02 Dec Roaches as Feeder Insects By Mandie Surman (www.petbugs.co.za)
How often do we ask ourselves “what feeder insect would be best for my animals, what are the pros and cons?” For many years crickets have been the main feeder insect, but lately many keepers have started feeding alternative food items. This article will explore the humble roach as one of the options.
Well, let’s start with the basics; first – economics. Roaches are possibly the cheapest way to feed your animals. They are extremely easy to keep alive, a tub of roaches fed every once in a while will live for several weeks, even in small tubs. Roaches are also cheap and easy to feed. They are currently very affordable, with prices dropping all the time as availability increases. For keepers with many animals to feed, a breeding colony of roaches will save you a lot of money on a monthly basis. At Petbugs, we have successfully used only roaches to feed all our lizards, tenrecs, tarantulas, and other insect eating animals for the past few years. This is achieved with minimum effort and cost.
But are they as good as crickets nutritionally? Well, no, they are actually better! Roaches are better than most other feeders with regards to protein and out-perform crickets on almost every nutritional aspect, this according to the New Jersey Feed Lab, a well-known American feed laboratory. Most are soft shelled and easily digestible and contain a good calcium to phosphorus ratio. Most animals will readily consume roaches when offered.
“Ok so they are a better feeder insect but my wife will kill me if I bring home roaches” is a phrase that we often hear, not entirely sure why. Roaches don’t chirp and most feeder roaches available are not invasive and will not infest your home if they escape. They are actually very clean animals, constantly cleaning themselves. They very seldom contract diseases and don’t smell when kept correctly.
Some roaches do climb, but to prevent escapes, smear a thin layer of Vaseline around the top of the container. When feeding, rub a little calcium powder around the top of a plastic bowl, this stops them climbing out. The extra calcium is also beneficial to all animals as most feeder insects do not contain enough calcium. Even Tarantulas benefit from small amounts of additional calcium and it may minimize bad molts. If your animal eats a lot, roaches can be placed in a small bowl (with a little calcium powder) inside their cage, and they will not jump or climb out. If you are still concerned about the climbing then non-climbing roaches are also available.
There is a good selection of roaches readily available in South Africa. Most people prefer certain roaches due various characteristics. We will list a few of the more common types and some of their characteristics:
Nauphoeta cinerea (Lobster roaches):
These are one of the cheapest and most readily available roaches. Both adult males and females have wings but can’t fly, they also give live birth. Lobster roaches breed easily and grow fast, up to around 3cm. While adults are perfect for larger animals, the nymphs are good for tarantula slings, geckos, and smaller lizards.
Blatta lateralis (Turkistan roach):
Turkistan roaches are great feeders and often preferred as they do not climb well and cannot climb plastic. They are very active, quickly attracting the attention of your animal. These are extremely soft shelled. Only the adult male has wings but fortunately it can’t fly. The nymphs are small, making them perfect for tarantula and scorpion slings. On the downside, they do not breed as quickly as some of the others.
Phoetalia pallida (Pallid roach):
These are smaller than Lobsters and slightly softer shelled, making them perfect for smaller animals. They grow to around 2cm in length. These can successfully be kept together with Lobster roaches, always ensuring that you have the perfect sized roach. They breed fast and are easy to keep. Both adult males and female have wings.
Blaptica dubia (Orange spotted roach):
These are extremely meaty roaches, giving your animals a good meal. They do not climb well and are slower moving compared to other roaches. Orange spotted roaches grow to a decent size, around 4cm. However, they do breed slowly in relation to most other roaches and therefore usually cost more.
Oxyhaloa deusta (Cape red head):
Not as readily available as many other roaches but still make good feeders when available. Cape red heads are smaller in size, very soft bodied, breed fast and are a very attractive roach. They are perfect for smaller lizards and tarantulas. Males and females have wings.
Gromphadorhina portentosa (Madagascar hissing roach):
These roaches grow huge! Some reach just under 10cm. These were originally pet roaches and can even be hand fed (they eat in a similar way to hamsters). When scared, they behave as their name suggests; they hiss, much to the delight/dismay/disgust of various observers. You can tell males and females apart by looking at their “horns”. Males have horn-like protrusions on their heads. Studies have observed that males often use their “horns” to wrestle male opponents, much like some buck species. The smaller roaches make great feeders but please note that bigger hissers have “spikes” on their back legs that can harm a reptile or spider if they kick. Many people buy Hissers as feeders and soon feel sorry for them and keep them as pets.
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