Home | Insects | The Orange Spotted Roach: an Interesting Pet and Valuable Food for Reptiles, Amphibians, Invertebrates, Birds and Fishes – Part 2

The Orange Spotted Roach: an Interesting Pet and Valuable Food for Reptiles, Amphibians, Invertebrates, Birds and Fishes – Part 2

Orange Spotted RoachClick: The Orange Spotted Roach: an Interesting Pet and Valuable Food for Reptiles, Amphibians, Invertebrates, Birds and Fishes – Part 1, to read the first part of this article.

Substrate

When keeping large colonies as a food source for other animals, the roaches should be well-supplied with cardboard egg crate, paper towel/toilet paper rolls or crumpled sheets of cardboard upon which to climb.  The bottom of the enclosure should be kept bare…substrate will complicate cleaning, encourage mold and make it difficult to locate small roaches.

At cleaning time, the cardboard, to which most of the roaches will cling, can be removed while the enclosure is washed (use hot water and bleach or table salt) and dried.  The cardboard should be replaced from time to time as well.

Fecal material from the bottom of the enclosure, and old cardboard, should be frozen before being discarded to prevent un-noticed nymphs from establishing feral colonies.

If you are keeping smaller numbers of roaches as pets, you may wish to set up a naturalistic terrarium.  R Zilla Alfalfa Bedding or Coconut Husk may be used as a substrate.  Stock your terrarium with rocks, driftwood, and plastic reptile shelters…males will establish territories around and under such structures.  In such a set-up you should be able to observe them competing for females (see below), and will be privy to other interesting behaviors not easily seen in a crowded colony situation. 

Be sure to remove nymphs from time to time, as territoriality seems to break down under crowded conditions, and there will consequently then be less for you to observe. 

Treated in this manner, as you might any other unusual pet, orange-spotted roaches will provide you with many surprises.  We still have a great deal to learn about these insects…observant keepers stand a good chance of learning something new.

Water

I use R-Zilla Cricket Calcium Drink Supplement as the sole water source for all roach species.  This and similar gel-based products eliminates the need for providing fruit as a water source, which can mold and cause health problems (a small amount of fruit added to the diet is a good idea) and supplies additional calcium to the insects.

Feeding

Jurassi-Diet or R-Zilla Cricket Food should be used as the basis of the diet.  Both are readily accepted, and help to improve the roaches’ calcium: phosphorous ratio (in the event they are to be used as pet food).

Orange spotted roaches accept a wide variety of foods…but this should not trick us into thinking that they can survive on whatever is at hand.  They should be provided a balanced diet, both for their health and that of the animals to which they may be fed. 

To the basic diet of commercial cricket food I always add tropical fish food flakes (I have found such to be useful with all roach species, crickets, millipedes and many other invertebrates), powdered baby food, and a bit of wheat germ. They should also be fed fruits and vegetables once or twice weekly.

Next time we’ll take a quick look at breeding and social interactions, and learn about an odd twist in this species’ evolution.  I’ll cover other roaches in the future.  Until then, please write in with your questions and comments. Thanks, Frank Indiviglio.

An interesting article on cockroach diversity and evolution (London Museum of Natural History) is posted at:

http://blattodea-culture-group.org/content/cockroaches-amazing-diversity

Image referenced from Wikipedia Commons, here.

14 comments

  1. avatar

    It seems to be a common thing amongst hobbyists(particular invert hobbyists) to feed roaches on cheap dog food(with no ill affect to the roaches, and no one has reported any problems with the animals). Trout chow is occasionally substituted…as well as chicken feed(some people interested in gutloading them use the chicken feed for egglayers) Any thoughts on this? In the tarantula hobby their is a myth(?) floating around that feeding diets high in calcium to tarantulas such as vertebrates causes problems(but no science to back it up for reasons you’ve mentioned previously)…and admittantly the roaches tarantulas eat in the wild are probably not getting anything quite as nutritious as even dog food regularly.

    As an ending comment, has anyone tried culturing katydids/tree crickets in captivity? They are sure cool buggers, most people in the US can collect them from their yards, and they are very prominent in the rainforest where they no doubt are eaten by herptiles somewhat regularly. I’ve never kept reptiles much(due to need for expensive lighting) but it seems they’d be great for chameleon keepers. Nymphs might work for treefrogs.

  2. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your most interesting comments.

    When maintaining roach colonies for the Bronx Zoo, I used both dry dog food and trout chow for roaches (crickets relish trout chow as well)…certain largely herbivorous species, such as the hissing roach, took little of the dog food and no trout chow (although they did eat Tetramin flakes) but most others consumed it readily.

