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. Cockroaches
photo of woodroach babies photo of woodie with egg podCommon name:  Cockroach,  Woodroache,  Woodroach, Woodie.

(click on photos to enlarge - 67kb & 82kb)

Scientific name:

Visual characteristics:

  • Developmental stages:  Live bearers with no intermediate stages.  Young are referred to as nymphs.
  • Size: At birth/hatching about 2.5 mm long growing to about 30 mm.
  • Colour:  Black, except at birth and just after they moult their skin during their growth cycle when for a short time they are white.
  • Weight:  about 200 medium size weigh about 100 grams.
  • Adults/Wings = Yes.  Flight = Yes?.  Flight frequency: Often / Rarely / Never.  I have never observed any of this species fly.  If one escapes from the box, they may flap their wings but this only enables them to glide to a lower level or the floor.

The woodroach females develop an "egg pod".  This gradually extends from their body.  The "egg pod" does not drop to the ground like other species of cockroaches.  The nymphs hatch from the "pod" and shelter under the female for a short time.  The nymphs eat the remains of the "pod" and then the female will move away and the nymphs are on their own.  The nymphs scatter within the box and are fully independent.  20 - 30 nymphs can hatch from one "pod".
The nymph upon hatching have black/dark eyes and a black/dark mouth.  This can be seen in the enlarged right photo.  Nymphs shed their skin many times as they grow bigger.  Many will consume the shed skin.  Newly shed individuals are white, except for the eyes and mouth, for a short time.  A newly shed adult individual (white with big dark eyes) can be seen in the upper left side of the left photo.

Fed to: Birds - Most finches, softbills, weavers, whydahs, waxbills, quail and some parrots.  Marsupials, rodents, fish, spiders, scorpions, etc.

Non breeders:  Cost:  About $6 per 50 adults in small  retail packs.  Upwards of $30 per 500 gms (approx 1000) plus delivery or freight, if applicable, when purchased from the breeders.  Available all year round.

Commercial breeders have some techniques and equipment that will not be disclosed on this page.  Commercial knowledge has considerable value.  Some pieces of equipment are very cheap and simple, but until they are more widely and openly discussed I will maintain the confidentiality.  It will not detract from the following information as the undisclosed information or equipment relates to time savings or efficiency gains.  The overall methodology remains the same.

Preferred facilities and husbandry:  For breeders or holding large quantities.

General information:  From my view point the raising of insects is simple if some basic rules are followed.  Firstly , put aside all the ideas you currently have and review what is to come.

Insect production is no different to the production of any other animals.  Give them an environment suitable for their growth and breeding, plus adequate food and moisture and keep them safe from predators and minimize disease contamination.

Cockroaches are one of the easiest insects to breed!!  No egg laying, no special food for the babies, no intermediate development stages, make no noise except for the sound of their feet on the cardboard,  if you forget to feed them for a few days they will all not drop dead, adults rarely if ever fly out of their box even when no lids are used and are more resistant to disease than most insects.

Adults of this species of cockroach may engage in mutual preening or cleaning.  One will raise its wings and another will engage in a behaviour similar to cleaning.

Cockroaches are very clean individuals.  They spend a lot of time cleaning themselves.

Cockroaches prefer a constant even temperature of about 25 - 30 degrees Celsius (and that includes 4 AM in the morning in winter when the owner is snuggled up in bed) with a humidity of about 55% R.H. or less.  An insulated room or cabinet is required to maintain these levels.  The use of 100 mm or 150 mm (4 - 6 inches) thick insulated panel walls and roof for larger breeding rooms is an excellent investment and repays the investment very quickly with minimal heating costs.  The room or cabinet should have a fan assisted ventilation system to remove the stale air and supply clean fresh air.  Inside the room it is advisable to have a fan operating 24 hours a day to ensure even distribution of heat and humidity.  Poor air movement increases the chances of high humidity pockets and the likely hood of mould or mildew occurring.  Poor air movement increases the chance of an outbreak of mites.  The mites generally do no harm to the cockroaches but mites can be very annoying after handling the boxes, feeling them crawling up your arms, face and body.

Vacuuming the floor minimizes the build up of mites as they generally like to spend a lot of their time at a lower temperature than the cockroaches.  The vacuum cleaner should be ducted externally to ensure any pathogens that pass through the vacuum cleaner filters do not get to contaminate the room.  Externally ducted systems remove the possibility of people inhaling allergens that get through the filters.  Inhaled allergens can , if one is susceptible, cause serious respiratory problems including triggering an asthma attack.  Vacuum the floor at least weekly and mop the floor with household floor disinfectant.  Clean the walls with a soft cloth about 3 monthly using a mild disinfectant or a dish washing detergent.  The intent of the wall cleaning is only to remove any build up of dust and fine particles.  Remove and wash the fan grill and blades as required.  When vacuuming look out for spiders and their webs and suck them up.

