Friday, March 9, 2012

Pet... ROACHES?!?!

Hey ya'll

The term "cockroach" often elicits different responses in various people. Most of it negative. And while many of these reactions are justified (I usually act quite alarmingly upon finding such intruders within my home space) as many cockroaches we find are considered to be pests, the Madagascar hissing cockroach (Gromphadorhina protentosa) is really anything but!  More closely related to the wood-roaches, this terrestrial insect (as its name implies) is native to the tropical Rainforests of Madagascar where they feed off of fallen fruit and other such decaying plant matter. In this way, these remarkably large insects perform rather vital functions in the recycling of energy and nutrients on the forest floor! In captivity, however, the Madagascar hissing cockroach can make quite a remarkable pet!!! 

Listed below, are the top five reasons why the Madagascar hissing cockroach may make a great and desirable pet.

1. Space
Like many other invertebrate pets, the Madagascar hissing cockroach does not require much space. For housing a fair-sized tank with about 2-3 inches of soil would do. Besides that, the tank should ideally provide proper hiding spaces as cockroaches often shun bright lights. For mine, I attempted to recreate their natural forest floor habitat by using mangrove wood and decayed logs (you can find them sold for beetle larvae at most DAISO supermarkets). I also recently added a cave-feature for mine with a sideways flower pot.

2. Feeding

Madagascar roaches are extremely easy to feed!!! Being scavengers they are opportunistic feeders which means they will pretty much eat about everything and anything. Cut fruit and vegetables (do not feed cabbage/lettuce) are ideal for them as it replicates their diet in the wild, but this can be supplemented with dried dog or cat food which provide high sources of protein for captive bred insects.

3. Time and Handling

Roaches, like other invertebrate pets are really ideal for people who love animals but do not have sufficient time for breeds which demand constant attention like dogs, for example... even cats or birds. Being otherwise content to sit in their habitats and live their slow-paced lives, Madagascan hissers can be surprisingly affectionate when their keepers want them to be and quickly grow accustomed to being handled. They are large, unlike most other invertebrates and do not possess the irritability of certain mantises nor the poisonous fangs of spiders. In fact, they are really quite harmless and will be more than happy to take fruits from their keeper's hands. That being said they are all in all quite capable of fending for themselves and little or no time is actually needed for interaction though, as most invertebrate owners will tell you... putting them down is really the hardest thing!!! They are so interesting!!!


Now this is not something many people will readily believe, but it is an irrefutable fact, that despite carrying all the unfortunate connotations of being a cockroach, the Madagascar hisser is really one of the cleanest insects you can find and no, unlike other vertebrate (and even some invertebrate pets) they DO NOT SMELL!!! (And I really do mean that in the most literal way possible). This has something to do perhaps with the fact that they are bottom feeders, which means that they occupy the lower rung in the forest ecosystems and as such the food that they eat is recycled to its most base form to be absorbed by the plants. As such, one can imagine that not much cleaning is actually required for these insects and it is really more about removing uneaten fruits (which might grow mouldy or attract fruit flies) at the end of every day.

5. Conversation Starter

But all those practical issues aside, keeping invertebrates as pets  (particularly large and prolific ones like the Madagascar hisser) is a great way to start a conversation. Indeed one of the things that most people are interested in when they talk to me are the wide variety of insects I am interested in and some of the more obscure facts about these creatures that they may otherwise be unaware about. I have even had  photographers asking to visit just so they can practice macro photography on my darling insects!!! Madagascar hissers however, are especially interesting because of their ability to produce sound. As is their namesake, these cockroaches can emit a rather loud hiss by expelling air forcefully from their abdomens. They use these hissing noises for a variety of purposes, the main one being to communicate with other members of their species. By hissing, a male cockroach can elicit a mating response from willing females, or establish his dominance of his particular decaying log against other rival males. More commonly though, they use this noise as a defense mechanism; to scare off predators (perhaps by imitating other dangerous predators, such as snakes) and while the insect itself is harmless, the hissing sound it makes can be so loud as to be quite alarming!

Paolo, our Male Madagascar hissing cockroach. You can tell by his bright colors the pair of "blunt horns" it possesses on the carapace on its thorax
Our female, Isabella, in comparison has a much deeper coloration and a smoother appearance altogether. 
Though relatively slow in terms of popularity pick up in Malaysia, the keeping of various invertebrates as pets has gained significant popularity in several countries, most notably Japan, where they are favored over other animals as they require little attention (a factor that is highly important in our increasingly busy lives) and take up little space as well. Though some might argue that more conventional pets like cats or dogs offer things like companionship, I personally feel that the interesting factor of insects, as well as their low husbandry requirements far outweigh those values... Although, admittedly, I suppose insect pets (least of all roaches) just aren't meant for everyone!!!


ps. As with any other non-native species... do NOT release any individuals into the wild. You may think you do so out of kindness, but in reality you are not doing the ecosystem any favors by doing so. 


Nath said...

I wonder how your family gonna tolerate the mating season :D

Cyren said...

They are not!!! Fortunately I have any number of carnivorous animals at home which would love a baby cockroach for a meal. Yum yum!!! Still, breeding can be prevented by keeping them at lower temperatures. I'd say my room (with its air conditioning) qualifies as such :P

Vincent~ said...

how many animals/bugs you have in ur room? @@

Cyren said...

@Vincent Hahaha never enough. LOL. Fortunately they do not smell or create any odors. I used to have hamsters but they stink to high heaven.