Shy, gentle, and easy to care for—sound like the ideal pet? To top it off, this delightful little critter has a few things to teach us about our Creator’s genius. Just one problem: he won’t keep quiet about it.

If you could pick any pet from the local pet store that’s guaranteed to get your friends talking, what would it be? One more condition. It must be cheap, very cheap . . . and easy to care for.

How about a huge cockroach that hisses?

We usually think of roaches as disgusting vermin fit only to be crushed or poisoned. But this species, the Madagascar hissing cockroach (Gromphadorhina portentosa) is a wonderful reminder for friends (and other visitors to your room) that “God made everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:25).

Roaches are actually valuable members of their habitat and well worth studying for the lessons they can teach us about life, nature, and our Creator.

The Madagascar hissing cockroach gets its name from the large island off Africa, where it thrives among the debris on the forest floor. It is one of the largest varieties, with an adult length of 2–4 inches, and is one of the few wingless species.

Several aspects of its appearance and behavior are noteworthy. You can easily identify the males because they have two humps or horns just behind their head (on their thorax). Indeed, the males will actually ram other males to establish control over their territory. Females give birth to live young called nymphs (from thirty to sixty). There is no placenta; however, the eggs are carried in a leathery egg case, or ootheca. The eggs hatch inside and emerge from the female later. The female mates only once and then can produce new litters for the rest of her life.

The most noticeable behavior of this creature is its ability to hiss. All other roaches are silent. Many other insects, such as crickets, have the ability to create sound by rubbing body parts together, but the Madagascar hissing cockroach produces sound using its respiratory system, like mammals and other vertebrates do. This makes their sound eerily similar to a human hiss.

Like other insects, roaches breathe through openings in their thorax and abdomen called spiracles. The Madagascar cockroach, however, is believed to be the only insect able to force air through these openings to produce a hissing sound.

Why in the world would they want to make these sounds? That has required some experimentation to discover, but it appears that the hisses are used in at least three types of communication. Both males and females hiss to scare away predators. Males also hiss to attract females and to establish dominance over other males in the colony. It is believed that hissers can distinguish differences in the pitch, duration, and frequency of communication.

Roaches have been around since creation. The fossilized remains of roaches appear abruptly in the fossil record, among the dinosaurs and other pre-Flood sedimentary layers, and are virtually identical to modern-day varieties. (There is some debate about which day insects were created, whether with winged creatures on Day Five or with the creeping creatures on Day Six. We aren’t even sure whether Madagascar roaches descended from winged ancestors or were created as a separate animal “kind” without wings.)

Why did God make roaches? Cock-roaches are decomposers—they help break down the remains of plants and animals. Without decomposers, pieces of plants would pile up and not break down as quickly into simple materials that other plants and animals can reuse. These amazing creatures were specially designed to fill an important niche in the world and demonstrate God’s infinite wisdom and grace. Tell your friends!

See For Yourself . . .

Madagascar hissing cockroaches make excellent pets, as well as being useful for scientific study of insect behavior. They do not bite or have a strong odor, cannot fly, and are easy to handle. They can be kept in a small aquarium and fed fresh or rotting fruits and vegetables and dry dog or cat food. Ask your local pet store for details.

Most entomologists now believe that males hiss to attract females and to establish dominance over other males. You can easily test this hypothesis with your new pet, if you pay close attention.

Materials

At least 2 adult male and 1 adult female Madagascar hissing cockroaches

1 5-gallon (or larger) tank or other similar escape-proof container

At least 3 smaller containers. These should have lids with air holes.

Procedure

Isolate 2 adult male and 1 adult female cockroaches from the rest of the colony and from each other in the smaller containers for 24 hours. Place the two male cockroaches together in the 5-gallon tank, and observe for half an hour. Note the following:

  • How frequently does each roach hiss?
  • How loud is the hissing? How long is each hiss? Are the hisses all the same?
  • Is there a pattern to the hisses?
  • Do both roaches hiss the same way?
  • Do the roaches move toward each other? Do they move apart? Does one move toward the other?
  • Do you notice any other behaviors?

After half an hour, add one female cockroach to the tank. Observe for an additional half hour.

  • Does the hissing of the males change? Do other behaviors change?
  • Does the female hiss in the same way as the males? If not, how is it different?
  • Does the female behave differently from the males in other ways?

Answer

You should expect to hear one male hissing louder than the other male, and the quieter male backing off. When the female is introduced, you should expect to hear both males hiss louder and more frequently. The males may also push each other.

Rich Wendling earned a bachelor of science degree in Education from Ohio State University. For thirteen years he taught science, social studies, and math in the public schools. He is a contributing writer for the Answers Bible Curriculum and a former employee of Answers in Genesis.

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