The Madagascar Hissing Cockroach Makes an Unusual Pet

Knoji reviews products and up-and-coming brands we think you'll love. In certain cases, we may receive a commission from brands mentioned in our guides. Learn more.
The Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, ‘Maddies’ or ‘Hissers’ as they are sometimes also called, are flightless, hard-shelled live-bearing insects native to Madagascar....

Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches: Not Your Usual Pet

The Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, "Maddies" or "Hissers" as they are sometimes also called, are flightless, hard-shelled live-bearing insects native to Madagascar, an island off the east coast of Africa. Fairly common and easily procured through private breeders and even pet shops; these fairly large insects are an interesting alternative and lucrative hobby for the insect enthusiast.

Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches have a rather long lifespan, generally living to be about three years old. Some captive Madagascar roaches have attained the ripe old age of five years!

They are actually quite clean despite having the name "cockroach" which likely puts most people off immediately. Fairly large too, at 1 ½ to 3 inches long. They are non-aggressive. Madagascar Hissing cockroaches don't bite or make any untoward aggression towards any creature except for a hissing noise when disturbed or surprised, a noise which may be unsettling to the uninitiated.

Madagascar Hissing Roaches are Heavily Armored!

Madagascar hissing cockroaches on a green leaf

(image source)

Madagascar Hissing roaches have a hard chitin shell, -they resemble a little armored armadillo. The males have little 'horns' on the front of their shell which makes identifying the gender of the specimen relatively easy.

This hissing noise is produced by the rapid exhalation of air through two tubes con their abdomen called spiracles. Most other insects only produce noise by rubbing of wings, legs or other body parts together, making this a singularly unique form of insect communication.

Sometimes an entire colony of Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches will hiss in unison, producing a fairly loud symphony. The purpose of this synchronized singing is unknown but it can be quite attention-getting if you are raising large numbers of these and are not familiar with this.

Why Raise Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches?

Madagascar Hissing cockroaches are fast-growing, making it easy to maintain a constant stock. Reptile enthusiasts require a steady and reliable supply of feeder insects. Used in scary movies for years, the film industry requires their inclusion and seeks to purchase these insects from local breeders. For their ease of handling, they are often depicted as the vermin of squalor and garbage, even though this is not their preferred habitat. They prefer to live in humid rainforest conditions, hidden away in rotted logs and under leaf litter.

female Madagascar Hissing cockroach with juveniles

(image source)

Reptile enthusiasts often grow their own feeder insects and Madagascar Hissing Roaches are no exception. Large reptiles that require protein enjoy the Madagascar Roach as a food. Most reptiles would do best if feed the younger Maddies though, or the ones that are freshly molted due to the hard chitin shells. Ingestion of these hard indigestible shells can cause intestinal impaction, and should be avoided.

Other creatures that would dine upon the Madagascar Roaches include large centipedes, tarantulas, scorpions and such also would eat a Maddie. The insect-eating hedgehog, also a popular pet and omnivore would doubtlessly also enjoy eating a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach too..

I have seen local advertising handbills on community bulletin boards seeking to buy large numbers of Madagascar Roaches. Schools would be interested in acquiring these roaches for study too, and the seller can command prices of up to $5.00 per adult Madagascar Roach.

So it can be a lucrative side business for the casual hobbyist to raise these cockroaches. Selling the juveniles for feeder insects and pets, retaining the larger adult breeders.

On a side note I saw a news brief on television about eating bugs. While this may not sound like fine dining to most westerners, eating insects is a vital part of the diet of many Eastern and African cultures. In this news article, among other bugs being served to adventurous diners were batter-dipped and deep-fried Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches! The epicureans were eating Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches I thought I was going to wretch! Yet, I was curious about this. Would I try it? -Possibly.

Care and Housing of the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach

Maddies are easy to care for. They cannot climb the smooth surface of a glass aquarium, so there is less chance of escape unlike other roach species. Still, a screen top would be advised if nothing but for your peace of mind.

Housing the Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches is easy too. A 30 gallon aquarium could easily hold a hundred or more of these social and placating insects. Maddies can climb, so several pieces of driftwood and a live plant or two is a nice touch and allows them to get out of each others way for a stress-reduced lifestyle.

They require more horizontal space more than vertical space, so a larger tank or some method of 'layering' driftwood would be best. Communal insects, they can dwell in fairly large communities and most battles conducted are just shoving, pushing and hissing at each other.

Feeding the Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches

Feeding is easy; any green leafy vegetable with the possible exception of iceberg 'head lettuce' is a staple food source. Apples, raw peaches, -carrots are an all-time favorite food of the Maddies. For water, a shallow dish or jar lid with a sponge in it suffices. The sponge allows the Hissers to climb out if they cannot otherwise. Because the breed easily, it is fair to say that even if you begin with just a few of these roaches you could soon have many. They are unusual in that they are live-bearing; the roaches hatch directly from the female from the egg case (ootheca) that she carries internally. It is curious too that the offspring will often remain close to the parents like a family of higher animals would.

Acquiring a mated pair of these is easy, so long as the state or Province where you live permits their importation. Some states in the U.S. (such as Florida) only permit the importation of male Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, the fear being that a pregnant female might escape and survive to be the progenitor of an invasive species. While the Maddie is not considered to be a pest insect, Florida's concern over becoming feral and widespread is likely well-founded. Florida has a history of problems with escaped and intentionally-released reptiles (common green iguanas, large snakes like boa constrictors, savanna monitors, etc.) in the southern regions where they become feral and survive year after year. They possibly even are breeding with other escaped or released reptiles and thus are forming isolated pockets of population. They do not wish to repeat this mistake with these Hissing roaches, which are not even native to this hemisphere.

Madagascar Hissing Roaches are not the filthy or disgusting disease-carrying pests as most roaches are depicted. Instead, they are intriguing and highly unusual insects that can make for a very engaging science project, lucrative hobby, and source of food for the pet trade as well as unusual pet in their own right.

Madagascar hissing cockroach detail


Posted on Aug 30, 2010
Joe Dorish
Posted on May 29, 2010
David Guion
Posted on May 18, 2010
Teresa Farmer
Posted on May 13, 2010