Photo: Madagascar hissing cockroach

Madagascar hissing cockroaches hiss by exhaling air through breathing holes, a unique trait among insects.

Photograph by Roy Toft

Map

Map: Hissing cockroach range

Madagascar Hissing Cockroach Range

Audio

Fast Facts

Type:
Bug
Diet:
Herbivore
Average life span in the wild:
2 to 5 years
Size:
2 to 3 in (5 to 7.5 cm) long
Weight:
Up to 0.8 oz (22.7 g)
Group name:
Colony
Did you know?
A small colony of hissing cockroaches can eat a large carrot in a single day.
Size relative to a paper clip:
Illustration: Madagascar hissing cockroach compared with paper clip

This insect looks—and sounds—like anything but a run-of-the-mill roach. Madagascar hissing cockroaches are one of many fascinating animal species to hail from the island of Madagascar.

These cockroaches are shiny brown and oval-shaped, with no wings and a single pair of antennae. Males sport large horns, which give them an unusual and impressive appearance.

Males use their horns in aggressive encounters reminiscent of battles between horned or antlered mammals. Rivals ram one another with their horns (or abdomens) and during the fight often unleash the amazing hisses that give the animal its name. Winning roaches hiss more than losers, so the sounds may be used to help determine a roach hierarchy.

Hissing is also part of the cockroach's mating ritual, and can be used as an effective alarm cry. Most insects that make noise do so by rubbing their body parts together or by employing vibrating membranes. Madagascar hissing cockroaches, however, exhale air through their breathing holes. This audible use of the respiratory system is far more common in vertebrates.

Like 99 percent of all cockroach species, Madagascar hissing cockroaches are not pests and do not inhabit human dwellings. These insects live on forest floors, where they hide amidst leaf litter, logs, and other detritus. At night, they become more active and scavenge for meals, feeding primarily on fruit or plant materials.

The Madagascar hissing cockroach even begins its life in an unusual manner. Females create a cocoon-like egg case called an ootheca and carry their eggs (and neonatal nymphs) inside their bodies. They then bear living young—as many as 60 nymph roaches.

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