Brief Summary

Blaberus giganteus is commonly known as the Giant Cockroach and is the largest neotropical cockroach by weight (Schal 1983). B. giganteus is found in the order of Blattodea and is characterized as having a flattened, oval shape body, leathery forewings, expansive hindwings, cerci, long legs that are adapted for running, and ootheca (Brusca, 1990).The Giant Cockroach shows sexual dimorphism. Females are slightly larger than the males but the approximate B. giganteus size is 7.5 cm long. In addition, this cockroach lives for an average of 2 years. B. giganteus is hemimetabolous, meaning that they go through three morphological changes as their age progresses; egg, nymph and adult. The nymphys look similar to the adult B. giganteus but are morphologically less developed.(Rasplus and Roques 2010). B. giganteus is found in neotropical regions and found occupying hollow trees, caves, and decomposing logs (Rasplus and Roques 2010). It is important to note that B. giganteus populations share these hollow tree and cavernous habitats with other animals such as bats, other arthorpods, and opossums (Janzen 1983). Bats are particularly important because they play a role in the oviposition of the female B. giganteus (Janzen 1983). Ovoviviparous B. gigantus cockroaches are supplied with an abundant food source, guano, from the bats that share the hollow trees and caves.

The B. giganteus species displays social and territorial behavior. The structure of a hollow tree allows for the territorial cockroaches to disperse throughout the tree and develop a hierarchy. According to Schal, hierarchy is displayed by the location of the perching site an individual B. giganteus obtains (Schal1983). Dominant males are perched in higher locations than less dominate males. As population size increases the amount of available perching sites decreases and more cockroaches attempt to cluster in the desirable perching locations; as a result competition increases. It is not known whether the higher perching location results in a higher success rate with receptive females (Janzen 1983). One example of B. giganteus oviposition occurs on the ground near guano. As a result, the females are moving upward from the base of the hollow tree once they become receptive. When this upward movement of the females is occuring males are more likely to find a receptive female towards the base of the tree (Janzen 1983).

B. giganteus is a nocturnal species that is found in moist conductions. During the day these cockroaches are generally not active and seek dry conditions and protected locations. As an adaptive mechanism, B. giganteus can burrow in response to an attack from a predator (Janzen 1983). Army ants are one example of B. giganteus predator and are known to invade the hollow tree habitats B. giganteus occupy. Blattodea cockroaches are scavengers and are known to eat the organic materials on the forest floor (Rasplus and Roques 2010). The Giant Cockroach specifically is a scavanger and also an omnivore.


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Blaberus giganteus

Female of Blaberus giganteus. Mounted specimen from French Guiana

The Central American Giant Cave Cockroach, 'Blaberus giganteus', is a cockroach belonging to the family Blaberidae.


Blaberus giganteus is considered one of the largest cockroaches in the world, with males being able to reach lengths of 7.5 cm and females 10 cm.[2][3] These cockroaches are lightly-built, with flattened bodies allowing them to hide in cracks from predators. Bodies are brown with black markings. [4] The wingspan of these insects is usually 5-6 inches. [5] Both males and females bear a paired appendages (cercus) on the last abdominal segment, but only the males have a pair of tiny hair-like appendages called styli. Adults bear two pairs of wings folding back over the abdomen.[4] The heavier females are less interested to fly. These cockroaches are closely related to the first winged insects that lived in the Carboniferous coal forests, about 200 million years ago. [4]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

This species is endemic to Central America and northern South America, and can be found naturally occurring in the rainforests.[6] It can be found in Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. [1] Habitat preferences include areas of high moisture and little light, such as caves, tree hollows, cracks in rocks, etc.[6]


As typical for all roaches, individuals undergo hemimetabolous metamorphosis, which means the change from juvenile to adult is gradual.[7]

Cockroaches grow gradually through hemimetabolous metamorphosis. There are three distinct stages in their life cycle that include egg, nymph, and adult. Only adults are able to reproduce and will have wings.[8] Prolonged nymphal stages along with additional molts can sometimes occur in B. giganteus for a number of reasons. One hypothesis is that the absence jostling and mutual stimulation which are found often in colony life could slow the developmental process.[9] In other instances lower temperatures and reduced humidity can lead to delayed maturation and an increase in the number of molts.[9] This is a response by the insect to unfavourable habitat conditions and can also be seen as a predatory response.

