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Madagascar Hissing Cockroach Allergy: Popular Pet Insect Hosts Troublesome Mold

Hissing roach

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Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches (Grompadorhina portentosa) are extremely popular as pets, classroom animals and reptile food.  Recent studies at Ohio State University have revealed a darker side to these otherwise harmless insects…their bodies and wastes are colonized by 14 mold species, several of which can cause allergic reactions and secondary infections.  I’ve worked with huge colonies of these and other feeder insects in zoos, and coworkers seem to have developed allergies to crickets, but I have not heard of similar reports concerning roaches.  As of now, precautions rather than outright avoidance of Hissing Roaches are being advised.

 

Allergic Reactions and Secondary Infections

The study, published in the March, 2014 issue of the journal Mycoses (V. 57, N. 3), examined Hissing Roach colonies in schools, zoos, homes, and pet stores.  Molds of various species were found on shed skins, feces and the bodies of live insects.  Several of the molds are capable of triggering allergic reactions such as skin and eye irritation, wheezing and nasal congestion; sensitive individuals could be at additional risk.  Aspergillus niger, which is commonly associated with contaminated foods, was especially numerous (see photo).  People are impacted mainly via mold spores that land on the skin or are inhaled.

 

Aspergillus niger on onion

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by S. K. Mohan

Several of the molds found on Hissing Roaches can also cause secondary infections in wounds or the lungs.

 

At present, researchers advise those working with Hissing Roaches to wash their hands after contact with the insects.  I would suggest that, as with all pets, a doctor should be consulted if you have concerns, or suspect that you or a household member may be at risk.

 

Hissing Cockroach Care Tips

Molds are fungi that thrive in moist environments.  In order to help lower your roach enclosure’s humidity level, I recommend that cricket gel cubes be used as a water source; please see this article for further information.  Gel tubes eliminate the need for damp sponges and water bowls, and also prevent nymphs from drowning.  Fruit, which is also an important source of water and nutrients, should be replaced regularly to prevent spoilage and mold.

 

Regular cleaning of the terrarium and replacement of cardboard sheltering sites (if used) is important; Zoo Med’s Wipeout Terrarium Cleaner or a solution of 1 oz. of bleach per gallon of water can be empoloyed.  I keep Madagascar Hissing Roach colonies in bare-bottomed tanks; substrate is not necessary, and it complicates cleaning.  This type of housing also enables one to maintain a dry environment, which should, in theory, assist in mold control (I’ve not checked into exactly how much moisture the roach-associated molds require…any insights appreciated).

 

Mites on Hissing Roach

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Mites to the Rescue

Researchers are now studying a type of mite (Gromphadorholaelaps schafeiri, see photo) that commonly lives on and around Hissing Roaches.  By consuming organic debris, these mites may help to limit mold growth.  Many scorpion, millipede and tarantula owners are familiar with other tiny white mites that often establish themselves in invertebrate terrariums.  Although disconcerting when first seen, most are harmless or perhaps even useful…please see the article linked below for information about their habits and tips on mite control.

 

Other Roaches

Whether you keep them as pets or a reptile food-source, roaches are a most fascinating group of insects.  Their fossil record stretches back over 300 million years, and 4,000+ species have been described to date.  Latin America’s Megaloblatta baberoides  sports a 7 inch wingspan while the heaviest, Macropameothia rhinoceros of Australia, weighs in at 1 ½ ounces.  Among the most interesting new discoveries is an African cockroach that resembles and behaves like a grasshopper.

 

The Orange-Spotted Guyana Roach (Blaptica dubia) has much to recommend it as both a food animal and terrarium subject.  Please see the article linked below to read more about its natural history and care.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio.  I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly.  Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 Further Reading

Keeping and Breeding Dubia Roaches

Mites in Scorpion and Tarantula Terrariums

Earwigs as an Alternative Food for Pet Reptiles and Amphibians

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Throughout my long career as a zookeeper and pet keeper, I have used wild caught insects to improve the diets of the amphibians, reptiles, fishes, invertebrates and birds under my care.  While some cautions apply, the benefits conferred by the nutritional value of such foods far outweigh the risks involved.  I have covered the collection and care of sow bugs, sap beetles, leaf litter invertebrates and many others in the articles linked below.  Today I’ll discuss earwigs – common, hardy, and largely-ignored insects that have great potential as pet food.  They are also extremely interesting in their own right, with females caring for their eggs and actually carrying food to the young!

