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THE RHINOCEROS COCKROACH
... as a pet?

"Yeeachhh!! Can he be serious?", you're wondering, right? "Cockroaches? As PETS?"
You're picturing those awful creepy-crawlies that scarper as soon as you flick on the kitchen light in the middle of the night ... those great ponderous brown things with huge wings, that fly at your face when you open the balcony door in summer, right?

Well, not exactly. In fact, these are a whole lot bigger. BUT, they're also a whole lot cleaner and friendlier. Hmm, I can tell you're not convinced yet. Well, for a start, they're wingless, so they can't fly at you or terrorize the dog. Secondly, they don't have those little suckers on their feet, so they can't climb out of their tank and all over you as you sleep. Still not happy? Well, they're big, yes, but they're ponderously s l o w . . . so they won't dart this way and that without warning like less user-friendly insects. Oh, and did I mention - they're clean and don't carry any diseases. Er, you'll just have to trust me on that one.

The Giant Burrowing Cockroach or Rhinoceros Cockroach or Litter Bug (Macropanesthia rhinoceros) is one of Australia's biggest little wonders! It is native to North Queensland, yet it's actually one of the biggest cockroaches in the world, measuring up to 80mm (3.15 inches) long and weighing in at up to 35 grams.

Australia has about 450 native species of cockroach which are not pests. They are mainly bush dwellers. There are in fact only around six species of pest cockroach in Australia - found in just about every house - and most are introduced (i.e. not native Australian) species.

You won't find any Rhinoceros Cockroaches inside your house, unless of course you bring a couple home as pets! As well as being wingless, slow moving and clean, they're perfectly odourless, so they do indeed make great pets - even a great gift for that special someone who has everything (including a sense of humour!)

In their natural habitat they construct burrows up to one metre deep in sandy soil. Nowhere else in the world, besides Australia, do cockroaches construct permanent underground burrows where they live. Their staple diet is dry, dead gum (eucalypt) leaves, so in the wild, they do in fact perform a useful ecological role through recycling nutrients in the bush.

At home, you can keep them in a fish tank or virtually any container, with a 3cm depth of Propagating Sand. this is a medium to coarse grade, washed river sand - available from plant nurseries. If you happen to live in Western Australia, you're outta luck though - that's the only State or Territory where you are not allowed to keep insects as pets. (Nor can insects be exported out of or imported into Australia - dead or alive - without certain permits.)

They're easy to care for - simply keep the sand moist, and feed them dry, brown gum leaves. You need have no worries about them escaping - they can't fly or climb out of their container. Unlike the household pest varieties which will eat just about anything including the glue off the back of your wallpaper, Macropanesthia rhinoceros will die without its staple diet of gum leaves. Oh, and one other very important point - it will never breed to plague proportions either, as they only reproduce once a year, at the most.

HANDLING AND CARE

- HOUSING-

Container
In their natural environment, Giant Burrowing or Rhinoceros Cockroaches live in burrows up to one metre (about 3 feet) below the surface. They have adapted to living in cramped quarters, so virtually any small container will suffice. A fish tank is ideal.

It is not absolutely necessary for the container to have a lid as the cockroaches can't climb or fly, but there will be less evaporation with a lid, and it will offer some protection from insecticides, not to mention curious household pets.

At the risk of appearing somewhat obvious - do keep them well away from all forms of insecticide. 'Cockroach Bombs' are especially dangerous!

Sand and Water
In nature they live in sandy soil, but when in a container they must be kept only in sand. If there is any soil included it will compact due to lack of drainage and aeration, and the cockroaches will be left with mud caked around their legs and head.

Propagating Sand, which can be bought very cheaply from plant nurseries, is ideal. A depth of 2 to 3 centimetres is adequate. A greater depth will allow you to control the moisture content more easily, as it won't tend to dry out so quickly, but your pets may remain buried a little more. Experiment if you like with having deep sand up one end of the tank and shallow sand at the other.

It is critical to keep the sand uniformly moist (not just surface damp) - never allow it to dry out completely, or your pets may die of dehydration. On the other hand, don't water-log, or they could drown. The easiest way to control the moisture content is to saturate a few rolled-up facial tissues and bury them. The excess water will then gradually soak into the surrounding sand.

In large containers such as fish tanks, it is fine to have moist sand on one side and dry sand on the other, in order to give your pets some variety.

Too much water or humidity may allow mould to develop. You can control this by alternately covering and uncovering the container. If you go away for holidays in summer, it's best to leave the container covered, so things won't dry out too quickly.

Providing the tissues are kept wet, your pets will require no additional drinking water.

Temperature and Light
Inside their natural burrows the temperature remains about 20 degrees Centigrade (about 68 degrees Fahrenheit) all year. Their preferred temperature range is 18 - 26 degrees, so keep them in a warm place in winter. If the temperature remains consistently below 10 degrees, a heating arrangement in the form of a 40 watt bulb is advised. If it gets really cold, a better heating system must be implemented.

The cockroaches don't appear to mind whether they are kept in the dark or light but take care not to expose them to direct sunlight for long periods - this can kill them.

Cleaning
This has got to be the most easy to care for pet. Their container does not even require cleaning. For appearance sake you may wish to remove droppings occasionally, but this is not a critical requirement.

The cockroaches like to burrow, so occasionally loosen up the sand, as it tends to become packed.

