Cockroach Care for the Pet Roach, and Feeder Roach Care Sheet for Reptiles and Amphibians
Before you read to much further, please keep in mind that any roach care sheet on the Internet will likely reflect the experiences of a single person. While I like to think my credibility is high, due in part to the fact I co-moderate and maintain the hobby's most popular Roach Forum (Roachforum.com), I still want to be very clear about the benefit of owning a good book on cockroach care. In truth, there is only one out there and I will not pretend that my roach caresheet even begins to cover what is available in the book "Allpet Roaches: Care and Identification Handbook for the Pet and Feeder Cockroaches", by Orin McMonigle and "Roachman" Willis. We sell this book through the website. The caresheet below should be enough to get you by if you're purchasing your first pet cockroach. While this is undoubtedly one of the best and most extensive online care sheets on the subject, I make no effort here to write an entire book's worth of content. Please feel free to email me with specific questions or suggestions for this caresheet.
Roach Caresheet categories:
Housing/Habitats (for display or for breeding feeder roaches)
Humidity (Drinking and Molting)
Temperature (with discussion on breeding)
Introduction: First, let's point out that less than 1% of roach species are pest species! Roaches are among the easiest pet insects to care for. Roach enthusiasts enjoy the fact that many species get quite large and can be kept together in colonies. A surprising array of patterns and bright colors are exhibited by many of the species in the hobby. It's a shame that Western society has such a stigma attached to cockroaches. A few pest species have given a bad name to an otherwise clean and safe animal. For the purposes of this caresheet, I'll classify roaches into three sizes: small, medium and large species. Young roaches are referred to as nymphs. Adults are simply referred to as adults. Cockroaches grow by shedding their skin and cease shedding once they become adults. Before the final shed they are referred to as sub-adults. Many adult roaches have wings, though many species are completely wingless. Roaches could be classified as either glass/plastic climbers or non-climbers. I'll discuss the benefits and requirements for keeping both in the various sections below.
Housing: While very few of the species available in the hobby are capable of infesting homes, nearly all roach species are escape artists. With this in mind, proper containment is essential. Obviously, choosing a container size is a first step. Roaches are very communal and will often cluster together even if they are offered a large cage. Cockroaches prefer a cage that is wider than tall. While roaches enjoy climbing up branches or bark in their habitats, they spend most of the daylight hours hiding. These tend to be nocturnal bugs, so fewer hiding spots means more visibility for you. However, anything you put in the cage increases the surface area (living area) for the roaches. Pieces of bark or wood work great, but many hobbyists prefer to use disposable paper egg cartons. If you are raising small roaches of a glass/plastic climbing species, you will may want to rub a 2 inch layer of petroleum jelly around the upper area of the habitat. This product is sometimes sold under the name "roach barrier" by dealers in the roach hobby though it is available in the pharmacy or toiletries sections of your local department store. This is really a necessary product if your lid is anything less than perfectly sealed.
Display- A ten gallon aquarium seems to be the standard of measure that most people are familiar with. Up to 30 large adult roaches can live in a cage this size, if given ample layers of egg cartons. Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches are the most popular pet roach and are one of the largest species in the hobby (both in terms of length and weight/mass). A ten gallon glass aquarium from your local pet store could easily house several hundred cockroaches of a small species (or the young nymphs of a large species). I might as well give a plug for the environment and suggest you shop the garage sales during summertime for used equipment. Everybody is always getting rid of their old stuff. You might also try craigslist.com. If fed regularly, your roaches will be less likely to nibble on each others wings or antennae. Some species are more prone to this than others and it should be noted that antennae are fragile anyway and are occasionally damaged during shipment.
For Breeding Feeder Roaches in large numbers- I recommend a large plastic bin. I prefer a transparent bin because it's easier to see when the food or water dish is getting low. However, many people prefer to use bins that are not transparent because roaches do just fine in dark conditions (and maybe because these bins are cheaper?). Plastic buckets are also used by a handful of hobbyists because they tend to be absolutely escape-proof.
Substrate is the term used to describe what you line the bottom of the habitat with. I prefer coconut fiber as it retains moisture for a very long time and also inhibits the growth of mold. Peat moss is also very good and available at garden stores. Dirt is okay, but wet dirt is much more prone to mold and uninvited bug-visitors usually show up pretty quickly. Newspaper works, though it's far from attractive.
Ventilation: All pets that are being housed in containers need fresh air. A little bit of air flow goes a long way in preventing the kind of habitat that promotes the growth of mold and even small mites that occasionally infest food that is left too long in roach cages. Ventilation is achieved simply by poking holes in a container or by cutting out a section of the lid and gluing a bit of plastic or metal screen over the opening.
Humidity: Humidity is doubly important for pet bugs. Roaches like to drink water and they need a bit of environmental humidity in their habitat when the time comes for them to shed their skin. Luckily, roaches have fewer problems molting than most other bugs. However, larger species of Blaberus do need vertical surfaces with a bit of texture to them as they molt into maturity. Otherwise, their wings will not dry properly, resulting in a wrinkled appearance. Water is offered to roaches in two common methods. A small, shallow water dish is preferred. A deep water dish may result in drown bugs. The addition of a few pebbles will help prevent drowning. If you don't want to spend the couple bucks for a nice looking water dish, any upside-down lid will do. Alternatively, you can just pour water into one corner of the cage every few days. The substrate will absorb most of it, but your roaches will still be able to drink from it and benefit from the humidity that it helps their habitat to maintain.
Temperature: Room temperature is just find for raising all pet roach species, whether nymphs or adults. However, adults of many species require temperatures above 80 degrees to reproduce. Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, for example, will usually not reproduce below 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit. As with most bugs, warmer temperatures and a good food supply mean faster growth. Cold temperatures lower metabolism and the roaches will grow much more slowly.
Food: One of the really great conveniences about keeping roaches as pets is how easy they are to feed. Roaches are omnivores, so they eat pretty much anything and everything. Everything from fruits and vegetables to grains are breads are eaten. Dried pet food is offered by many hobbyists and some species actually require this protein component for healthy growth and reproduction. One of the fun parts about keeping roaches is that you can experiment with offering them leftovers from your dinner table. Some people even keep roaches exclusively to reduce the amount of garbage that would otherwise end up in a landfill! Roaches can definitely compost your leftover dinner scraps. I'd recommend against offering them meat scraps, just because of the potential bacterial growth that might occur.
Incubation: Some species of roaches are live-bearing (live birth to nymphs) and some lay oothecae (egg cases that later hatch). In either case, a minimum of 75 degrees F and even ten degrees warmer are recommended for many species.