Female with eggs, young

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Nabokov

Why Earwigs?

Earwigs are readily accepted by a wide variety of reptiles, amphibians, tarantulas, fishes, and scorpions, and provide nutrients absent from commercially-reared insects.  They are quite common even in large cities, and can provide a significant amount of food for captive herps during the warmer months.

Earwigs are an ideal size (1- 1¼ inch) for both small and larger pets, and will be taken by animals ranging in size from Green Anoles to American Bullfrogs.  They climb well, and quickly attract the attention of treefrogs and arboreal lizards.  Despite the tough wing covers and pinchers, earwigs seem readily digestible, are not known to cause any related problems.  As with crickets, earwigs should not be offered to ailing or debilitated animals, or to expectant females, as they have carnivorous tendencies. Read More »

Giant Centipede Care, Feeding and Supplies…and Warnings!

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  The serious centipede enthusiast can look forward to a lifetime of interest and discovery.  Over 3,000 species (class Chilopoda) have been described so far, and we know little about most!  Biologists place Centipedes and the world’s 10,000+Millipedes in the same Super Order, Myriapoda, but any similarities end there.  The name “Giant Centipede” is applied to a variety of species.  Those most commonly seen in trade are the Amazonian Giant Centipede (Scolopendra gigantean) and the Vietnamese or Red-headed Centipede (S. subspinipes), but as many as 6 species have been recorded as being sold under the same name.

Amazonian Giant centipede

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Katka Nemčoková

Centipede ownership requires consideration, and should only be undertaken by mature, cautious adults.  Bites from various species have caused fevers, dizziness, cardiac problems, breathing difficulties and fatalities.  Allergic reactions to their venom can occur – as evidenced by a Bronx Zoo co-worker of mine, who was hospitalized after being bitten by a species considered to be harmless.

The following information can be applied to then the care of most commonly available centipedes.  Please post below for information on individual species. Read More »

Mazuri High Calcium Cricket Diet and Other Foods for Feeder Crickets

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  My professional experience with captive reptiles, amphibians and other creatures extends back over 4 decades, with much of that time being spent at the Bronx Zoo. For the past 24 years, I’ve relied heavily upon Mazuri animal diets, as have many of my zoologist colleagues worldwide. From turtles to elephants and hamsters to cassowaries, Mazuri formulates more carefully-researched foods than does any other company. I recently had occasion to experiment with and read about Mazuri’s High Calcium Cricket Diet, and am quite pleased with the results. In the following article, I’ll also highlight some other useful products for crickets and similar feeder insects.

Crickets feeding

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Sean Wallace

The Calcium: Phosphorus Ratio

In order to maintain optimum health and normal growth, the foods offered to reptiles and amphibians should (depending upon the species) contain calcium and phosphorus in a ratio of 1:1, 1.5:1 or 2:1. Crickets and many other feeder insects in their natural (“un-supplemented”) state have a calcium: phosphorus ratio of only 0.3:1. Read More »

Poison Frogs – Sap Beetles as an Alternative Food for Small Frogs

Picnic beetle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Miroslav Deml

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Keepers of Poison Frogs, Mantellas, newly-transformed frogs, and other tiny amphibians face difficulties in providing their charges with a varied diet.  Wild frogs consume dozens to hundreds of invertebrate species, but captives are usually limited to fruit flies, flour beetles, pinhead crickets and springtails.  Vitamin/mineral supplements help, but dietary variety remains critical.

Throughout my career at the Bronx and Staten Island Zoos, I have relied heavily upon wild-caught invertebrates.  I recently “re-discovered” an old favorite – the various Sap or Picnic Beetles (Family Nitidulidae).  I first used Sap beetles when rearing Wood Frog metamorphs decades ago, and later fed them to Spring Peepers, Red-Eyed Treefrogs, Poison Frogs and others in zoo collections.  Many small amphibians will eagerly gobble up Sap Beetles, but Poison Frog and Mantella keepers will find them especially useful.  Sap Beetles never fail to bring an enthusiastic feeding response, and can save us some time and money while providing nutrients missing from standard foods.

Natural History

Sap Beetles are classified in the Family Nitidulidae, which contains nearly 3,000 members.  Most top out at 1/8 inch, with the largest barely reaching ¼ inch in length.  Several species, commonly known as “Picnic Beetles”, show up when sweet foods are served outdoors.  Some feed upon over-ripe fruits, corn and other crops, while others take nectar, sap, fungi and carrion. Read More »

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