The Madagascan Giant
Hissing Cockroach

Gromphadorhina portentosa is a great elementary school pet or traveling exhibit for the classroom. Kids are very impressed with the size while its slow movements and inability to fly reassure the more nervous sorts (teachers included). This page has been created to share my experiences with raising and handling these cockroaches with other people who might use them to introduce children to insects...and show them how wonderful they are!


Question: Do your hissers ever get broken antenna? If they do, have you noticed if it is males or females?...old or young....dominant or not? I'd like your input and I will post the results. Jenn S., who works at a small zoo, has looked at different populations and found that males, especially older ones, seem to be likely to have broken antennae. I have the same impression. I have not seen one break but jousting matches might be the most likely cause.

Good links:

The Pet Arthropod Page of Scott Bullington is where you want to go for the details
about these animals. Great photos and information . Go here to look for more detailed answers to your questions.

Carolina Biological Supply Company's information sheet is well done.

Information about the mite that lives on the hissing cockroach and help keep it free of parasites!
Literature citations and summaries and
Great photos... Photos by Bill Styer accompanied International Journal of Acarology articles by J. A. Yoder; J. A. Yoder and Nathan C. Grojean, Dept. of Biology, Illinois College, Jacksonville, Illinois, U.S.A.

Kid art: leaf rubbings turned into insects and why insects are super art subjects.

Teachers, students...list your school and projects using hissing cockroaches....see end of page.

Mrs. Tracy Trimpe of Havana Junior High, Havana, Illinois invites you to visit her Science Spot web site which includes a hisser section. She writes "My 7th grade science students created a roach maze out of plywood and 2x4's. The maze was designed so that they can change the layout by moving a few inside boards. The students are still collecting data and trying to limit variables. We are trying to decide if they learn the maze (and remember it) or if they just get more comfortable with the material and increase their speed. Sparky holds the speed record to date - 1 min, 18 seconds. Gerdie, our large female, holds the record for cheating - she usually climbs over the top to get to the end - lettuce leaves." Check it out for their conclusions.

Allison and Ashley of Cary Academy did research to establish "Do Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches prefer junk food or healthy food more?". What do you think?!

Ryan's Cockroach Page....this is a new page established by a middle school student who is a very successful cockroach breeder. Good overview of cockroach family , as well as tips on keeping.

The following is a list of possibly useful things to know:

Raising these cockroaches:

    • they don't breed as freely as you might fear, or want, depending on your point of view. I was told by a local nature center person that 2 or 3 broods a year is good and that seems to be what my bunch cranks out.
    • The other day I became tired of the pine shaving aesthetic of my cockroach tank. I gathered some of last fall's oak leaves to pile in there as a place for them to hide, instead of using the tinted vitamin bottles that they love to jam into but you can't see them in there. Now they cling to oak leaves or hug the tank's glass wall where a leaf leans against it. This makes for much better observations. The cochroaches do munch on the dry leaves (it sounds like Tostitos) but none seem worse for wear because of it.
    • they grow from the 3/8" size (when I usually see them) quickly enough to be useful as a classroom observation project; they are almost as big as the parents in a few months; great graphing project for fourth grade science
    • Note: most articles say they don't have an odor. I think they certainly do, although much less than a mouse cage. It reminds me of the vegetable decay smell you get off lettuce when it goes slimey in the frig...(if you know what I'm talking about.) Not necessarily bad...but distinctive. I never notice it walking by the aquarium, only when I have my nose over the edge being snoopy. I have put a piece of cardboard over the top occasionally to contain smell when sensitive nosed little kids will be closely examining the cage. This smell is there even with a real tidy and clean cage if you have a bigger colony. It does get intense if you let it go a few months (you know how it is...cleaning the 'roach tank is not on the top of my priortized list!) Laurie D. writes that she notices it, too, "when I have my nose hanging over the tank.".
    • when they are young they have the tendency to climb upwards on the aquarium wall and wedge their little flat bodies into the cover cracks, so if your cover lifts off expect to have to brush a few roaches back into the tank so they don't get squashed when you reseat the cover; (I realize I may be having larger broods than I thought since they could be abandoning ship when I'm not looking) Two roach wranglers have been kind enough to write and tell me to smear a band of petroleum jelly around tank top to discourage and foil this behavior! (This works great...phew!) It is also rather funny to watch the adults with greasy feet slowly slide down the side. I don't think a top is necessary with a good vaseline band, except to keep out curious hands.
    • they like it warm; place a roach tank on a cable TV box to keep it around 80 degrees and put their "cave" at the spot of maximum warmth; this temperature is needed if you want to breed them; while they will live at cooler temperatures (complaining ,I'm sure!) they will be slowed down the cooler it gets; a slow roach might be wanted for display or handling reasons, not that they are very zippy at best of temperatures once they reach adult size; the top of a frig that exhausts up is good, too; I keep 4 buckets up there and they reproduce well.
    • while the literature and many other roach raisers have always mentioned apples and bananas as food with dog food pellets and water on the side, I find my roaches really greatly prefer oranges and leafy greens (lettuce, beet greens) to those; I also supply Purina lab chow and water in a sponge; I usually give organic fresh veg; zuchinni skin is the current favorite food during the summer. Black birch leaves (wintergreen smell) were avidly consumed by 3 of my 4 colonies.
      IMPORTANT!: Don't forget to put some dry dog kibble or lab chow in there. They need occasional protein, which, if they cannot find it makes them munch on a newly molted colleague! This info was supplied by a helpful, and thoroughly grossed out, roach wrangler who hadn't known to give kibble. Another raiser emailed me that moistened "monkey biscuit" (available at pet stores) works well.
    • when they shed their "skin" they usually eat it; but sometimes they don't so you can eventually accumulate a cool teaching aid by mounting the empty but amazingly lifelike exoskeletons in a display illustrating instars; another really cool thing is that they are ivory colored for a few hours after shedding which makes them look like netsuke!