    Chicken feed, especially layer mash, has long been a standard food for zoos keeping large cricket colonies, and should be fine for roaches as well. When feeding layer mash to crickets, I mixed in Reptocal powdered vitamin/mineral supplement, (or limestone before the advent of vitamin powders) and Tetramin, but others use the mash as is. Many zoos have now switched to commercial cricket chows, but a number still use layer mash as a less expensive alternative.

    You raise an interesting point concerning vertebrates in the diet of tarantulas. A diet high in vertebrates, especially mice, leads to kidney and liver problems in some insectivorous reptiles and amphibians, and causes corneal opacities (fat deposits in the eye) in others. These animals take an occasional vertebrate in the wild, but their systems cannot handle such on a steady basis.

    I tend to think a similar scenario might hold true for tarantulas, but as necropsy reports on tarantulas are non-existent (and we likely would not know what to look for in any event!), I cannot say for sure. Certainly I and others have kept a number of tarantula species into their late teens and twenties without any vertebrate food whatsoever. Those I know who study tarantulas professionally know of no studies either way re the effect of a diet high in vertebrates. They do report that the diets of most species (that have been studied in the wild) are composed overwhelmingly of invertebrates, with most vertebrate food being in the form of small frogs and lizards, rarely mammals or birds. Incidentally, the term “bird eating spider” was coined after a painting of an imaginary scene, in which a pink toed tarantula consumed a hummingbird, appeared in an early book on the natural history of Latin America (Suriname, specifically, if I remember correctly).

    Katydids and tree crickets do indeed figure highly in the diets of arboreal reptiles and amphibians, and chameleons relish them. They rely upon camouflage for protection and seem to lack any sort of defensive behaviors or noxious secretions…I have never known a herp to refuse them. Temperate species die off en masse in the fall, and provide a banquet for herps, birds and mammals.

    Unfortunately, they are difficult to breed in captivity. The Cincinnati Zoo has had some success with a tropical species I believe, but not much else has been done. I kept predacious katydids some years ago (Southeast Asian species) …very surprising to see such a “peaceful” creature devour a cricket! – but was unable to induce breeding.

    Reproduction may be a fairly complicated matter for katydids and tree crickets – female access male fitness via the song, and may, like some insects and birds, not breed without the presence of multiple males. Those native to temperate regions oviposit in early autumn, and the eggs likely need a cool diapause if they are to hatch. The nymphs are tiny, and (at least in the wild) grow very slowly….but somewhere out there lurks an easily managed tropical katydid, I’m sure (might turn out to be the next super mealworm, if we could just find it!).

    I’ve mostly come across katydids by accident (they are maddeningly sensitive when calling, and stop as soon as one get near) or in the autumn, when they decline in condition and sometimes wind up on the ground or tree trunks Tree crickets come to outdoor lights fairly often. I use both when feeding my own collection, especially treefrogs.

    A spider/katydid experience: while working in Costa Rica, I came across many huge orb-weaving spiders (Nephila spp). Upon tossing a large grasshopper into a web, I was amazed to see the spider pull off the grasshopper’s rear legs before wrapping it in silk and delivering a bite. Katydids, soft-bodied and with weak rear legs, were immediately bitten and wrapped. I repeated the experiment several times, always with the same result….well, only 22 years have elapsed since, time to publish a note on that (actually, this is the first I’ve written of it in any sort of public forum – thanks for jogging my memory!).

    Thanks again, please pass along anything of interest that you come across.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Hello Frank,

    On that easily maintained tropical katydid, if such did exist, I’m sure USDA would not be appreciative of them being cultured by private hobbyists. But institutions and people in Europe could enjoy them. ;)

    Any details available to you from the Cincy Zoo? My best guess would be large screen cage similar to what is used for butterflies, potted foodplants of the kinds they consume in the wild, and something to encourage them to deposit eggs. I think most cut grooves in tree branches.

    I’ve also wondered if it’d be possible to propagate cicadas in captivity by having a potted host tree(s) and a significant number of the buggers(I’ve found them in the high Sierras pretty shallow..maybe 6 inches underground on tree roots)…ah, so many ideas, so little time(and space/money!)

  4. avatar

    Hello, Joseph,

    Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your interesting comments.

    I’ve known Cincinnati’s curator for many years… I’ll get his thoughts next time we speak. I recall a few anecdotal stories of katydids breeding when kept at large in butterfly houses…they thrive in cages as you describe. Some species do lay as you mention, others secrete eggs behind bark, directly onto or within leaves, on lichen; a few descent to the ground to lay (tropical species mainly, I believe).

