By Jonathan Rheins
Meet the Roach
As a whole, herpetoculturists are a resourceful bunch. For decades and decades we have studied, maintained, and bred a large number of diverse species in an artificial environment. Over the years, fore-thinking herpers of all backgrounds have scratched their collective head and struggled with all of the “what-ifs” and “maybes” of our hobby.
In addition to creative solutions regarding lighting, heating, and housing needs, we have also made great strides in the realm of nutrition. Perhaps the most important being those of the constantly evolving list of tried and tested live feeder options.
Be they crickets, mealworms, mice, or rats, there are a growing number of feeders that have become mainstream staples for those wishing to keep reptiles and amphibians as pets.
However, other options exist for even the pickiest insectivore palate. Roaches. Yes, the scurrying, invincible, invertebrate denizens of our nightmares can actually provide an incredibly healthy and balanced diet for cold-blooded creatures of all shapes and sizes.
It should come as no surprise to many readers, but not all roach species are our friends. Pest species can certainly wreck havoc on the pantry and nerves of even the most liberal naturalist. That said, even the venerable commercial cricket can just as easily outwit our human coordination and “make a run for it.”
Fortunately for us, most of the commercially available roach species are of tropical origin and simply cannot thrive in the relatively cool and dry conditions of many regions of the United States. In the case of accidental escape, these roaches will most likely die off rather than initiate a plague of any sort.
The commercial breeding of roaches for herpeteculture use is quite new to many American keepers. However, these misunderstood arthropods have long been commonplace feeders in European collections and in those of zoological institutions and professional breeders throughout the world.
The consensus among many reptile keepers and breeders who are in the know is that of all the roaches out there, Blaptica dubia
are as close to perfect as a roach species can be. They are easy to deal with, nutritionally sound, and absolutely irresistible to every herp they meet.
Blaptica dubia is a medium sized, South American roach species belonging to the family Blaberidae. All genera within this family are ovoviviparous. In cases of ovoviviparity, fertilized eggsacs known as oothicas are carried internally by the female roach until the eggs are fully developed. Hatching takes place within the abdomen of the female, and at that time baby roaches (nymphs) emerge as fully developed miniature versions of the adults.
Within the United States, common names for B. dubia
include Orange-spotted roach, Guyana-spotted roach, and most commonly, theDubia roach
. Latinized scientific names are always the most reliable system for describing any animal species. Furthermore, the use of Latin names ensures that the roaches being purchased, bred, or sold are identified in a consistent and accurate manner.
Dubia roaches are approximately 1/8 inch long at birth and measure just shy of 2 inches in length at maturity. Adult dubia are sexually dimorphic, with males and females being easy to pick apart at a glance. Males posses large wings that extend the length of the abdomen, while females have only small wing stubs, barely covering the “shoulder” region.
Flight among dubia roaches is very rare. Despite being capable of hovering for short periods, this is a behavior that most keepers will never witness nor need to be overly concerned about. Furthermore, B. dubia are poor climbers, and are nearly incapable of climbing smooth surfaces such as glass, acrylic, and plastic.
Breeding roaches for use as feeders is not a difficult endeavor, and maintaining multiple colonies is a worthwhile consideration if many herps are being maintained, or if feeder availability is locally seasonal or absent. The details of breeding dubia roaches are beyond the scope of this article, but can be easily researched and implemented by the interested hobbyist.
As with any live feeder, having a secure container to house them in until needed is highly recommended for keeping dubia roaches. The use of a holding container allows for more roaches to be purchased at once, saving on feeder runs and shipping. Furthermore, small roaches or nymphs can be purchased and raised up until they are the perfect size for being fed off.
While not strictly necessary, the use of a tight-fitting and well-ventilated lid is highly recommended. There are many acceptable containers for temporarily housing dubia roaches including small glass terrariums
, plastic faunarium critter keepers
, and deli cups
Substrates are not needed in dubia habitats, and using them may actually make cleaning and collection of tiny roaches more difficult. Dubia roaches have very little odor, and if attention is paid to cleanliness, ventilation, and removal of uneaten foods, there should be minimal smell associated with the roach container.
Hiding and climbing structures should be added such as cardboard toilet paper tubes, egg crates
, or even vertically stacked cardboard pieces. These will provide increased standing room for larger groups of roaches by allowing them to spread out and not smother each other. Roaches that feel hidden and secure will thrive and grow faster than those under constant stress.
B. dubia is capable of surviving at temperatures between 70 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit, making them quite tough and adaptable. Roaches kept at room temperature will survive and fare well, but as temperatures increase, more rapid growth will become evident.
