Madagascar hissing cockroach

Madagascar hissing cockroach

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The Madagascar hissing Cockroach (Gromphadorhina portentosa), also known as the Hissing Cockroach or simply Hisser, is one of the largest species of cockroach
Cockroaches are insects of the order Blattaria or Blattodea, of which about 30 species out of 4,500 total are associated with human habitations...

, reaching 2–4 inches at maturity. They are from the island of Madagascar
The Republic of Madagascar is an island country located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa...

 off the Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

n coast, where they can be found in rotting logs.

Unlike most cockroaches, they are wingless. They are excellent climbers and can scale smooth glass. Males can be distinguished from females by their thicker, hairier antennae
Antenna (biology)
Antennae in biology have historically been paired appendages used for sensing in arthropods. More recently, the term has also been applied to cilium structures present in most cell types of eukaryotes....

 and the pronounced "horns" on the pronotum. Females carry the ootheca
An ootheca is a type of egg mass made by any member of a variety of species .The word is a latinized combination of oo-, meaning "egg", from the Greek word ōon , and theca, meaning a "cover" or "container", from the Greek theke...

 (egg case) internally, and release the young nymphs only after the eggs have hatched. As in some other wood roaches, the parents and offspring will commonly remain in close physical contact for extended periods of time. In captivity, these insects can live 5 years. They feed primarily on vegetable material.


The Madagascar cockroach has become characterized by its hissing sound, large size, and appearance. Their nickname, "hissing cockroach," is due to their ability to force gas through the breathing pores (spiracle
Spiracles are openings on the surface of some animals that usually lead to respiratory systems.-Vertebrates:The spiracle is a small hole behind each eye that opens to the mouth in some fishes. In the primitive jawless fish the first gill opening immediately behind the mouth is essentially similar...

s) found on each segment of their thorax
Thorax (insect anatomy)
The thorax is the mid section of the insect body. It holds the head, legs, wings and abdomen. It is also called mesosoma in other arthropods....

 and abdomen
In vertebrates such as mammals the abdomen constitutes the part of the body between the thorax and pelvis. The region enclosed by the abdomen is termed the abdominal cavity...

. The Madagascar hissing cockroach is believed to be the only insect that can hiss in this exact manner, as most insects that make a "hissing" sound do so by rubbing together various body parts. (Some long-horned beetle
Longhorn beetle
The longhorn beetles are a cosmopolitan family of beetles, typically characterized by extremely long antennae, which are often as long as or longer than the beetle's body...

s, e.g., the Giant Fijian long-horned beetle
Giant Fijian long-horned beetle
The giant Fijian long-horned beetle is native to the island of Viti Levu in Fiji, and is one of the largest living insect species, with specimens around 15 cm long, excluding legs, antennae, or jaws. It is closely related to the Taveuni beetle, which is only marginally smaller...

, can squeeze air out from under their elytra
An elytron is a modified, hardened forewing of certain insect orders, notably beetles and a few of the true bugs ; in most true bugs, the forewings are instead called hemelytra, as only the basal half is thickened while the apex is membranous...

, but this does not involve the spiracles). This hiss takes three forms: the disturbance hiss, the female-attracting hiss, and the fighting hiss. All cockroaches from the fourth instar
An instar is a developmental stage of arthropods, such as insects, between each molt , until sexual maturity is reached. Arthropods must shed the exoskeleton in order to grow or assume a new form. Differences between instars can often be seen in altered body proportions, colors, patterns, or...

 (fourth molting cycle) and older are capable of the disturbance hiss. Only males use the fighting hiss; they use it when challenged by other males. This establishes a dominance hierarchy by one of the males backing down and the fight being over. Males hiss more often than females. Males hiss sometimes as a challenge of battle.

Associations with other animals

The mite species Gromphadorholaelaps schaeferi lives on this species of cockroach and takes some of its host's food. As these mites do not harm the cockroaches they live upon, they are commensals, not parasites.

Popular culture

The Madagascar hissing cockroach has been featured in Hollywood movies, prominently in Bug
Bug (1975 film)
Bug is a 1975 American horror film starring Bradford Dillman, Joanna Miles, and Richard Gilliland. It was directed by Jeannot Szwarc and written by William Castle and Thomas Page, from Page's 1973 novel The Hephaestus Plague...

(1975) as cockroaches who could set fires by rubbing their legs together and, in Damnation Alley
Damnation Alley (film)
Damnation Alley is a 1977 film, directed by Jack Smight, loosely based on the novel of the same name by Roger Zelazny. The original music score was composed by Jerry Goldsmith.-Plot:...

(1977), as post-nuclear-war mutant armor-plated "killer" cockroaches. In Starship Troopers
Starship Troopers (film)
Starship Troopers is a 1997 American military science fiction film, written by Edward Neumeier , directed by Paul Verhoeven, loosely adapted from Starship Troopers, a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein. It is the only theatrically released film in the Starship Troopers franchise...

, a movie about a war against an enemy called "The Bugs," a teacher is shown encouraging her students to step on this species as part of a TV propaganda broadcast.