    I believe that most cicada nymphs pierce roots while feeding, so you would need a living tree. Due to the nature of their feeding however, it would probably be difficult to accelerate their growth, as can be done with crickets, mantids, caterpillars, etc. I think most grow slowly and are quite tiny when they hatch. Again a tropical species might be different – growing faster, etc. Temperate species need at least a year to complete their cycle in most cases…the 17 year species would be a real test of one’s patience and long term planning skills!

    Your questions are precisely the types that break new ground, thanks!

    I came across 2 interesting katydid articles…one with pictures and field notes on several tropical species, another documenting the introduction of a European species right here in my own back yard:
    http://buzz.ifas.ufl.edu/s103lg60.pdf
    http://dominica.tamu.edu/student%20projects/Dominica%20Projects%20pdf%20copy/Ellis_Charlotte.pdf

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    Interesting stuff on the katydids. Perhaps cardboard or corkbark with green moss pasted on might be an appropriate substitute for the sp. that lay eggs in bark.

    On cicadas, the fact that you don’t have to pay them much attention could be a plus. It’d be pretty much impossible I’m guessing to produce cicadas the way you breed roaches but the occasional treat collection would be always sitting their, fattening itself with no intervention on your part other than watering the tree(if they breed easily in screen cages…they should have a pretty strong drive to procreate…and could then oviposit on the host tree, so much the better!)

  6. avatar

    Hello Joseph, Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your thoughts.

    A great way to keep cicadas on hand might be within a large planted butterfly exhibit or aviary, especially if they stayed near a favored food tree. For years I collected sow bugs, earthworms etc. in this manner in Bronx Zoo bird exhibit….one exhibit even had a thriving colony of introduced greenhouse frogs, another supported a huge population of huntsman, or giant crab spiders (Heteropoda venatoria).

    There’s currently an effort underway to utilize such situations, as well as large greenhouses, as holding sites/breeding areas for frogs thought to be facing imminent extinction, i.e. various Atelopus. Conditions far more favorable than traditional exhibits – in fact, over 20 years ago various poison frogs (Dendrobates spp.) were released into a large rainforest exhibit at the National Aquarium…these were later found to have regained some skin toxicity. Turned out it was due to their feeding upon certain millipedes, etc. that were established in the exhibit; this gave some of the first hints about invert-derived toxins.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  7. avatar

    I bet greenhouse size exhibits are a blast to mess around with. Here is an interesting dart frog (walk in!) terrarium. Of note is all the species he’s added, something most froggers frown very much upon.

    http://www.plumifrons.com/Froggreenhouse/Froggreenhouse2004/History/tabid/225/language/en-US/Default.aspx

    To go off the present topic:

    One thing I’ve noticed(alongside vitamin supplementation trends in the other blog) is that dart frog people in particular are rather paranoid about what goes into their tanks. Darts do seem rather suspectible to stuff such as coccidia and worms, and on dart frog forums their are more variety of threads on sick/dying captives than I’ve seen in just about any other animal keeping hobby.

    Animal hobbyists tend to subscribe to one of two different philosophies on disease.
    1. If you take good care of your animals, they will not get sick. Disease organisms are always present but only attack when animals are stressed. Feel free to pick up whatever you want from outside and put it in your tank, as long as no pesticides etc. are in it. It adds to the diversity of creatures and makes the enclosure more healthy.
    2. Quarantine and careful choosing of enclosure materials are extremely important. Don’t use anything from outdoors because it may have pathogens or parasites in it, or clean it very well before use. Enclosures must be sterilized after use. Prophylactic treatment for certain diseases is reccomended.

    Thoughts? I’m sure both are partially right.

  8. avatar

    Hello Joseph, Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your comments.

    Thanks for sending the link to the poison frog terrarium…amazing what people are doing.

    I’m not sure if it’s the nature of the frogs or of the people drawn to keeping poison frogs that leads to all the emphasis on parasites, etc. A number of folks I know began with them in the mid 70’s, and kept individual poison frogs well into their teens with no fecals/meds whatsoever (most were quite obsessive re terrarium plants, dietary variety, etc.)…of course each situation is different, but today’s animals are so far removed from the wild, I’d think there would be less, not more problems…sometimes looking too hard is not the best strategy, as we really do not know what we are looking at in many cases – so many meds wipe out beneficial gut flora, and amphibians especially have a hard time recovering from that.