- FEEDING -

The staple diet of the Rhinoceros Cockroach is dried, dead gum leaves, which they collect from the surface. So obtain dead leaves from the ground or from dead branches. They won't eat leaves which are green or yellow or damp, i.e. any leaves containing moisture are unsuitable. They prefer leaves which are crushed, rather than whole. They also prefer the less aromatic types, although this isn't critical. A handful of leaves at a time will be sufficient, and discard old uneaten leaves from time to time.

They will also nibble the bark from gum twigs, and may sample a variety of fruits and vegetables, e.g. banana, apple, carrot, lettuce, potato etc., but remove any uneaten portions after a few days, or they will go mouldy.

If you do vary their diet, always ensure that they have their gum leaves as well - whilst common household roaches can survive on virtually anything, the Rhinoceros Cockroach will die without its natural diet of dry leaves.

- HANDLING -

Unlike pest varieties, the Rhinoceros Cockroach is clean (honestly!) and perfectly safe to handle.

They won't bite, but they do have powerful, spiny legs, which can sometimes feel a bit sharp. These enable the creature to burrow so efficiently that it can disappear into the soil in under a minute. They will usually remain on the surface, unless you provide them with a lot of sand. In this case they can stay buried for long periods, but they don't appear to mind being frequently dug up, as long as they are handled gently.

They don't usually mind being handled, and may even make a soft hissing sound when stroked gently, but please don't ever handle them roughly - this could kill them.

You may occasionally notice tiny mites on your pets. Don't be alarmed - these exist in a 'symbiotic relationship' with the cockroach - which is to say that both creatures live together for their mutual benefit. The mites help to keep the roaches clean, and they need to stay on a cockroach to survive. They are not harmful to people, so if one gets onto you it won't hurt or become a pest - it will simply fall off and die.

BREEDING, GROWTH AND CARE FOR THE YOUNG

The Rhinoceros Cockroach is not a prolific breeder, by any means. In nature, an adult female will produce only one litter of between five and thirty young, each year. In captivity, litters tend to be on the smaller side. They are born alive, i.e. no eggs are laid. This typically occurs around November/December (ie. early summer), although depending on the season it could be as late as February. There is commonly a 10% mortality rate in the first twelve months.

In nature, the nymphs may stay with their mother for up to nine months, living on food provided by her. After they leave, each constructs a burrow of its own. In caring for young ones as pets, you should crush up gum leaves especially finely for them.

It takes three to four years to reach maturity, and Rhinoceros Cockroaches may live as long as ten years. A better value pet I am yet to find! A fully grown adult can weigh up to 35 grams and measure up to 80mm long. No other cockroach in the world is more massive than this.

They grow by shedding their outer shell from time to time. This happens 12 or 13 times before the cockroach reaches full size. When a cockroach moults it will appear pure white except for the eyes. You can easily be fooled into thinking you have an albino cockroach! They are extremely fragile at this stage, and should not be handled. The colour will gradually darken over about a day or so. Rarely will you find any shells left, as they are nutritious, and quickly eaten by the cockroaches.

Adult males are distinguished by their more concave, shovel-shaped dorsal shield, or pronotum, which covers the head. The cockroach actually uses this as a shovel whilst burrowing. It's mature shape doesn't develop fully until the insect is three or four years old when it becomes adult, so telling the sexes apart up until then is a little more tricky. The males actually have an extra segment at the hind end of the abdomen, which can be seen from the underside, but a magnifying glass is required to see this in young cockroaches.

So, are you convinced yet? If you've read this far, then perhaps you've got what it takes to own one of the world's truly unique pets...I can't sell you any, but you can try some of the Where To Buy links at the bottom of this page.

If you can't get your mits on any, but I've pitched this well enough to convince you that a cockroach is the right pet for you, there are some other possibilities. There's the forbidding megablatta of Central America, for one. And who could forget the popular Madagascar Hissing Roach (Gromphadorhina portentosa - well known for its vocal prowess) which grows to 78mm in length...


Now pay a visit to Ralph's Robo-Roach Page ... if you dare ...

Where To Buy?
The following may have stock of Macropanesthia rhinoceros:

The Australian Insect Farm (Australia) Click both here and here. (Don't confuse them with "Rhinoceros Beetles" which they also sell.)

The Green Scorpion (Australia)

Travelbugs Mobile Mini-Beasts (Australia) Click Services then Live Mini-beasts. (There's a note on the page that says "Unfortunately, we are currently NOT selling any live mini-beasts due to other commitments" but it's worth checking back there sometime in case this changes.)

Double D's (U.S.A.)

TheHissingRoach.com (U.S.A.) They sell Hissers, but not actually M. rhinoceros

If you sell M. rhinoceros and would like to be listed here, please contact me via clicking on the 'Contact Us' link on the left of this page.

 

And here are some other Roachy pages you may like to visit:

Yucky Roach World
The Compleat Cockroach
Peavy's Roach Site (German)
InsectaCulture (some good pix here)
The Madagascan Giant Hissing Roach
Ryan's Cockroach Page
Cockroach Chronicals
Allpet Roaches
MegaRoaches
Petbugs.com
Chris's Bugs

Articles:
Australian roaches acquire pet status
Largest fossil cockroach found
Cuddle your pet cockroach