2 General Cockroach Husbandry

This section is for general information regarding husbandry and rearing of cockroaches as a group. I will have species specific pages available on the site bar.

So you've been thinking of keeping cockroaches as pets or feeders? Great! You've just started on a fun adventure into this interesting animals life! This is the general information section for everyone's basic needs. 

General care: Climbing/flying species
Enclosures can range from glass tanks to plastic vials. This holds true for any and all roaches.
When dealing with an animal that can climb smooth surfaces you will need to deal with the possibility of the roaches being capable of climbing out of their enclosure. There are several ways to impede this from happening. The most cost effective is to use a petroleum jelly without fragrance or dye. Apply a thin layer to the top 3-4 inches of the enclosure; applying it too thick will lead to smaller nymphs being able to grip the surface and basically walk right over it. If the layer is white it is likely too thick, it should be transparent and just lightly applied. Keep in mind however that petroleum jelly is sensitive to temperatures and direct heat. If you have it too close to the heat source it will run and become ineffective, if it becomes cold, below mid 60's it starts to solidify greatly and becomes ineffective. The best temperatures are below 85F and above 65F for this method. Petroleum jelly will need to be reapplied every few months but lasts quite a long time for the cost.

The next method is to use liquid Teflon. This is a powdered Teflon solution and is applied with a brush in a 3-4 inch band around the top of the tank. Liquid Teflon is a powder in a solution of normally alcohol and once that dries it reverts to a thin layer of powder on the container's surface. This powder impedes the cockroach from being capable of gripping smooth surfaces by interfering with the foot pads. This powder stays until something brushes it off, either you during tank maintenance or from the roaches trying to grip the surface for many months. Most of the time if undisturbed by humans the powder will remain indefinitely.

The last method is using clear packing tape. This must be done in one long strip so there is no surface to grip. I personally have never bothered with this method because of the tape being sensitive to moisture. I keep many of my species in completely sealed containers without ventilation. I open them regularly so I am not concerned about oxygen levels or the like.

Some species are better at flying than others and the best way to deal with this is to assure you have a sealed container. Sealed lids are sometimes hard to come by and most of them do not truly seal. You need to assure that you are using bins with a gasket, a rubber seal that does not allow even air to escape. These are normally available for purchase at food stores for food safe storage. They do cost a bit more than typical Tupperware style bins but they are excellent at keeping small flying species contained. Barriers are not effective against light flying species such as Panchlora nivea or Blattella germanica because they can simply fly to the lid and escape. This is why a gasket is useful, you do not want a German cockroach infestation, ever.

General care: Non-Climbing/flying species
One of the best parts about non-climbing and non-flying cockroaches is that you have no need for a barrier or even a lid if you don't need higher than room-level humidity. All of the same container types can be used for these insects and they do not need alterations to keep them contained. 

General care: Humidity
Humidity can be tricky sometimes and depending on the species you are keeping you will need to keep it very high or low. As a general rule, cockroaches like it humid, this is not the case for all species, but a majority prefer higher humidity.
Sealed Enclosures: To maintain humidity in a sealed bin is simple, if you have a substrate simply soak or mist once a week; without a substrate you can use water gel, or mist every few days.
Vented Enclosures: With a vented bin such as a screened animal tank humidity can be a bit trickier. I use a number of methods to maintain high ambient humidity in my vented tanks but overall the best method is to partially seal the vents/screen with plastic wrap or packing tape. My open vented tanks are for species such as Blaberus discoidalis or Gromphadorhina portentosa which require low to moderate humidity. For these tanks I mist every two days lightly and soak one side of the substrate once every two weeks. If you have a setup without a substrate you can mist every 2-3 days and use water crystals and fresh fruit for a food source.

General care: Heating
Most cockroaches like it warm and humid. Most houses however are neither. To correct for this you must use various heating methods for your animals. The most simple is if you have a separate room that has separate temperature controls. Simply set that room for 80-85ºF and you're done. If you're like me and do not have this luxury, you can turn to heat lamps. You can choose red heat bulbs or black "night" bulbs because the roaches cannot see the light. This is important for cockroaches to feel safe and hidden, normal heat lamps would stress them out and reduce their productivity. I use a utility rack 5 tiers tall and 4-60-75 watt RED heat bulbs, one for each internal shelf. The top shelf is heated underneath by the 4th bulb so I can save a bit on that. Obviously this creates a temperature range on each shelf and the roaches that require the least heat and are well established are placed farthest from the lamps. This has been a successful setup for me for the last two years and costs about $25 a month for 24/7 use on my electric bill. You can also use heating mats designed for reptiles but I have never entirely trusted them. I use one on the side of my Hadrurus arizonensis scorpion tank, not the bottom, and I rarely plug it in. The heat lamps work well for most environments but just remember to keep them a little distance from plastic enclosures because they do get hot enough to melt them.

General care: Substrate and Hides
To substrate or not to substrate, that is the question. Well part of it anyway. Substrates are always useful in my cultures, I use coconut fiber for mine and it works fantastic as an odor reducer and humidity maintainer. I suggest using a substrate for all of your species whether they are burrowers or not simply because of what I mentioned above, less odor and higher humidity. As substrates go, the best is natural cocofiber and Eco-earth style substrates. The addition of sphagnum moss not only provides hides for the roaches but is another way to increase humidity. If you choose not to use a substrate you must make sure you have plenty of eggcrates or cork bark for them to hide. Cockroaches will not breed well if they do not feel safe, substrates can help but the most important part is hiding spots. Don't forget a thermometer/hygrometer to keep an eye on temps and humidity!