Without a fan the upper level boxes/trays have a constant higher heat level than lower boxes therefore influencing faster growth or the possibility of heat stress on those upper level boxes.

Light:  Cockroaches do not have a photoperiod regime so it is not necessary to have timer controls on the lights.

Heating:  A good efficient, safe, reliable heater is essential.  Preferably electric as there is no danger of noxious fumes.  Heat mats are commonly used to provide gentle bottom heat if you only have a few boxes.  Heat mats should be thermostatically controlled.

Thermostat: A good accurate, reliable, thermostat is also essential.  In larger rooms the installation of double thermostats can be considered.  If a thermostat fails to turn the heater off the cockroaches will start to die at about 35 - 40 degrees Celsius.  With two thermostats correctly installed it is highly unlikely both will fail at the same time.

Externally vented extractor fans:  As well as removing stale air, externally vented extractor fans can be of immense help to rapidly remove excess humidity especially in summer or excess temperature during summer.

Racks:  Painted or surface treated steel racks are good, galvanized steel racks are even better.  Mites do not like the zinc coating.  Timber framed racks are very hard to keep clean and provide numerous places for mites to hide.

Feed storage:  A clean dry place has to be allocated for the storage.  A few air tight containers is all that is required.

Rubbish removal:  Observe maximum hygiene when disposing of cockroach wastes.  See below:  "Respiratory and allergy precautions for humans".

Breeding boxes:
Apart from the insects, food and moisture items, the only item required in the box is cardboard for them to live on.  A "12 egg" egg-carton cut in half to make two "6 egg" egg-cartons are ideal.  Place them upright on the cut edges.  Place them at the rear of the box, opened to about 30 degrees, not touching the sides of the box, not touching each other, and make sure the top of the carton is not within 20 mm of the lower edge of the escape proof barrier.  About 8 pieces should fit in a 600 mm x 400 mm box.  No cardboard should be in the front 150 mm of the box.  That space is for the feed and moisture sources.

Flat egg trays and the apple divider trays can be used but care has to be taken to ensure the cardboard pieces do not collapse on each other and sandwich the insects.  If used, both these items should be used in an upright position.  Alternating vertical pieces of each of these products minimizes the "sandwiching" problem  i.e. egg flats are separated by an apple tray. 

A convenient size for most people to use measures about 600 mm x  400 mm  x 250 mm deep (24 x 16 x 10 inches).  The boxes should be plastic.  Plastic boxes are easily cleaned and light weigh.  There is no reason to have lids on the breeding boxes.  Lids promote the build up of mites and high levels of humidity.  If one uses the excuse "I need the lid to keep out the spiders, mice, birds or other insects" then it is time the environment where the cockroaches are kept has to be upgraded to exclude those pests.  The adults rarely fly out of the breeding box if one has provided a suitable home, diet and moisture for them.

The plastic boxes need only be washed out with dishwashing detergent, well rinsed and dried with a clean soft cloth.  Harsher cleaning solutions are rarely needed.  If Vaseline is used, it can easily be removed firstly by scraping off the bulk of the Vaseline then wash with concentrated dishwashing detergent on a soft cloth.

Check all escape barriers on a regular basis to ensure the barrier has not been compromised.  Do not use cheap petroleum jelly alternatives as they tend to slide down the walls and leave escape paths.

Sometimes the breeding boxes may need the inside walls wiped with a clean soft moist cloth or soft moist disposable paper towel to remove any build up of food particles or dust like particles.  This is usually required when the humidity drops and small particles may cling to the interior walls.

Some articles state plastic boxes should not be used due to the plastic not being able to "breathe" therefore causing a build up of moisture or wet spots causing moulds to develop.  They also advocate the use of tight fitting lids with a few mesh covered holes so the adults cannot fly out.  I disagree strongly with these assumptions and state that the adults will rarely if ever fly if their home is to their liking.  Cockroaches cannot/will not climb over an intact escape barrier e.g. Vaseline or Fluon.  So why the need for a lid ?  Timber is heavy and hard to clean.  If timber is painted or coated with a waterproof material it is then not able to "breathe", giving it the same characteristics as plastic.

Vaseline works well in rooms above 25 degrees C but its effect is reduced as the temperature decreases.  The Vaseline becomes harder and less "sticky" as the temperature decreases and cockroaches are prepared to cross the barrier at temperatures less than about 20 degrees C.  Vaseline has to be replaced about every 4 months or whenever the surface "dries out".  Repairing or replacing the Vaseline is easy.  An old credit card works well removing Vaseline.  Use an undamaged side of the card and scoop up the unwanted material.  It is not necessary to remove any cockroaches when replacing the Vaseline, just keep the box in a well lit spot. 