Feeder insects are only as healthy and wholesome as the foods they eat themselves. Offering hungry, malnourished feeders to herps is akin to a human eating a hamburger that is nothing but an empty bun! What’s on the inside is quite important in ensuring that a meal (roach, hamburger, or otherwise) is nutritionally well rounded.
The process of providing water and nutritious foods to future prey items is known as gutloading. Feeders that have been gutloaded are many times more nutritious than “empty” feeders, and careful planning can allow for specific nutrients to be added or removed from the diet as needed.
There is more to gutloading roaches than just keeping them alive.
Just as with any other living creatures, they should never be deprived of food and water for any period of time.
B. dubia are opportunistic scavengers and in the wild they feed constantly on nearly any plant or animal matter they come across.
Fortunately, replicating such a diet for our feeder roaches is exceptionally simple.
After all, roaches are one of nature’s most devoted recyclers, and not very picky about their menu. A staple diet of commercial insect gutloads such as Repashy Bug Burger, Nature Zone Total Bites, or Fluker’s Orange Cubes work very well. Supplement the diet with fresh fruits and vegetables as well as unsweetened cereals and grains.
Being the poor climbers that they are, food for dubia roaches should not be offered in feed dishes that are more than a few centimeters in height. Rather, use a piece of paper, deli lid, or shallow dish to offer food. Avoid placing food directly on the floor of the container in the interest of cleanliness and mold prevention.
Moisture should be provided at all times in the form of fresh produce and the use of a water replacement crystal/gel such as Nature Zone Water Bites
. These gels provide water and increase container humidity without the risk of roach drowning.
Handling dubia roaches and offering them as feeders is not as complicated as one may expect. While dubia roaches can run, they cannot jump or fly, and like mealworms, they cannot escape from smooth-sided feeding dishes.
Appropriately sized roaches can be easily shaken off of their egg crate and directly into a wide mouthed jar or even through a funnel. Appropriate powdered supplements can be added as per the traditional “shake-and-bake” method.
with smooth, steep sides work very well for offering dubia roaches to mostreptile species. Worm dishes designed specifically for use with live mealworms can also work quite well depending on the size and quantity of roaches being presented. Some creativity and experimentation may be needed to get it just right for any given situation.
In glass enclosures, rack systems, or other roach proof reptile terrariums, dubia roaches may be dumped directly into the enclosure and allowed to picked off over time by the hungry resident. Many reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and even fish will learn to eagerly snatch dubia roaches straight from the end of a pair of tongs!
Roaches may be slowed down before offering to herps that are less enthusiastic about hunting. This can be accomplished by placing the roaches in the freezer 1 for-minute increments until the desired level of sluggishness has been achieved. Responsibility and good judgment are musts for anyone wishing to chill their roaches.
Dubia roaches are less likely to cause unexpected harm to terrarium residents than some other feeder insects. This is not to say that dozens of excess roaches will not cause stress or possible injury to an innocent leopard gecko. It is however worth mentioning that a few uneaten roaches are not likely to bother most reptile pets. Care should be taken however to avoid creating roach breeding conditions within a large, complicated terrarium.
Hit or Miss
There are many advantages to incorporating dubia roaches into the diet of captive reptiles and amphibians. Dubia are a hardy roach species, they are unable to climb smooth surfaces, are nearly odorless, and are highly nutritious. Furthermore, they are nearly irresistible to herps of all types.
However, despite this laundry list of qualifications, dubia are still a species of cockroach, and thus carry the heavy burden of a biased public. After all, roaches can become household pests in many parts of the world. It is understandable then for newcomers to question bringing roaches of any type into their homes.
Overall, and with basic attention to detail, dubia roaches really do make excellent feeders. They are readily available, reasonably priced, and perhaps best of all, no one will be kept awake all night by their insistent chirps!
Dubia roaches pose little threat of escape or domestic infestation. They are just as easy to handle and manage as any other invertebrate feeder, and properly kept dubia roaches will have no objectionable odor.
Dubia roaches are rapidly encroaching on the fringe of what dictates a “normal feeder.” While they are new to the scene, and unfamiliar to many, they hold a tremendous amount of promise as an easy, readily available food source for animals of all sorts.
Herps love them, as do tarantulas, scorpions, and fish. Even picky eaters will jump upon the opportunity to have their dubia fill. Feeder roaches may not be for every keeper or every herp. But given the proper circumstances, dubia roaches could easily prove to be among the most perfect feeders.