, or kiss a cockroach, but cockroaches are a super important animal.

Cool Facts: Hissing roaches produce a hissing noise by pushing air through holes in their abdomen. There are at least five different hisses.  Different hisses are used in courtship, to defend territory, and warn of danger.

Creature Feature: Haitian Roaches

Haitian Roach or Death’s Head Roach

Blaberus craniifer

Reptiles Alive Name: We have too many to name!

Hissstory: Our colony came from a few roaches given to us by a zoo.   They multiplied quickly!

RA Diet: Greens, monkey food, vegetables, dog food, fruit, leftovers. (Hey, they are roaches they like leftovers!)

Natural Diet: Just about ANYTHING! Roaches are scavengers living off of dead and decaying plants and animals. Hungry?


Range: Florida, the Caribbean,  and Central America

 Roaches can survive pretty much anywhere within their range.

Size: Haitian  roaches are relatively large as roaches go – they can grow to about 3 inches.

Lifespan: Haitian roaches can live for about two years.

Roaches breed constantly. Females will lay an egg sac which looks like stacks of CD’s.   She will then suck them back up into her body in order to incubate them.  Totally weird!

Conservation: Roaches play an important role in the natural world.  As scavengers, they work as a kind of “clean up crew.”  They are also an extremely important food source for tons of other animals, including birds, frogs, and even baby crocodiles!

Cool Facts: 
Roaches are sometimes used by engineers  building robots.  The engineers study how the roaches move and try to build robots and computers that can imitate the roaches’ behavior.

My First Experience with Black Flies!

I had heard stories of the black flies that live in the north, but I never believed that they could be that bad.  I was wrong.  I am trying unsuccessfully not to scratch as I write this.

Last week I went with my Dad and Kay to Mont Tremblant, a mountain resort area in Quebec, Canada.  It was a fantastic place, full of gorgeous rivers, lakes, and mountains.  We went fishing for trout, hiked on great trails, and ate LOTS of fantastic French food.

The area is full of lakes carved by glaciers that retreated long ago.  The lakes are full of frogs and fish.  I saw green frogs and heard their calls, along with the calls of gray tree frogs, bull frogs, and spring peepers.  I did not see any reptiles, but I was lucky to catch a speckled trout on our fishing expedition.  During our time on the boat, there were no insects to be seen (or felt).



I was on the dock of a very nice restaraunt, petting a cat, when I had my first real taste of what black flies are capable of.  They were swarming all around my face and head.  I brushed them away and figured they were kind of like gnats – annoying, but basically harmless.

I went back inside the restaraunt to place my order for dinner (grilled venison, yum!), and noticed I was bleeding around my chest and neck.  The waitress who spoke mostly French, noticed, and began to explain what black flies can do to a person.  She said they liked to crawl under your clothes and hair where they bite throught your skin ans suck blood.  Their bites will cause bleeding, then later, the bites swell and become very itchy and in some people, very painful.

I excused myself from the dinner table, went to the restroom and shook all my clothes out.  I then noticed that I was bleeding from many, many bites on my face, neck, and back.  It was a bit gross.  After the bleeding stopped, I went back to the table and enjoyed a dinner that was magnifique.

A day later, all of the bites had turned into large red welts that itched like mad! I knew I had to avoid getting any more black fly bites.  I now had respect for them.  These were no gnats!

It turns out, black flies breed in clean, fast running creeks and rivers.  The larvae cannot tolerate pollution or still water.  The larvae and adult flies are a major source of food for trouts, birds, and many other insects and animals.  The adults typically come out around mid-May and stick around until the end of July, but the actual “black fly season” depends on location and weather conditions.

Black flies are a major problem for livestock.  Because black flies like to crawl inside nasal passages, cattle an other livestock are sometimes smothered by the swarming flies.  The flies can also spread disease and cause such stress to animals, that they die.

I had a great time in Canada – and I would love to go back.  But this time, I’ll remember to bring the bug spray!


The Unheralded Hissers

“AHHHHHHHHH!  Gross, or EEEEEEK,” are probably the most common responses to our guest today.  Meet the roach.  Labeled as one of the most undesirable animals to be found in the kitchen, this insect sure has one bad rap.  Pest control companies have convinced everyone that roaches can make you sick.  While, I would not be thrilled to have an infestation in my kitchen, this is simply not true. “Although cockroaches carry disease organisms, they are not known to transmit it to humans.” Clay Kirby of the University of Maine.


I have even had a few keepers refuse to even touch the creepy crawlies.  Of course, the little guys with their cute little antennas eventually would wriggle into their hearts.  (Figuratively! Sheesh, you people are gross.)

There are over 4,000 species of roaches scientifically discovered.  There are probably just as many left undiscovered on the planet.  Less than one percent of all these species are known to dwell in human domiciles, the rest want nothing to do with us.

Roaches are important decomposers in the ecosystem.  They are able to eat tougher things than worms and many other decomposers, turning dead plants into rich, dark soil.  Without the roaches, plants would have a tough time getting the nutrients they need from the soil.

Our own Malagasy Hissing Roaches are one of the most fun group of animals to watch.  They are more like little goats than bugs.  The males would constantly play king of the cardboard mountain, pushing rivals back with the shiny black “horns” on their exoskeleton.  Each night, a new battle would begin.  Hordes of roaches would crawl out from their hiding places in a fury of hissing and head-butting in attempt to dethrone the king. One tenacious little bugger would perpetually guard the food dish.  Only the tiny fingernail sized nymph could sneak under his radar unnoticed for a bite to eat. We ended up scattering their veggies all over the cage after that.hissingcockroach

One night working late I heard a strange scuffling noise coming from the roach enclosure.  Looking in I noticed a large male wriggle his body around in a sort of dance.  For a minute I thought he had watched too many episodes of Seinfeld with Elaine dancing at a party.  Then I noticed a few females watching him with interest a few inches away.  Either he was making a huge fool of himself, or these guys get on the dance floor to woo a cute girl.

After the wooing, these roaches make wonderful mothers.  Hissing roaches lay a perfect stack of long oval, bright yellow eggs like a line of jewel cases for cds sitting all in a row.  She then sucks the eggs back into her abdomen for safe keeping.  Some roaches even care for their soft little nymphs until they molt a few times and their shells harden.  Good girl!

Find out more about the shy bug that cannot bite, hisses like a snake for defense, and tastes delicious!  (Don’t take my word for it, ask the lemurs.)