Fluon comes as a liquid and has to be painted.  The surface has to be horizontal and is best used in a warm room.  A breeding room above 25 C is ideal.  At lower temperatures the Fluon dries slowly and may require a hair drier to assist it to dry.  Once dry the Fluon works well at all temperatures but comes off easily if pressure is applied.  If the Fluon barrier is damaged it is almost impossible to apply more Fluon to the damaged area without first removing the cockroaches.  (It just runs down the side of the box.).  Fluon (250 ml.) is available from The Herp Shop (Melbourne, Vic.) (03) 9363 6841

Mouse proof wire mesh (approx 6.5 mm) can make a suitable cover to place over a box that is in a place vulnerable to attack from mice, rats, birds etc. Any adults that try to fly out will usually just hit the wire and fall back into box.  Mouse proof wire allows near perfect air movement over the surface of the colony.  Mites love to breed in boxes with poor air movement (i.e. high humidity). 

Dry Foods:
The ideal diet for the continual production of cockroaches in a room at about 25-30 degrees C and about 55%R.H. or less, is very basic.  Just dry inexpensive dog feed is sufficient.  Additional foods they like are bread, sugar, sweet biscuits, glucose/sugar confectionery, plain cake, and dry cat food.

The provision of moisture is probably the most important aspect of insect production.  Some articles recommend the use of raw carrot or raw potato.  I do not recommend the use of any vegetables that grow underground.  If one is breeding cockroaches on a continual basis I feel it is a possible vector for bacterial infection.  For short term use with non-breeding colonies it should be O.K.  Most other fruits and vegetables are O.K.  Remove uneaten vegetable or fruit material after 24 hours or at worst after 48 hours.

If small numbers of boxes are involved then the use of water moistened bread is ideal.  Sliced apple works well.  Pieces of orange are even better.

If the adults get adequate food and moisture and are not over crowded, they do not fly out of their box.

Cockroaches can live for up to 12 months.  Females have lots of babies in batches of about 10 - 30 and under good conditions over 90% develop to adulthood.  The colony increases slowly at first but gradually gathers pace till overcrowding occurs.  If overcrowding is evident, remove some and either feed them out or put them in a new box.  Take care not to remove too many adults otherwise production slows or ceases.

Growth rates:
Providing adequate food and moisture is available, the higher the temperature (up to about 35 degrees) the faster they grow.  An ideal temperature is between 25-30 degrees C.  This will allow a good growth rate with minimal problems. 

To harvest small quantities just place a slice of fresh bread or several crumpled up pieces of moistened paper towel on the surface. In less than 1 minutes they will commence eating the bread or crawling in the damp paper towel.  Pick up the material and shake off the cockroaches and repeat the procedure till the required quantity is obtained.  Alternatively individual insects can be removed by hand or by using tweezers.

If the half egg-cartons are used, harvesting of larger quantities is fast and easy.  Just grasp the top of an egg carton, gently lift the egg carton, quickly place a suitable wide escape proof container under the egg carton, shake the egg carton and the cockroaches will fall out.  Replace egg carton and repeat till the desired quantity has been obtained.  Keep in mind the cockroaches run very fast and in every direction when they are warm.  Cooling their breeding box slows them down and makes their capture easier.

Feeding out:
For birds, most insects are usually offered in a smooth shallow tray.  If cockroaches are to be fed to birds an additional step has to be taken.  Add a non sticky escape proof barrier (Fluon) of about 50 mm wide all around the inside wall of the tray as per breeding boxes (otherwise they will all run away).  A layer of sand or bran can be placed into the tray to give the birds a more secure footing when they land in the tray.  Some people place the insects in a deeper smooth sided tray (e.g. 600mm x 400mm x100mm deep = 24 x 16 x 4 inches) which has been partially filled (20 or 30 mm deep - or about 1 inch) with clean leaf litter, dry leaves or a material such as dry peat moss.  Most insects including cockroaches dislike light so they will move to the bottom of the tray.  This allows the birds to "hunt" for the insects and can provide them with entertainment, activity and exercise as well as preserving some of their natural instincts.  If a plastic or metal tray is used such as the 600mm x 400mm, place it on some strips of timber or other material to raise it off the ground and allow air to circulate under the tray.  Escapees will not flourish outside a heated breeding room and all outside escapees usually die over winter.  Do not bring the aviary insect tray to the insect room as the same type of mites that colonize the aviary floor can also infect insect breeding boxes and breeding rooms.  Bring the insects to the birds and animals in a container and give the container a wash before returning it into the insect production area.

If a particular size is required, the harvested cockroaches can be graded by putting them on a suitable mesh screen.  Feed off the size you need and return the rest to their original box.

In small bird cages and reptile units the same principle applies with a smaller tray.  Smaller reptiles can be placed in the tray, allowed to eat their quota, then the animal/s removed.

