Hissing cockroaches are surprisingly easy to keep once you provide a suitable setup.
Luckily, an effective giant hissing cockroach setup is cost-effective and simple to create, allowing your roaches to live a long and healthy life.
In this article I’ll discuss my own experiences of housing hissing roaches at home, and lay out my own discoveries and current recommendations.
Clinical Vs Naturalistic
As with many species of so-called “exotic pets” there are those keepers who favour a “clinical” setup, providing only the most basic of surroundings. That is not to say, however, that such setups are ineffective or unkind. They merely favour practicality and ease-of-maintenance over appearance.
At the other end of the scale are those keepers who work hard to create a more “naturalistic” hissing cockroach setup. Such setups focus as much on aesthetics as practicality, with a view to creating a display that perhaps includes deep substrate, attractive decor features and sometimes even plants.
Neither of these methods is necessarily better than the other. Indeed, both have their pros and cons. Only you can really decide which is most suitable for you. Let’s discuss the main pros and cons, before we look at specific examples of equipment, and how to create a hissing cockroach setup from them.
Clinical Hissing Cockroach Setups
At its most basic a clinical hissing cockroach setup involves a large plastic container of some sort. As hissing cockroaches can climb well, a tight-fitting lid is necessary.
- Rectangular Kritter Keepers have self-locking lids with hinged viewer/ feeder windows
- Capacity: 5.90 GAlarge. Size: 15 3/4-inch large by 9 3/8-inch width by 12 1/2-inch height
- Kritter Keepers have well-ventilated lids in assorted colors
Within this container are placed numerous pieces of egg box (sometimes called “egg flats”) or screwed up newspaper. This creates a greater surface area over which your cockroaches can run, as well as creating dark crevices. As hissing cockroaches are nocturnal, and dislike bright sunlight, such darkened spaces are greatly appreciated.
No substrate is used, to make for easier cleaning in the future.
Food can then be scattered over the floor of the cage, or placed at one end in a food bowl. Water may or may not be provided. If water is omitted then some other source of moisture will be required; fruits and vegetables with a high water content should be routinely provided.
Cleaning hissing cockroaches in these conditions is as simple as picking out the egg boxes and inspecting them for cleanliness. If still usable they can be simply transferred to a new identical container. If not, the cockroaches can be gently shaken off the egg boxes into the new cage, before fresh egg boxes are added.
The old cage can then be rinsed around and left to dry before future use.
This is the first type of hissing cockroach setup I tested, and it is indeed a very practical solution, though far from attractive to observe.
- Easy to clean
- Cheap to set up
- Minimal supplies required
- Cockroaches seem to do well in these conditions
- Unattractive appearance
- Ignores some natural behavior
Naturalistic Hissing Cockroach Setups
A naturalistic setup aims to produce an end result that is far more appealing to the eye, while offering additional opportunities for natural behavior.
In essence, rather than the cold, sterile environment of a bare plastic container they mimic nature rather more. In these conditions hissing cockroaches can make an attractive display with visual appeal to enjoy in the home.
A plastic box may still be used, but other alternatives can also be considered. Unused aquariums or Critter Keepers may be suitable.
Whatever the cage, consideration should be given not only to the hissing cockroaches’ ability to climb vertical surfaces, but also the possibility of your roaches breeding.
Young hissing cockroaches are small and agile, and can easily squeeze through small gaps in many vivariums.
Often a substrate is used at the bottom of the cage. A range of options are suitable but coconut fibre is probably one of the best-known and most suitable options for hissing cockroaches.
Rather than the sterility of egg boxes to provide hiding places, instead pieces of cork bark and other wood collected from nature can be used. Leaf litter may be added to the floor, or pieces of moss.
Here you can let your creative side run wild, building a vivarium display that appeals to the eye, while also offering all the main priorities.
- More fun to set up initially
- Turns your hissing cockroach setup into an attractive focal point
- Permits some more natural behavior than sterile environments
- Can cost slightly more to setup
- Cleaning can take slightly longer
Equipment for Your Hissing Cockroach Setup
Hopefully by now you have in mind whether your preference is for a clinical or a more naturalistic hissing cockroach setup.
So let’s look at some of the equipment you might want to consider, based on my own experience of keeping and breeding hissing roaches over the last few years.
Cages & Enclosures
Enclosures for hissing cockroaches need to accomplish a number of things:
- They should be escape-proof, with a tightly fitting lid
- They should offer some ventilation to prevent an overly humid environment
- They should be suitably sized for the number of roaches you plan to keep allowing freedom of movement
- They should allow your roaches to hide away from daylight
There is no such thing as a custom-designed “hissing cockroach cage” so it is always necessary to repurpose something designed for another purpose. Here are a few options you might want to consider:
Plastic Shoe Boxes, Food Containers or Storage Boxes
Arguably the most practical housing of all for hissing roaches are repurposed plastic containers, typically sold for household or office storage purposes. These are reasonably-priced and can be sourced in a huge range of different sizes.
Ventilation is easily added. Either drill small holes in the sides and lid, or cut out a section using an electric saw and fit fine gauze over the hole with a hot glue gun.
The one crucial tip I’d give you when repurposing such containers is to ensure there are no tiny gaps around where the lid joins.