A Madagascar hissing cockroach has been used as the driver of a mobile robot. They were used in the reality television series Fear Factor
Fear Factor
Fear Factor is an American stunt/dare reality game show. The original Dutch version was called Now or Neverland. When Endemol USA and NBC adapted it to the American market in 2001, they changed the name to Fear Factor. The show pits contestants against each other in a variety of stunts for a...

. The species also made an appearance in the movie Men In Black
Men in Black (film)
Men in Black is a 1997 science fiction comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith and Vincent D'Onofrio. The film was based on the Men in Black comic book series by Lowell Cunningham, originally published by Marvel Comics. The film featured the creature effects...

in 1997. This was later parodied in the comedy Team America: World Police
Team America: World Police
Team America: World Police, often referred to as simply Team America, is a 2004 action comedy film written by Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Pam Brady and directed by Parker, all of whom are also known for the popular animated television series South Park...

(2004), where one emerges from Kim Jong-il
Kim Jong-il
Kim Jong-il, also written as Kim Jong Il, birth name Yuri Irsenovich Kim born 16 February 1941 or 16 February 1942 , is the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea...

's body after his death, enters a tiny spaceship, and flies away.

In September 2006, amusement park Six Flags Great America
Six Flags Great America
Six Flags Great America is a Six Flags theme park in the Chicago metropolitan area, located in Gurnee, Illinois. It first opened in 1976 as Marriott's Great America. Six Flags purchased the park from the Marriott Corporation in 1984, making it the seventh park in the chain...

 announced that it would be granting unlimited line-jumping privileges for all rides to anyone who could eat a live Madagascar hissing cockroach as part of a Halloween
Hallowe'en , also known as Halloween or All Hallows' Eve, is a yearly holiday observed around the world on October 31, the night before All Saints' Day...

-themed FrightFest. Furthermore, if a contestant managed to beat the previous world record (eating 36 cockroaches in 1 minute), he would receive season passes for four people during the 2007 season. This is a difficult record to break because raw cockroaches contain a mild neurotoxin that numbs the mouth and makes it difficult to swallow. The promotion ended on October 29, 2006.

The cockroaches were used in a runway challenge for the sixth cycle of America's Next Top Model
America's Next Top Model, Cycle 6
America's Next Top Model, Cycle 6 premiered on March 8, 2006, which would be the last cycle to air on UPN before merging with the The WB to create the The CW...


Mutated Madagascar hissing cockroaches figure heavily into the plot of the comic book The Exterminators
The Exterminators (comics)
The Exterminators was an American monthly comic book series, published under the Vertigo imprint by DC Comics. The comic was created by writer Simon Oliver and artist Tony Moore and follows the employees of the Bug-Bee-Gone extermination company. The book is notable for its graphic and darkly...


On August 12, 1999, "Jungle" John LaMedica of Newark, DE, USA was placed in a plexiglass coffin with 20,050 giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches on the set of Guinness World Records Primetime
Guinness World Records Primetime
Guinness World Records Primetime was a TV show based on the Guinness Book of World Records, and aired on the Fox television network from July 27, 1998 to October 4, 2001...

in Hollywood, CA, USA.

Tyler the Creator featured a hissing cockroach in his video for Yonkers
Yonkers (song)
"Yonkers" is a song by American hip hop artist and OFWGKTA member Tyler, The Creator, released as the second single from his second studio album Goblin. It was produced by Tyler, the Creator...

 off of the album Goblin
Goblin (album)
Goblin is the second studio album by OFWGKTA leader Tyler, The Creator. It was released on May 10, 2011 through XL Recordings. The album's production came almost entirely from Tyler himself, along with contributions from fellow OFWGKTA member Left Brain. Goblin continues Tyler's dialogues with his...

during which he bites the head off of the cockroach before puking it up.

As pets

Madagascar cockroaches can be kept as pets. They cannot fly like some species of roaches, and they are not aggressive and do not bite. They need a small living area and a spot for them to hide because they do not like the light. They also need sticks because they sometimes like to climb. They sometimes will choose trees if rotten logs and leaves are not available. Remember no cockroach will choose this over a log or leaves. The living area must be tested to see if they can climb it as they can climb most kinds. Fish tanks with screens work best but it is also wise to coat the first few inches with petroleum jelly
Petroleum jelly
Petroleum jelly, petrolatum, white petrolatum or soft paraffin, CAS number 8009-03-8, is a semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons , originally promoted as a topical ointment for its healing properties...

 to keep them from getting out. They can live on fresh vegetables along with any kind of pellet food that is high in protein, such as dry dog food. In the USA, some states require permits before this species can be kept as a pet or in breeding colonies. For example, the state of Florida requires such a permit. In fact, during outreach programs, the University of Florida's
University of Florida
The University of Florida is an American public land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant research university located on a campus in Gainesville, Florida. The university traces its historical origins to 1853, and has operated continuously on its present Gainesville campus since September 1906...

Department of Entomology and Nematology, which has such a permit, allows only males to be taken out of the laboratory. This is to prevent the possible introduction of a gravid female into the environment.

External links