Caring for Cockroaches
Despite the generally unpleasant connotations that usually surround them, some of the world’s four-and-a-half thousand species of cockroaches can make great pets. They’re cheap to keep, have fairly modest needs and – if you get their conditions right – they’ll breed readily in captivity.
The Cockroach TankAn aquarium tank or large food container makes an ideal home for these insects. Adequate ventilation is important, particularly if you’re planning to keep any of the larger species such as Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches (Gromphadorhina portentosa), which can grow to 3 inches (7.5cm) in length. Fine mesh panels or strategically drilled holes will allow enough air in – but be careful not to make the holes too big; if your cockroaches succeed in breeding, you may find the inquisitive youngsters take themselves off to do some exploration of your house.
It’s not only young cockroaches that are adept escapers – the adults are too, and with many kinds being able to climb unbelievably well, a tightly-secured and escape-proof lid is a must. For the big species, use a sturdy fastening lid, but for smaller, fast-moving varieties, many keepers prefer a soft cloth cover fixed to the tank, with a opening towards the middle that allows an arm to be put inside and which is kept tightly tied up when not in use. Whatever arrangement you do settle for, it’s important not to underestimate the Houdini-like skills of your new pets!
Furnishing The TankHow you furnish the tank largely depends on the species you are planning to keep. In general, a 2-inch (5cm) deep covering of peat or potting compost mixed with rotten wood and perhaps a little sphagnum moss makes an ideal floor – since most kinds of cockroaches burrow. If your pets belong to any of the varieties which naturally burrow further, a deeper layer will be necessary to allow them to follow their natures, while some species, such as Turkistan Cockroaches (Blatta lateralis), hardly burrow at all and so need minimal flooring.
Non-burrowing cockroaches in particular will, require a good supply of hiding places, although this is something that all varieties seem to appreciate. Pieces of cork bark, cardboard tubes and sections of old egg boxes are all perfect for the job.
Heating And LightingMost of the commonly offered species of cockroaches come from tropical or sub-tropical areas of the world, so additional heat is going to be required – a minimum temperature of around 25C (77F) being necessary, especially if you’re hoping to encourage your animals to breed. Although some cockroach enthusiasts achieve this by keeping them in a warm room, or even the airing cupboard, the most usual approach is to use a heating pad underneath part of the tank – making sure that it doesn’t cover all of the base so the insects can find the temperature that suits them.
Daytime lighting and spot lamps are unnecessary for these pets since they are nocturnal; however, if you want to be able to watch them going about their night-time activities, fitting a red light bulb or – best of all – a black-light should let you, without them being disturbed.
Food And WaterCockroaches are, by nature, omnivorous scavengers, eating whatever is available to them, which generally makes feeding them very simple, since they’ll eat almost anything. A diet of vegetables, fruit, grains, cereals and cold porridge with occasional treats of commercial pet food – cat, dog or even fish food – will keep most species in good condition.
It’s important to make sure that there is always something edible in the tank for your pets to eat as hungry cockroaches often show cannibalistic tendencies when food isn’t readily available – so don’t be too quick to remove uneaten food unless it’s starting to go off.
Cockroaches should also have access to clean water, so the tank must have a shallow bowl, which will probably need frequent changing. Some keepers place cotton wool pads in the water bowl to avoid any chance of drowning; it still allows the insects to get a drink, but makes it easy for them to clamber out if they fall in.
Breeding CockroachesIf you get the general care and conditions right, breeding cockroaches is usually something that happens all by itself, with no further effort required. The eggs are laid in specialised egg-cases, sometimes hidden away in the tank, or in some species, carried around attached to the adult insect.
In many types of cockroaches, sexing your insects is simple; male Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches, for instance, have well-defined bumps towards the front of their bodies, while in the females all of the plates that make up their shell are smooth. A little research on the species you’re keeping is usually all you need to learn how to sex your pets with confidence. However, just to complicate things, the females of some species, such as the Surinam Cockroach, go in for a form of “virgin birth”, reproducing without the need for males – a phenomenon known to biologists as parthenogenesis.
While they’re obviously not for everyone and despite their reputation as pests, with proper care, management and feeding, cockroaches make surprisingly good pets.