Hissing Cockroaches as Pets

A few years ago, one of my Insect Behavior lab students did his independent project using Madagascar hissing cockroaches.  Then he left them with me because his mom was “definitely not going to be okay with having them in her house all summer.”  I hadn’t ever cared for hissers, and suddenly I had a dozen of them.  I was determined to keep them alive, however, so I bumbled my way through the first few weeks and eventually gave all but 2 away.  The last two have been my pets ever since.

I hadn’t ever expected hissers to be enjoyable pets.  I knew people who’d had hissers, but very few of them kept them as pets that they actually interacted with.  I interacted with mine though, and I’ve found them to be really fun!  Today, I’m going to share how I care for my roaches in case any of you out there want to get your own roachy pets.  (You know you want to!)

But first, let me introduce my roaches.  Meet Mr. Darcy:

hissing cockroaches

Mr. Darcy

Mr. Darcy is an active, aggressive, and enormous hisser!  He spends a good part of his day hissing, roaming about the cage, and pushing his roomie around.  I can hear him hissing all the way in the next room!  He entertains me to no end.  And this is his equally large roomie, Elizabeth (who else?):

hissing cockroach

Elizabeth

Elizabeth doesn’t hiss and spends most of her day being pushed around by the big bully she lives with or clinging to the walls of the cage near the lid.  She’s much less exciting to watch and has a less vibrant personality, but she’s also a lot easier to handle as she doesn’t run around constantly like Mr. Darcy does.

Caring for my pair of roaches has been ridiculously easy!  They live in one of those cheap little plastic aquariums that you can get at any pet store:

plastic aquarium

Plastic aquarium

I’ve set mine up so that they have a 1/2 inch layer of coconut husk in the bottom of their cage.  It’s great stuff!  It is sold in dense bricks in the reptile section of the pet store, but it expands enormously when you add water.  The coconut holds water well, and considering that these roaches are decomposers in forests in the wild, I think it probably mimics their natural habitat fairly well.

If you’ve ever had wild roaches in your home, you are aware that they like to have places to hide.  I got my roaches another item from the reptile section of the pet store, a half a hollowed log, to give them a hiding place.  My roaches are weird and spend most of their time on top of the log rather than under it…

hissing cockroaches

My hissers

…but it’s available for the rare occasions when they want to have an out-of-the-way place to go.  My setup looks like this:

hissing cockroach cage

My hisser cage

I feed my roaches a combination of foods.  I give them dry dog food because it has a lot of necessary protein and fat in it and they love it.  I toss in some of the alfalfa pellets that people feed to rats and other rodents, mostly because I happened to have a lot leftover when the last of my pet rodents died, but also to give them some carbs and nutrients.  My roaches also get a mixture of leafy greens (whatever salad greens I have in my fridge) and baby carrots.  According to what I’ve read, hissers REALLY love carrots and I’ve found that to be true:

hissing roaches eating carrot

Hissing roaches eating carrot

The combination of the dog food, alfalfa pellets, and fresh vegetables provides my roaches a well-balanced diet.  I leave alfalfa pellets and dog food in their cage all the time, but I only give my roaches the veggies every few weeks.

My hissers get water several ways.  Their main source is a piece of a sponge that I cut up, rinsed very well, and placed inside a yogurt cup lid.  Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth can suck water out of the sponge and I keep it wet all the time.  I also pour water into the coconut husk every few weeks to rehydrate it and spray their cage down with water to keep their log a little damp.  I’ve seen them suck water droplets off the side of the cage, the log, and the bedding, so they seem to take advantage of any water that I provide.

Then it’s just a matter of cleaning out their cage!  I only clean them every few months as they’re not very messy and I don’t have to worry about mold most of the year.  Cleaning them is a simple matter of removing the roaches (and listening to Mr. Darcy hiss – I imagine him screaming, “Put me down, you miserable wench!”), removing the dishes and log, dumping out the coconut husk, and then putting new coconut in before replacing everything else.  Easy!

If you happen to have a male and a female, you can tell you’re doing a good job caring for your roaches when you find a whole bunch of these in the cage:

immature roaches

Babies!

Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth just had their first children!  The little roaches mean I’m going to need to ramp up my care a bit so I’m providing more food more often.  I also had to add a layer of fine mesh to the lid to keep them from escaping through the slats, but their care is otherwise exactly the same.

Hissers are great insect pets, especially for children, because they are completely harmless: they don’t bite, they don’t fly, they don’t sting, they’re not inclined to run very quickly, and they’re large.  They usually stop hissing once they get used to being handled, but Mr. Darcy isn’t your average roach.  He’s 33% bigger than any other hisser I’ve seen and he always hisses.  But that’s part of what makes him so fun too!  If you have more than one roach, you can also see how each has its own personality.  It’s really fun to see how different my two roaches are, and they’re both completely different from the roaches I’ve worked with for outreach events.  Their personality makes them feel a little more like a traditional pet rather than a giant insect too, which is always a plus when I have to explain why I have roaches as pets.

So, you all want pet roaches now, right?  (Hah!)  If you do, there are a few options.  Pet stores that specialize in reptile often have them for sale.  They should cost less than $3.  Or, you can buy them online and have them shipped to you in the mail.  Unless you live in Arizona.  Or California.  There are weird restrictions for mailing animals to some states, so check with the supplier before buying to be sure they can be shipped to your home.

My roaches are probably the lowest maintenance pets I’ve ever had and I enjoy watching them, so I’m happy that I got dumped with reject roaches.  I know it will probably seem a little strange to many of you reading this, but they really have been fun pets.  I highly recommend them!

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