Their lifespan can be up to 20 months depending on habitat conditions and diet.[10]


Blaberus giganteus is a nocturnal omnivore and a scavenger, but the majority of its diet is decaying plant material.[2] Other food choices include bat guano, fruit, seeds and carrion.[2] It is often associated with bats roosts, both in caves and hollow trees.


Female (left) and male (right)

Two chemical signals play important roles in the sexual behaviour of B. giganteus.[11] The sex pheromone is released by the female and used in attracting mates that are long distances away.[11] The male will produce an aphrodisiac sex hormone from its tergal glands that will encourage female mounting.[11] Females choose the males with which they will mate, so this sexual selection becomes a major pressure and driving force behind evolution.[8] Carbohydrate intake has been found to be related to male sex pheromone expression, dominance status, and attractiveness more so than protein.[8] Males have been shown to have a preference for a high carbohydrate diet versus one focused on protein.[8] This would suggest they are actively increasing their carbohydrate consumption to maximize their reproductive fitness and attractiveness to potential female mates.[8] After mating, the female B. giganteus will be pregnant for life and stores the fertilized eggs in her ootheca, where they are incubated for roughly 60 days.[11] When the eggs are about to hatch, the female will expel the ootheca so the nymphs can break free and feed on their first meal, which consists of the ootheca.[11] After eating their fill, the young nymphs will burrow into soil or somewhere dark and remain there until they have molted numerous times and reached maturity.[11]

Defense against fungal infection[edit]

When exposed to infection or invasion of various microorganisms, insects have two general responses of their immune systems. In B. giganteus, such an invasion will elicit a humoral response, where specific proteins are produced or activated by the existence of a pathogen.[10] The fat body, which is usually associated with storing and releasing energy depending on demands, will induce several novel proteins when confronted with fungal cell walls.[10] Of interest is that the giant cockroach exhibits adaptive humoral responses.[10] That means their immune response has a specific memory similar to what can be found in mammalian immune systems.[10] This is beneficial for long-lived individuals, as they have increased chances of encountering the same infection numerous times.[10] The biological significance of these proteins has yet to be determined, but they are known to play a role in defense against fungal infections.[10]


Blaberus giganteus has a special relationship with a genus of obligate flavobacterial endosymbiont called Blattabacterium sp.[2] They engage in a host microbe relationship.[2] The microbe's job is to take nitrogenous waste such as urea and ammonia and process it into amino acids that can be used by the cockroach.[2] This is very beneficial to the giant cockroach because overall its diet is plant based and considered very nitrogen poor.[2] Even though carbohydrate consumption is beneficial in mating it does not play an active role in male to male competition.[8]


Cockroaches always have three legs in synchronous contact with the ground during movement.[12] The three legs are classified as the leading leg, middle leg, and trailing leg and the leading and trailing leg from one side with the middle leg of the other side will form a tripod.[12] The leading leg will pull the body, while the trailing leg pushes the middle leg forward.[12] The middle leg is important because it will act as a pivot and creates the characteristic zigzag locomotion.[12] The process will be repeated with the next tripod and to move forward the tripods alternate.[12] The ability of cockroaches to have ground reaction force distributed equally to these three legs is explained by joint torque minimization.[12] Joint torque minimization has been shown to help limit mechanical, energy, and metabolism demands, and can also decrease the axial load on a single leg.[12] Cockroaches can easily walk up a 45˚ slope on a smooth surface with little to no difficulty.[12] However, aged cockroaches or cockroaches with damaged tarsi can overcome such slopes only with difficulty.

Muscle metabolism and respiratory system[edit]

Giant Cockroach "Blaberus giganteus" at the Cincinnati Zoo

The rate of oxygen consumption in some animals and in insects is proportionate to body weight.[13] Oxygen consumption will increase with activity and will be subject to rhythmical cycles of activity exhibited in cockroaches.[13] Because cockroaches do not have lungs to breathe, they take in air through small holes on the sides of the body known as spiracles.[13] Attached to these spiracles are tubes called tracheae that will branch throughout the body of the cockroach until they associate with each cell.[13] Oxygen will diffuse across the thin cuticle and carbon dioxide will diffuse out, and this allows cockroaches to deliver oxygen to cells directly without relying on blood like humans.[13] There can be differences in oxygen consumption between sexes of the same organism. Oxygen consumption in the mixed red and white muscles of mature male B. giganteus was higher when compared to mature females.[13] This is likely due to sex-related differences of sex hormones causing increased accumulation of oxidized substrates or increased concentration of enzymes in muscles in males.[13] Males have been shown to have higher levels of glycogen and mitochondria in muscle cells.[13] Because B. giganteus is so large, they are assumed to have a higher metabolic rate versus other cockroaches, such as Periplaneta americana, but in comparison they are quite sluggish.[13] Rates of oxygen consumption are significantly higher in P. americana when compared to B. giganteus likely due to higher daily rhythmic activity.[13]


