Living Hissing Cockraches at the Cockrell Butterfly Center

hiss offers protection from predators

Hissing cockroaches, Gromphadorhina portentosa, are endemic to the island of Madagascar.  This is the only place on earth that they can be found in the wild.  However, their large size and gentle nature has made them popular as pets!  Unlike most roaches, they are slow-moving and wingless, making them wonderful candidates for TV reality shows and horror movies.

The ability to hiss is a special adaptation that helps protect them from predators. They produce the hiss by forcing air through their breathing holes, called spiracles. Air passing through a few oddly shaped spiracles produces a noise that sounds a lot like a snake, something that many of their predators don’t want to investigate further.

Another unusual characteristic of these very cool creatures is the way young are produced.  Most cockroach females deposit egg cases in likely spots.  A female hisser, however, partially extrudes the egg case but then retracts it back into her body.  A few days later, the eggs hatch inside her and the female pushes them out of her abdomen, giving what appears to be live birth.  This phenomenon, called “ovovivipary,” is also known from some snakes.
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