Meet my Madagascar Hissing Cockroach friends

Because I have a super-cool job, I spend my time doing super-cool things, and last week was no exception: I basically got paid to get to know these little guys and gals better:

Reader, meet my new bezzies, the Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. Now I’m aware that these dudes get a bit of a hard time, they have managed to get themselves quite the negative rep. But I hope to change your opinion of them and convince you that these are COOL little creatures.

Let’s start by being shallow and talking about their appearance. Although some species of cockroaches have wings, these ones don’t, which makes them a lot less stressful to handle and easier to show to children, which is handy for me. It is easy to identify between the sexes with this species of cockroach because the males have two lumps on their heads which are often (somewhat optimistically) called “horns”.

Boys being boys, the male roaches use their horny heads to fight each other. The males fight for dominance of a group, head butting and hissing at each other to compete for access to females and resources (like on top of a toilet roll insider, the highest place in the tank, as seems to be the case for our cockroaches). The hissing is a really interesting thing, because the way they achieve their hiss is quite unusual for little invertebrate beasties. While most insects make noises by rubbing parts of their bodies together or through some other vibration medium, our Madagascar hissing cockroaches hiss by exhaling air through their breathing holes (called spiracles), which are located on each segment of their abdomen. The hissing can mean different things – males hiss to attract females, to scare off predators or when fighting with rival males. The females of this species are rather lovely, they don’t tend to fight and are a joy to handle.

Cockroaches are important because they are among nature’s recyclers. They eat almost anything – in the wild this consists of decaying plant and animal matter – and they poo important nutrients back into the soil. As they grow, the cockroaches shed their hard exoskeleton which hilariously and creepily leaves them looking like THIS for a few days:

“Don’t look at me.”

Madagascar hissing cockroaches will molt 6 or 7 times, at which point they will reach sexual maturity and will not molt again.

And now for the question on everyone’s lips… can these beasties really survive a nuclear attack?! I don’t know. But I do know that they can survive up to three weeks without their head. This is because the head is really only essential for eating and drinking, and a single meal can keep these little cold blooded critters going for weeks. As mentioned before, they breathe through pores in their abdomen, and the brain does not control this function. This is in stark contrast to our head, which scientists generally agree is essential to us and other mammals because not only it is home to our rather essential brain, but also losing our head would inevitably result in a massive volume of blood loss which would probably result in death. But insects don’t have this blood pressure that we do, and would not “bleed out”.
Madagascar hissing cockroaches have stolen my heart and now I just have to convince Mr Loris that they would make excellent pets. I’m sure that will go down well.

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