Best Pet for Children: Why Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches Are Ideal

Madagascar hissing cockroaches are timid despite their intimidating exterior. These cockroaches are an ideal pet for kids who aren’t afraid of bugs. Wikimedia Commons

Are hissing cockroaches the must-have holiday gift of the year? Maybe not, but they are readily available to buy and are arguably one of the most obscure and unique pets you could own. We spoke with an entomologist, or bug scientist, about the pros and cons of this exotic pet.

"I've had them many times. They are so gentle. The only thing is they do sort of hiss when you touch them at first, but they don't run very fast and are endearing because they are so slow," said Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, Ph.D, an urban entomology expert involved with New York State Integrated Pest Management Program at Cornell University.

The Madagascar hissing cockroach is not to be confused with your commonplace house roach. Measuring 2 to 3 inches long, this giant bug has no wings and prefers a strictly vegetarian diet of fresh greens. Nothing rotting or moldy will do, unlike its urban cousin.

As for the name, the roach does hiss, usually when it's scared, such as when a human may try and pick it up, National Geographic reports. Male bugs may also hiss when fighting over a female, and hissing is also part of the mating ritual and used as an alarm for other roaches.

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Although the roaches hail from the exotic island of Madagascar, off the coast of Africa, they are available for purchase as a pet pretty much anywhere. The cockroaches can be purchased on Amazon for as low as $5.95. Popular pet stores, such as Petco, also carry the exotic bug. You can also buy the bugs from specialist retailers who focus on insects in order to ensure the best quality of bug.

The only question now is, Should you do it?

According to Gangloff-Kaufmann, the roaches actually make pretty good pets. Arguably the worst trait about urban roaches—their tendency to infest our homes—is virtually impossible for their Madagascar cousins.

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Urban cockroaches have certain adaptations that allow them to infest our homes, she explained, such as living in walls and feeding on garbage and sewage. Hissing cockroaches don't have any of these traits. "They [hissing cockroaches] prefer healthier, fresher foods and can't survive in our climate without help," which makes them unable to live in our homes outside their cages.

And in case you were worrying (I was): These roaches are completely safe and could not bite or hurt you even if they wanted to.

Madagascar hissing cockroaches aren't completely without their drawbacks, however. Gangloff-Kaufmann explains that although these pets are low maintenance, you can't ignore them completely.

The hissing cockroach can get loose without the proper cage, and it can “reproduce like crazy” (though only with a proper mate). By Ltshears (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

"As far as cleaning the tank, you have to pay attention to them to make sure they have fresh water and there is no rotting food," said Gangloff-Kaufmann, explaining that if food is left to rot the pet cage can begin to smell.

In addition, the roaches have a tendency to get loose if they don't have the right kind of cage. Couple this with the fact that they "reproduce like crazy," and you could have tons of tiny roaches roaming throughout your home. (However, to do so they require a mate—and a non-Madagascar hissing cockroach is not suitable.)

"You find them under things like books. They get everywhere, but they don't always survive, and you'll usually find them dead," said Gangloff-Kaufmann.

Ultimately, the roaches make easy pets, and they are ideal for "kids who aren't afraid of bugs," Gangloff-Kaufmann said. If you can get past the fact that you purposely have a giant roach living in your home then it may make an interesting holiday gift for the kid who wants to be anything but ordinary.