If only a few are to be fed, the cockroaches can be offered to reptiles on suitable round ended tweezers or round ended forceps.  To minimize the rate of escapees when feeding out cockroaches indoors or in cages or cabinets, one can quickly crush the cockroach's head with tweezers or between your thumb nail and index finger (wear disposable gloves if you do not like the cockroach smell on your hands) .  It will then be dead but move long enough to get the animal or reptile's attention and the cockroach is then quickly consumed.

Storage of small quantities:
Cockroaches not needed for breeding can be stored at a lower temperature than the breeders.  This will slow or stop the breeding cycle.  Feed as for a breeding colony.  They were originally from a tropical country so take care to ensure the cockroaches do not get too cold. If they look stressed from cold just add a bit more warmth.  Holding them at12 degrees C is O.K.

If you purchase a "food container" size pack of cockroaches, place them into a larger container as soon as possible.  Dispose of any uneaten foods as well as the lid, container and any packaging.  Add fresh foods, moisture source and some egg carton or cardboard.  A 28 litre container is ideal for up to 500 adults.

Disease and infections:
Absolute Rule - If any cockroach/s fall onto the floor they must NEVER be placed back into ANY boxes!!  Throw them out or feed them out!!  The disease contamination risk is far too high!!

Cockroaches are generally very tolerant of moderate levels of contamination.  BUT it is preferable to practice optimum hygiene standards.  Colonies can be wiped out by a variety of diseases caused by viruses and bacteria.  Moulds, fungi, internal and external parasites can wipe out a colony.  Mites are generally an indication of either poor hygiene or poorly controlled environmental factors.  Mites can be a vector for the spread of diseases.  Government animal pathology laboratories and some private pathology laboratories are able to identify insect diseases and recommend appropriate treatments.  Over crowding is one of the most common triggers for the outbreak of diseases along with contaminated feed.  Over crowding may also cause cannibalism to start.  Dirty contaminated hands and equipment will rapidly spread an infection throughout the room.

Golden rule : If you have a colony of insects that are breeding well, do not add any cockroaches from any other outside source and in no circumstances allow any of the foreign frass or feed material into any of the places used for breeding your cockroaches.  Some commercial breeders and research laboratories have continuously bred cockroaches for over 20 years without the need to introduce new genetic lines.

If it becomes absolutely necessary to introduce more insects to your breeding colony, make sure appropriate quarantine procedures are fully implemented. Place them in a box of their own and not into a current colony.  If anything bad happens in that box , dispose of all of the quarantined lot and implement strict disinfection procedures.  If an infection does break out it can easily kill 96% or more of a colony and eradication can be a long  and arduous task.  At 25-30 degrees C, external or internal parasites can multiply at an amazing rate.

My philosophy is: prevention of disease outbreaks is better than having to cure the outbreaks (It's also cheaper).

Respiratory and allergy precautions for humans:
The following is applicable to all insects but particularly applicable to mealworms, lesser mealworms and cockroaches due to the fact their  frass (excrement) is so dry and has an extremely light small particle size.

As stated above, the dusts in the breeding room and any fine insect tissues, when inhaled, can cause reactions requiring medical intervention.  The longer one inhales the contaminant the more severe the reaction can be.  The effect can be cumulative and the longer you breath it in, the longer it may take to cure (sometimes years).  The main contaminant is the (4) proteins in the insects frass (droppings/ excrement).  When this material is inhaled into susceptible people's lungs, they may react badly.  General rule is never keep a breeding colony in a residential house.

While handling cockroaches, do not rub your eyes as the insect's secretions or fine dust size material can have an adverse reaction and cause strong eye irritation.  Wash hands and any exposed areas to minimize the risk of skin irritation after you finish your tasks.

It is unwise to use a broom or similar cleaning product in the breeding room to clean the floor as it is likely to stir up dust which can be inhaled or settle in a breeding box or on other equipment resulting in a disease outbreak.

Harvesting cockroaches should not cause much fine material to become airborne.  Care has to be taken when frass (excrement) is removed from the box.  Frass can easily become airborne.  If you happen to get "dusted" it is a wise precaution to shower and wash your hair.  Pop the cloths into the washing machine for a good wash before using them again.  Never go to bed with "bug dust" in your hair as you will inhale it throughout the night from on your pillow.

Most people tolerate some degree of contamination but if you exceed the "trigger point threshold" and get a bad reaction, seek medical attention and tell the medico what you have been inhaling.  Medical respiratory allergy specialists are available in Capital cities if required.

My philosophy is: prevention of possible health problems is better than having to cure a real health problem.  (It's also cheaper).

Specific References:

  • Australian Birdkeeper Vol 1 Issue 6. Dec-Jan 1989 Page 182
  • Australian Aviculture Vol 55 No. 2 Feb 2001 Page 32-35
  • Australian Aviculture Vol 48 No. 1 Jan 1994 Page 22

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