Gromphadorhina portentosa — Overview

Madagascar Giant Hissing Cockroach learn more about names for this taxon


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Madagascar hissing cockroach

The Madagascar hissing cockroach (Gromphadorhina portentosa), also known as the hissing cockroach or simply hisser, is one of the largest species of cockroach, reaching 2 to 3 inches (5.1–7.6 cm) at maturity. They are from the island of Madagascar off the African mainland, where they can be found in rotting logs. It is one of some 20 known species of large hissing roaches from Madagascar, many of which are kept as pets, and often confused with one another by pet dealers; in particular, G. portentosa is commonly confused with G. oblongonota[1] and G. picea.[2]

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 and the pronounced "horns" on the pronotum. Females carry the ootheca (egg case) internally, and release the young nymphs only after the eggs have hatched. As in some other wood-inhabiting 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.


As the name suggests, the Madagascar hissing cockroach is characterized by its hissing sound, produced when they force air through the respiratory openings (spiracles) found on each segment of their abdomen. The Madagascar hissing cockroach is one member of a group of roaches that can all hiss; this exact mode of sound production is, however, atypical, as most insects that make sound do so by rubbing together various body parts ("stridulation"). Some long-horned beetles, e.g., the giant Fijian long-horned beetle, hiss by squeezing air out from under their elytra, but this does not involve the spiracles. In hissing roaches, the hiss takes three forms: the disturbance hiss, the female-attracting hiss, and the fighting hiss. All cockroaches from the fourth instar (fourth molting cycle) and older are capable of the disturbance hiss. Only males use the female-attracting hiss and fighting hiss; the latter is used when challenged by other males (males will establish a dominance hierarchy, and a submissive male will back down to end a fight).

Associations with other animals[edit]

Hissing cockroach

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, unless they build up to abnormal levels.

Popular culture[edit]

The Madagascar hissing cockroach has been known to be featured in Hollywood movies, prominently in Bug (1975) as cockroaches who could set fires by rubbing their legs together and, in Damnation Alley (1977), as post-nuclear-war mutant armor-plated "killer" cockroaches. In Starship Troopers, 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 was shown in the movie 12 Monkeys when James Cole Bruce Willis picks one up in the snow in Baltimore, which was a mistake in the movie.

A Madagascar hissing cockroach has been used as the driver of a mobile robot.[3] They were used in the reality television series Fear Factor. The species also made an appearance in the movie Men In Black in 1997. This was later parodied in the comedy Team America: World Police (2004), where one emerges from Kim Jong-il's body after his death, enters a tiny spaceship, and flies away.

In September 2006, amusement park Six Flags Great America 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-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.[citation needed] 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, in which they were adorned with colorful decorations and attached to the models with a leash while they walked the runway dressed in the Jared Gold "Glinka" collection – getting very mixed reactions from the models (as one of them in particular harbored a phobia of cockroaches).[4]

Mutated Madagascar hissing cockroaches figure heavily into the plot of the comic book The Exterminators.

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 in Hollywood, CA, USA.

Tyler the Creator featured a hissing cockroach in his video for Yonkers off of the album Goblin during which he bites the thorax off of the cockroach before vomiting it up.[5]

In season 3 of Sony's serialized reality program The Tester, these cockroaches are featured in the first episode's challenge Bug Out, where each contestant will have a square-glass box placed over their head with the cockroaches in them and then interviewed by the judges.[6]

On Bad Girls All-Star Battle (season 2), in episode "Nobody Eats for Free", eating the hissing cockroaches was part of the battle challenge, "Price of Beauty".

On 12 July 2010, Yuri Samodurov and Andrei Erofeev, curators of the exhibition "Forbidden Art 2006", were being sentenced in the Tagansky Courthouse, Moscow, on charges of "inciting religious hatred". The conservative Orthodox group "People's Synod" had objected to exhibits which depicted Mickey Mouse and Lenin as Jesus Christ. Members of Voina entered the court building, intending to release approximately 3500 live Madagascan giant cockroaches. It is not clear to what extent they succeeded. The process of raising and collecting the roaches is documented, but no photographic evidence from inside the courthouse has been released. Activist Yekaterina Samutsevich, among those who planned to infiltrate the court with insects, was later prosecuted in the same courtroom, before being sentenced to probation in the Pussy Riot trial.[7]

As pets[edit]

Hissing roaches kept as pets

Madagascar's cockroaches can be kept as exotic pets. They require a small living area with an area for them to hide because they do not like the light. Due to their propensity to climb, the living area must be tested to see if they can climb it as they do in their natural environment. Fish tanks with screens work best but it is also wise to coat the first few inches with petroleum jelly to keep them from getting out of the habitat that you keep them in. 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. The state of Florida requires such a permit. In fact, during outreach programs, the University of Florida's 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 pregnant female into the environment.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Delfosse, E. (2004) Les blattes souffleuses de Madagascar. Insectes 153: 19-22.
  3. ^ "Cockroach Controlled Mobile Robot – Garnet Hertz". Retrieved 2011-04-04. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Tyler The Creator – Page. Interview Magazine. Retrieved on 2012-05-21.
  6. ^ The Teaster Season 3 Episode 1 – Bug Out! | Watch Full Episode – PlayStation®. (2012-05-14). Retrieved on 2012-05-21.
  7. ^ Voina


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