Cockroach, Madagascar Hissing

Madagascar Hissing Cockroach at the LA Zoo LAIR Photo Credit Jamie Pham

Scientific Name: Gromphadorhina portentosa

Cockroaches have existed for nearly 250 million years and can even survive a strong exposure to radiation. They can live for five to seven days without their heads!

The hissing cockroach has been called “the battle tank of the cockroach world” because of its hard, thick exoskeleton, or skin.

Love and War

This species of cockroach will hiss loudly when they feel threatened. Males will also vocalize during courtship with females and when they fight with other males. During their battles, in which a male will defend a territory containing several females, cockroaches will push each other with their horns or their abdomens. The male who hisses more during a skirmish is generally the victor. Although females and nymphs freely enter and leave a male’s territory, the male guards his territory for months at a time, leaving only to feed.

Not listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The hissing cockroach is from Madagascar, a large island off the eastern coast of Africa.  While little is known about its existence in the wild, the insect probably lives on the forest floor in rotten logs and in open grasslands.

Cockroaches are omnivores, eating almost anything organic including glue, paper, cloth, and even electrical wire insulation. In the wild, they feed on decaying fallen fruit and dead animal matter.

The hissing cockroach has the typical insect body form of head, thorax, and abdomen. Adults may be up to four inches long and one inch wide and weigh almost one ounce. These wingless insects are dark brown with orange markings on their abdomens. Males and females are easy to tell apart, with males displaying large bumps on their thoraxes and hairy antennae while females have no bumps and smooth antennae. The hissing cockroach is ovoviparous, which means that the females give birth to live young. The immature insects, known as nymphs, molt six times before reaching maturity at seven months. During molts, the casing splits down the middle of the back and the roach wiggles out of it. While the new skin hardens, the cockroach’s body form is supported by its internal fluids through a process called hydrostatic pressure. The insects may live from two to five years. Their characteristic hissing sound is made by forcing air out through breathing tubes called spiracles on the sides of their abdomen. The noise is so loud it can be heard 12 feet away! The insects communicate with four different types of hisses and males can distinguish between the hisses of familiar and unfamiliar cockroaches.

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