Classroom use:

    • as an art teacher I find the cockroaches very motivating models for a variety of lessons; drawing from nature, symmetrical paper cutting, observation practice...
    • even first graders think girls should be afraid of bugs more often than boys; I do not allow any mock shrieks or ughs (grimaces are allowed but not encouraged); by explaining how I find the insects beautiful, pointing out the exquisite engineering of the leg, the color of the exoskeleton, the fine fuzz on the antenna and so forth; most kids are sucked into a close viewing out of curiosity or a need to be as cool about it as their peers
    • like every 7th pet cockroach owner, I named my original pair Archy and Mehitabel after very cool books from the late 20's and 30's by Don Marquis. Archy was cockroach and Mehitabel a lady cat who had been around the block a few times; Archy was in love with her (while she was having none of it); they were friends though; by cleaning up a few of the stories and poems and retelling them to the kids I got the kids very involved in the story of how Archy came to learn to type, and therefore be able to write the books...the children were quiet and patient as I toured the classroom with the cockroach in my hand during the first "Meet the Roaches" lesson (some kids tend to believe the story which is an interesting situation)
    • set clear rules for viewing the insects the first time so nervous children do not feel threatened; I tell everyone exactly what I will do...go to each table of four children, hold my hand with Archy on it in the middle, the kids can then get as close as they want; I illustrate how close they can get by putting Archy against my nose, and I say if they feel the need they can even back away from their seat if done quietly and slowly to spare Archy's feelings
    • consider having a Rent-A-Roach program so kids can take home a small cage over the weekend; Roach Raffles could raise money for the school!
      (Reality check: Not likely...adults are more resistant to having cockroaches around than I could have imagined! I have seen more grimaces on grown-up faces this last year...There have been several teachers who have adopted classroom pairs, however. And my students will grow up more tolerant I hope.)
    • Having a tank of the cockroaches in an art room gets kids used to them as pets...after a few months they start wanting a couple in their classroom. A batch of baby roaches gets everyone interested. The fact they live together peacefully also makes an impression on children ,who seem to think most insects live a very 'bug eat bug" sort of life!. Baby cockroaches often elicit the "ahh...aren't they cute" response (I know that sounds odd, but children often have great empathy for the young of any specie).


Attention teachers and students! Are you currently using cockroaches in your classroom as mascots or experiments or ? Add your school and class to this list of cockroach wranglers! A description of your science or art projects is welcome, too.

Mr. Schmidek's 5th grade at Nathan Hale Elementary School in Manchester CT is caring for a mature pair. The 5th grades study arthropods.

Mrs. DeJulius's 5th grade at Nathan Hale found an egg case in their tank...but they don't know if anything hatched or not...yet.

The art room at Waddell Elementary school has a big tank full. A special cockroach castle was made from ceramic for fun. To see some bug art go HERE!


Emma Craib, elementary school art teacher in Manchester, CT USA.

Visit our elementary school art web site! Here is one of my schools.

Write to art-smart@snet.net with questions or comments.

Want to fold an origami swan?

Have a pre-school kid and want some good sites to visit with them?


Made on a Mac!