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Madagascar Hissing Cockroach

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A Madagascar hissing cockroach photographed at Lincoln Children's Zoo in Nebraska

About the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach

This insect looks—and sounds—like anything but a run-of-the-mill roach. Madagascar hissing cockroaches are one of many fascinating animal species to hail from the island of Madagascar.

Horns and Hissing

These cockroaches are shiny brown and oval-shaped, with no wings and a single pair of antennae. Males sport large horns, which give them an unusual and impressive appearance.

Males use their horns in aggressive encounters reminiscent of battles between horned or antlered mammals. Rivals ram one another with their horns (or abdomens) and during the fight often unleash the amazing hisses that give the animal its name. Winning roaches hiss more than losers, so the sounds may be used to help determine a roach hierarchy.

Hissing is also part of the cockroach's mating ritual, and can be used as an effective alarm cry. Most insects that make noise do so by rubbing their body parts together or by employing vibrating membranes. Madagascar hissing cockroaches, however, exhale air through their breathing holes. This audible use of the respiratory system is far more common in vertebrates.

Habitat and Diet

Like 99 percent of all cockroach species, Madagascar hissing cockroaches are not pests and do not inhabit human dwellings. These insects live on forest floors, where they hide amidst leaf litter, logs, and other detritus. At night, they become more active and scavenge for meals, feeding primarily on fruit or plant materials.

Reproduction

The Madagascar hissing cockroach even begins its life in an unusual manner. Females create a cocoon-like egg case called an ootheca and carry their eggs (and neonatal nymphs) inside their bodies. They then bear living young—as many as 60 nymph roaches.


WATCH: Cockroach vs. Cockroach—See How These Insects Fight For Love

New research shows that male Madagascar hissing cockroaches with smaller horns—which they use in battle over females—compensate with larger testicles that may help them fertilize females.