Hemolymph is the fluid used in some arthropod circulatory systems, including insects, to fills the interior hemocoel.[14] Hemolymph is composed of water, inorganic salts, and organic compounds.[14] Some of the organic compounds are free amino acids, and the content will vary by species in terms of which amino acids are present and their overall concentrations.[14] The amino acids present in B. giganteus are alanine, arginine, cysteine, glutamic acid, glycine, histidine, leucine, proline, threonine, tyrosine, and valine.[14] The amino acids present in greatest proportions were glutamic acid, alanine, glycine, and histidine.[14] The overall concentration of amino acids is roughly 265 mg/100 ml of hemolymph.[14] The presence of alanine, cysteine, glutamic acid, leucine, proline, tyrosine and valine is shared among different species of cockroaches, such as Blattella germanica and Periplaneta americana.[14] The presence of arginine, however, is species-specific to B. giganteus.[14]


  1. ^ a b George Beccaloni, David C. Eades. Blattodea Species File - Blaberus giganteus
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Huang. C. Y., Sabree, Z. L. and Moran, N.A. 2012. Genome Sequence of Blattabacterium sp. Strain BGIGA, Endosymbiont of the Blaberus giganteus Cockroach. Journal of Bacteriology. 194: 4450-4451.
  3. ^ Huang. C. Y., Sabree, Z. L. and Moran, N.A. 2012. Genome Sequence of Blattabacterium sp. Strain BGIGA, Endosymbiont of the Blaberus giganteus Cockroach. Journal of Bacteriology. 194: 4450-4451.
  4. ^ a b c Stephen W. Bullington Biology and Captive-Breeding of the Giant Cockroach Blaberus giganteus
  5. ^ Allpet Roaches
  6. ^ a b Smith, A. J. and Cook, T, J. 2008. Host Specificity of Five Species of Eugregarinida Among Six Species of Cockroaches (Insecta:Blattodea). Comparative Parasitology. 75: 288-291.
  7. ^ Kambhampati, S. 1995. A Phylogeny of Cockroaches and Related Insects Based on DNA Sequence of Mitochondrial Ribosomal RNA genes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 92:2017-2020.
  8. ^ a b c d e f South, S.H., House, C.M., Moore, A.J., Simpson, S.J., and Hunt, J. 2011. Male Cockroaches Prefer a Higher Carbohydrate Diet That Makes Them More Attractive to Females: Implications for the Study of Condition Dependence. Evolution. 65: 1594-1606.
  9. ^ a b Banks, W.M. 1969. Observations on the Rearing and Maintenance of Blaberus giganteus(Orthoptera: Blaberidae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America. 62: 1311-1312.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Bidochka, M.J., St. Leger, R.J., and Roberts, D.W. 1997. Induction of Novel Proteins in Manduca sexta and Blaberus gigantus as a Response to Fungal Challenge. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology. 70: 184-189.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Sreng, L. 1993. Cockroach Mating Behaviours, Sex-Pheromones, and Abdominal Glands (Dictyoptera, Blaberidae). Journal of Insect Behaviour. 6: 715-735.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Günther, M., and Weihmann, T. 2011. The Load Distribution Among Three Legs on the Wall: Model Predictions for Cockroaches. Archive of Applied Mechanics. 81: 1269- 1287.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bruce, A.L. and Banks, W.M. 1973. Metabolism of Muscle of Cockroach Blaberus giganteus. Annals of the Entomological Society of America. 66: 1209-1212.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h Banks, W.M., and Randolph, E.F. 1968. Free Amino Acids in the Cockroach Blaberus giganteus. Annals of the Entomological Society of America. 61: 1027-1028.
  • Hogue, Charles Leonard (1993). Latin American insects and entomology - University of California Press. p. 175

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