Cockroaches are an ancient group of insects dating back to the Carboniferous era some 350 million years ago. They were so common that part of this period is known as the Age of Cockroaches. The Madagascar hissing cockroach has a thick, hard, and waxy exoskeleton that serves as body armor. This species will hiss loudly when threatened. This characteristic sound is made by forcing air out through breathing tubes called spiracles on the sides of the abdomen. The noise is so loud it can be heard 12 feet away! The insects communicate using hisses in different ways: as a warning, during courtship, and for defense when protecting territory or fighting with a rival male. Males will aggressively ram rivals with large horns that grow behind their heads. They will also push with their abdomens. The largest male that delivers the most hisses wins.
These wingless cockroaches are generally nocturnal and live in colonies. The pads and hooks on their feet make them excellent climbers, even on smooth surfaces. They can hold their breath underwater for 30 minutes. They can withstand 10 times more radiation than humans and, like other cockroach species, they can live up to seven days without their heads because they breathe through the spiracles on their sides, and nerves distributed throughout their bodies allow basic reflexes. They can survive a week without food or water. They play an important role in the ecosystem by breaking down forest floor debris to recycle nutrients. They also serve as an important source of protein for many birds and lizards. Ninety-nine percent of cockroach species do not inhabit human spaces and are not pests.
The hissing cockroach is from Madagascar, a large island off the eastern coast of Africa. They live on the forest floor among leaf litter, in rotten logs, and near riverbanks.
Omnivores, in the wild, they feed on decaying fallen fruit and dead animal matter.
One of the largest cockroaches, adults are typically 2–3 inches long. Lifespan in the wild is unknown, but in human care they may live 2–5 years.