My first attempt was a failure. When my hissing cockroaches surprised me with youngsters the first time a number of them managed to squeeze through the tiniest of gaps by the lid. I was not popular while I recaptured the escapees!
Exo Terra Glass Terrariums
I’m a huge fan of Exo Terra terrariums for many exotic pets, and they have the potential to be used for hissing cockroaches. They’re very attractive cages which lend themselves well to a naturalistic display.
However if your hissing cockroaches start breeding there is a chance that the babies could successfully escape through the ventilation holes at the front of the cage, or through the gaps left in the lid to allow electrical cables to be inserted.
If you opt to use an Exo Terra, therefore, I’d recommend using aquarium-safe silicone sealant to cover up these small gaps before adding your roaches.
Critter Keepers come under many different names. Broadly, these cages consist of a solid, clear plastic body, with a removal vented lid. They’re typically reasonably cheap to buy and easy to clean, though not as attractive as Exo Terras.
As with Exo Terras, there is a chance that baby roaches could climb out – especially if you use a model that has a small trapdoor in the lid. These often don’t seal as well as might be ideal.
There is a simple solution here though. I have experimented (successfully) with placing net curtain fabric which can be bought incredibly cheaply on Amazon over the top of the cage, before the lid is placed over. The lid holds the net curtain material taught, and any baby hissing roaches that are born cannot squeeze through the fine weave of the material.
Sweet jars are not a suitable option for bulky adult hissing roaches, but they can be very practical for hatchlings and juveniles. They can be bought brand new in places like Amazon, or it is sometimes possible to get them free from local sweet shops.
I simply drill a few holes around the top for ventilation. A substrate of coco fibre it placed on the floor, together with a jumble of small cork bark pieces. The roaches happily hide under the bark or burrow unto the substrate.
The fact that sweet jars are tall can be practical for baby hissing roaches, which are far more agile and faster moving than their parents. Having that extra height gives you a greater chance of preventing escapees when you’re carrying out routine tank maintenance.
One tip I’d give is to buy yourself a pair of long forceps, to make it easier to remove uneaten food etc.
Heaters & Heating
Giant hissing cockroaches hail from Madagascar, which benefits from a warm environment year-round. It should hardly be surprising, therefore, that captive hissing cockroaches tend to thrive best when kept warm. They will grow faster and are more likely to produce babies for you.
While they may be fine at room temperature during the summer, some keepers opt to provide a little additional warmth when the air temperature starts to drop. Fortunately this is quite simple and cheap to achieve.
Possibly the easiest option is a low-powered reptile heat mat / heat pad.
These heaters produce a very gentle back-ground warmth. They can be attached to the outside of the cage – most commonly sticking them to one wall or the back of the cage. Most models recommend the use of a thermostat in addition, to prevent the risk of overheating.
As discussed earlier, a substrate certainly isn’t absolutely necessary. One interesting discovery I’ve made, however, is that smaller hissing cockroaches seem to enjoy burrowing down into the substrate when it is present. It seems this offers some enrichment benefits and permits behavior not possible in a more sterile environment.
Some popular options include:
Newspaper: Doesn’t permit any burrowing activity, and looks unsightly, but makes cleaning your hissing cockroach cage very easy indeed. Simply roll up the newspaper and dispose of it.
Coco Fibre: My personal preference at present. Attractive, absorbent and permits natural digging. It can be bought very cheaply in compressed blocks from most good reptile stores.
Orchid Bark: Another visually-attractive option for the hissing cockroach owner.
Compost: Easily sourced from garden centers, and reasonably priced. Be sure to avoid any compost that has been “improved” with any chemicals, such as plant growth granules.
Bran: Hissing cockroaches may eat bran, so using bran as a substrate is popular among some keepers both as a place to hide as well as a residual food source.
One of the most common behavioral traits of giant hissing cockroaches is that they dislike sunlight. They are happiest when hidden away from view in a darkened area. In my experience they also seem to favor small gaps and crevices, rather than wide-open spaces.
Egg Trays: The most common option here are egg crates or egg trays, which are typically arranged vertically. Stack these egg cartons up against one another, mainly filling the cockroach enclosure apart from a small area at the end where food and water can be provided.
Newspaper: Newspaper can be screwed up into balls and thrown into the cage. Try to pack the newspaper reasonably densely to keep out as much light as possible from the center of the cage.
Cork Bark: I have found that cork bark works surprisingly well for hissing cockroach setups. Flatter pieces seem to be preferred, rather than large curved pieces. I simply pile up a number of flatter pieces of bark in my roach setups, so that the insects can choose where they want to hide.
N.B. If you provide a substrate that your cockroaches can burrow into then this can also represent another place for your roaches to hide away during the day.
While some hissing cockroach keepers simply scatter food on the ground of the container, others prefer to use one or more food bowls. This prevents food from being scattered around the cage, with the potential for it to go off, adding to your cleaning regime.
Hissing roaches are not the most athletic insects around, so a low, flat feeding dish tends to be easiest for them to access.
If you choose to provide water as many other keepers do then follow a similar pattern of low-sided, wider containers.
Open water is generally not recommended, so as to prevent the risk of drowning.
Most keepers will therefore add some bug gel or some rocks to the water bowl, so your roaches will always be able to climb out of the water if they desire.
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