    You hit on the eternal question concerning how to keep animals…again varies with species, situation, parasite or disease, etc. Of the many thousands of herps, mammals, birds, etc. that I have had come through my hands in zoos, I’ve never known a single one to be pathogen free…herps were not treated w/o symptoms until quite recently, and I could go on for pages re longevity records…in my own collection I have/had a number of notables, i.e. musk turtle still spy at 40, red salamander still alive at 23-25, various Xenopus 18-21, weather loach 21, American eel 17 and so on, most wild caught, none tested.

    There is a great deal to be said for your first example, keeping animals healthy so immune systems function at capacity…proper conditions re temperature very important, actually critical, in immune system functioning as well….3 times that I can recall I or my co-workers placed “dead” amphibians in a walk-in refrigerator to await necropsy, only to find the animals alive and, in 2 cases, requiring no further treatment the next morning (mudpuppy, hellbender, bronze frog)..standard lab treatment for leopard frogs with red leg was a stay in the refrigerator, still used in some labs.

    Planted aquariums/terrariums, especially those with various scavengers, take on an ecology all their own, often very beneficial…a 77,000 gallon river exhibit I worked with at the Bronx Zoo was amazing in that regard…sick fishes tossed in almost always recovered, really something…I see the same in a 15 gallon aquarium I have at home – going over 20 years with minimal filtration, never a substrate change, and with heavily planted frog tanks…of course this takes time, luck and the exact right conditions….

    Sometimes you must “worm” animals as they come in, due to past history with a particular species, and quarantine is always a good idea, especially in large collections…and certain conditions require immediate action – the rise of inclusion body disease in zoos, West Nile in outdoor bird exhibits, mites in snake collections, etc. Another time problems arise is in mixing related species from different parts of the world…an organism that is benign in 1 kills a relative…in past this led to a lot of confusion as to the actual danger posed by particular microbes (also caused horrific loss of life when human cultures met for the first time, i.e. as in European contact with Native American groups). Ah well, there’s so much to both sides here, really needs to be looked at on a case by case basis – as you say, both partially right.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  9. avatar

    hanks for sharing your blog with all of us, very imformative.

  10. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog and for taking the time to pass along the kind words…much appreciated. Any feedback, questions or thoughts concerning articles that you might like to see posted, would be welcome.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  11. avatar

    Is it possible for you to write a post about how you use water crystals? My colonies always track their substrate inside their crystals, making it nasty looking, but as you said in your post, I have a smaller setup, so I use substrate instead of a bare tub. It would be a great read if you could :)
    Thanks frank!

  12. avatar

    Hi Kim,

    A bare bottomed tank is the only way I know to eliminate that; or you can rely on fruit as a water source (but mold etc can be a problem if large amts are used. With substrate, you might be able to arrange a situation where the insects would need to climb up a screen or other “ladder” in order to reach the water crystal container, thereby losing some of the attached substrate in the process; I’ve used this with certain beetles and others, but I’m not sure how practical this would be in your set-up.

    Good luck in your work, best, Frank

  13. avatar

    Hello Mr. Indiviglio,

    While reading this article I noticed several beetles around the house. When I went outside there was basically a swarm of them. They are small, only around 2 cm long and are almost emerald green in color. Do you think these would be safe to feed to my herps? I fed one earlier to my salamander.

    Really the only toxic beetles I know of would be the bombardier and fireflies. I collected maybe several dozen of them easily using just tongs and a cup with a lid. They were mostly attracted to my porch light and kept engaging in several of what I can only describe as a breeding ball. It seemed like the more I collected the more they would show up. I didn’t want to collect too many though. When I gave them a sniff I couldn’t detect any foul odors. What looked like a black tiger beetle was also in the mix. I stored them all in the freezer like you have suggested in some articles to be saved for later.

    How long do you think they will last in there? I’ve noticed that when I store roaches and crickets for a while they tend to develop frost burns and have ice crystals form around them. What ends up happening is me defrosting several desiccated insects if I can’t feed them all out soon enough. Have you ever had this experience?

    Cheers, Alex

  14. avatar

    Hello Alex,

    Hard to ID beetles by description…the beetle family contains more species than any other in the animal kingdom; most likely a small scarab; Quite a few beetles manufacture toxins, and most are unstudied, but herps often reject them quickly due to taste (no “benefit” to the beetle if it dies along with the predator); I use several scarabs without any problems; however, introduce slowly and do not use too many at once…some have theorized that large meals of Japanese beetles, for example, can lead to death due to the action of the spiny legs within the gut. I tend to use soft bodied inverts for salamanders (sow bugs are an exception) and save beetles for some frogs, lizards and turtles,

    Yes, I have seen freezer burn, etc..perhaps due to their small size?

    best, Frank

    I

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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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