General care: Diet
Diet is pretty simple if you have pet species that you do not feed to vertebrates. If you feed to invertebrates you do not need to gutload or use expensive supplements or the like. Invertebrates get their nutrition from their prey and gain very little from supplements meant for vertebrates. I've been feeding my pet roaches a pretty regular diet of dry dogfood (cheap stuff) and fresh fruit. You should feed your cockroaches a source of protein from either dogfood or another type of dry animal feed. They do not need huge amounts of protein so you can feed smaller amounts of dogfood and larger amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. Oranges make one of the best moisture rich food sources for a cockroach and will be readily consumed by all of the available species. (A myth floats around the internet about how oranges will cause your cockroaches to breed and produce young fast, it is not proven that it is more effective than other fruits and only hearsay; personally I don't believe it but you should decide on your own)  I also feed my "feeder" roaches the same diet but I dust them with vitamins and calcium powder before I feed them to my bearded dragon. By using the same diet for all species it simplifies things greatly and makes the weekly feeding less of a chore.

A note about Oak leaves. Some species are noted to enjoy decaying Oak leaves, some even seem to require them to do well in captivity. Oak leave can be easily collected from the woods or most public parks. However, these leaves will contain unseen dangers for your pets; diseases, parasites, molds, and invasive tank pests are common in decaying tree leaves and must be dealt with before placing them in your enclosures. First of all, freezing does not remove all bad things in the leaves, anything living in the leaves will likely go into a hibernative state and reawaken when thawed...just like in nature with the fall-winter-spring schedule. I suggest baking the leaves.
WARNING, NEVER EXCEED 200ºF IN YOUR OVEN WITH LEAVES AND NEVER USE THE BROIL OPTION - OPEN FLAME GAS OVENS ARE NOT RECOMMENDED!!! The leaves must be baked for 20 minutes and YOU MUST watch them the entire time to ensure nothing is catching on fire or anything like that. Safety is paramount here, don't burn your house down! Once they are baked, put them into plastic zip-lock bags and freeze them until you need to use them.

Moisture sources in a cockroaches diet are important for health and overall breeding capabilities. The more moisture in a cockroaches diet the easier they will be capable of producing internal or external ootheca with viable eggs. If you do not feed your roaches enough moisture laden foods or supply water crystals or a water-bowl (filled with river rock to avoid drowning) you will have less young or no young at all. You can, as said, use water gel as a primary water source and feed fruit on rarer occasions to keep costs down. Water gel can be obtained in two forms, the first is a hydrated globular gel. The second is in an unhydrated rock hard crystal. These crystals are the most economically sound and can be purchased for many-many times less for several quarts more worth of crystals.

General care: Tank Setup
Tank setups vary from species to species because of specific needs so I will try and go over the two basic types here. The first is a non-substrate eggflat bin, this is your typical feeder cockroach setup and is great for breeding large numbers in. This is ideal for Blaptica dubia or Blaberus discoidalis and many other moderate humidity requirement cockroaches. Just remember though, just because it's a feeder species doesn't mean you need to treat it like a non-pet animal. I kept my B. dubia, B. discoidalis, and Blaberus craniifer in a combined display tank for years, they are great to watch! That type of tank will lead to less breeding and lower overall numbers however so keep that in mind when you're doing your decision making about their bin. 

Checklist of items to have ready before your cockroaches arrive: FEEDER COCKROACHES
1.) Plastic Rubbermaid style bin, opaque or solid will lead to less disruptions to the roaches but clear is okay if you need to see your little critters. I suggest starting with a 24qt bin with locking handles and moving to larger containers as needed.
2.) Eggflats, these are available from many retailers online and ever some supermarkets. WARNING: DO NOT USE COLORED EGGFLATS, THEY MAY CONTAIN A PESTICIDE! I recommend the use of corkbark because it doesn't get soggy or mold easily, but this costs much more. If you need cheap feeders, go with the cheaper option.
3.) Substrate. I always recommend substrate for moisture control and odor reduction but most species of feeder cockroach have little to no odor and do not require very humid conditions. This can be skipped if you feel you do not need it; just make sure you have enough eggflats to for them to hide.
4.) A food dish. Keeping food in a dish helps to reduce mold and you can avoid misting the food by simply pulling out the bowl when you do so. 
5.) A water dish, remember roaches need moisture in either their diet or as a straight water source. You can use water gel or a shallow bowl filled with water and pebbles to keep the roaches from drowning.

Checklist of items to have ready before your cockroaches arrive: PET COCKROACHES
1.) Plastic Rubbermaid style bin as listed above or if you want to show these wonderful animals off, a glass tank 10-20 gallons in size. I would suggest getting the cheapest fish tanks possible and buy a screened lid separately, I normally save $10 compared to a reptile tank by doing this. Exo-Terra makes a nice front opening glass tank that is great for larger show species that prefer vertical spaces. Blaberus giganteus, Blaberus craniifer, and Archimandrita tesselata are common, large showy roaches that would do well in an enclosure such as this. 
2.) I recommend the use of corkbark because it doesn't get soggy or mold easily and makes for great decoration. 
3.) Substrate. I always recommend substrate for moisture control and odor reduction. In a show tank a substrate is a must. What natural setting doesn't have dirt or leaves? You can include fake plants as well but be aware that roaches will eat live plants and they could be toxic to them. 
4.) A food dish. Keeping food in a dish helps to reduce mold and you can avoid misting the food by simply pulling out the bowl when you do so. 
5.) A water dish, remember roaches need moisture in either their diet or as a straight water source. You can use water gel or a shallow bowl filled with water and pebbles to keep the roaches from drowning.

Notice how similar basic preparations can be for feeders and pets? Cockroaches can be as easy or as difficult as you want them to be.