I’ve wanted to blog about this animal for some time, but I’ve never gathered the courage. Few things scare me as much as spiders do, but there are some animals that make me a little squirmy. One of these is cockroaches, which don’t give me the same terrifying feeling that our arachnid friends do, but do make me shiver a little when I think of them. So finally I’m going to write about probably the most famous species of cockroach, the Madagascar hissing cockroach. 

It turns out there are actually around twenty species of hissing cockroach, all which live in Madagascar. For some reason though, it is this species that has earned the name Madagascar hissing cockroach. Maybe it hisses louder than all the other species or something. They live in the forests of Madagascar, preferring to hang out on the forest floor, making comfortable homes in the dead leaves that litter the ground. 

A male Madagascar hissing cockroach. They can be differentiated from females by the large bumps on their head.  Source: http://insectexpertphd.com/cockroaches.aspx
A male Madagascar hissing cockroach. They can be differentiated from females by the large bumps on their head.
Source: http://insectexpertphd.com/cockroaches.aspx

Another reason that this species might be the most well-known cockroach is that it is one of the world’s largest. Adult males can reach ten centimetres in length, with females being slightly smaller. Ten centimetres is pretty big for a bug you’re supposed to be able to squash under your foot. I don’t know how easy it would be to squish a hissing cockroach; they have very hard exoskeletons. Hissing cockroaches are also excellent climbers. They don’t have wings like most cockroaches, but their feet are equipped with special pads and hooks that enable them to climb pretty much anything, even smooth glass. 

Despite the cockroach’s reputation as a household pest, the Madagascar hissing cockroach has quite an important ecosystem role. It consumes decaying plant matter, as well as some insect and animal carcasses. In this way, hissing cockroaches help recycle nutrients in their ecosystem, keeping their forest habitat healthy. 

A fairly graphic picture of a female cockroach giving birth. They store the egg pouch inside themselves until the nymphs hatch, and then give birth. After six moults, the young become adult cockroaches.  Image credit: Matt Reinbold
A fairly graphic picture of a female cockroach giving birth. They store the egg pouch inside themselves until the nymphs hatch, and then give birth. After six moults, the young become adult cockroaches.
Image credit: Matt Reinbold

You may have guessed from their name that Madagascar hissing cockroaches are capable of producing noise — most notably a variety of hissing sounds. Unlike other noisemaking insects, which generate the sound by rubbing parts of their body together, hissing cockroaches have another way to make noise. They force air through openings in their abdomen, creating their characteristic noise. Madagascar hissing cockroaches have four types of hiss: a combat hiss used to challenge and battle other males; two types of mating hisses; and an alarm hiss. So if you want to speak cockroach, learn the difference between these hisses and you should do quite nicely. 

This is the point in the post where I’d normally talk about how they should make movies with giant cockroaches and they would be terrible but hilarious, and so on. I will not say that here, because those movies have already been made! Just google cockroach movies and I’m sure you’ll find lots. My favourite one I’ve seen so far is Bug, a movie that features cockroaches that can start fires by rubbing their legs together. Wouldn’t that be scary! 

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