Many of us begged our parents for a certain pet, growing up. Personally, I asked my parents for it all. I wanted a dog one week, a cat another, maybe even a hedgehog a few months later. Like many other parents, most of the time my mom refused to get me a living being I would have sole responsibility over, and understandably so. Children are unpredictable, irresponsible, and arguably the worst pet anyone can have. I would not let most animals be around the average child unsupervised, much less allow that animal to be in the sole care of a child.
But what if I told you that there is a pet that is so easy to care for, that even a child could do it? What if there were a pet that was so cheap, readily available, docile, hardy, and easy to care for that I would argue this pet is the perfect pet for beginner caretakers? Well, thankfully for novice pet owners and parents of small children alike, such a pet does exist. Allow me to introduce the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach.
Now, I know what many of you are thinking. Really? A cockroach? Like the ones that live in my walls? Rest assured, these roaches from Madagascar are nothing like the American, German, and Oriental Cockroaches that are commonly considered pests. One major upside of the hissing roach is that they do not have wings. That means they cannot fly, and therefore are easier to handle than house roaches, and hopefully the lack of wings will make the bug less intimidating to you and/or your child. The hissing roach also does not spread nearly as many diseases as your average house roach, and has very different dinner cravings than the roach living in your kitchen. While a house roach will eat rotting food, skin cells, and even your toenails, a cockroach from the lush rainforests of Madagascar prefers many of the same foods you eat, such as fresh fruit and veggies. This makes feeding them extremely easy to feed, and in most cases you can feed them with food you already have in your kitchen. These roaches are also very clean, and will groom themselves on a regular basis. It’s actually quite cute to watch them clean their little antennas, and personally it reminds me of a tiny, armored cat that has slightly more legs.
One similarity that the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach does share with house roaches is that they are extremely hardy. Many of you have seen, or lived through, a cockroach infestation. They seem impossible to get rid of, and seem to come back sometimes even faster than you chased them away (or ended their life). This is because cockroaches are extremely resilient, and can survive extreme environments that you and I would not be able to tolerate. The hissing roach can survive with very limited food, water, and space. These cockroaches will actually prefer to crowd with each other, and I often witness groups of them gathering together in a corner of their enclosure, regardless of how much space they have. This makes the hissing roach extremely easy to house and keep.
Now, keep in mind that these bugs are not immortal. If you neglect them too much or subject them to enough trauma, they still can get sick, injured, or pass away. However, it is hard to kill them accidentally. All they really need is moisture, a place to hide, and some food that you probably already have in your refrigerator. If you keep them somewhat with care, they will survive and even thrive in your hands. They do well at room temperature, so a heat source is only really needed if your house gets unusually cold. They are very widely available, as they have been popular pets for years. Their popularity also makes information on their care very accessible, and they don’t cost a fortune either. Usually, these little guys cost around $5, which is about half as much as I once saw a person pay for a TALL drink at Starbucks.
Another thing about the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach that makes them the perfect pet for novice owners is the way they defend themselves. Many other exotic animals can lash out pretty hard if they feel threatened, and many snakes, lizards, and insects can even send you to the hospital, or even to the coroner’s office. Thankfully for hissing cockroach owners, the most you will get from one of those guys is a poke from their (surprisingly) sharp, hairy legs. This is nothing compared to the venom of a black widow spider, a bite from a boa or python, or even the hairs flicked from a tarantula. The main defense mechanism they use is a loud hissing noise, hence their common name. They don’t bite, sting, inject, or do anything that would warrant even the mildest of medical attention. I would be more worried about you hurting them than them hurting you, as a human is hundreds of times bigger than a cockroach— and does in fact have the ability to bite.
I can’t lie. When I first met a hissing cockroach I was a little bit intimidated. It was in 9th-grade biology, and it’s safe to say their defense mechanism worked on me. However, after seeing my classmate hold them with no problem, I became curious about how they do as pets. To my surprise, I found out that these guys were some of the easiest and cheapest pets to care for. Many people don’t consider this bug a friend, and I can’t blame them. House cockroaches spread diseases and are a massive nuisance. I am not saying that everyone should run out and buy a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach right now. I strongly believe there is no shortage of people that would not be able to handle a pet with even the simplest of requirements. However, I hope that after seeing my point of view, many of you will consider getting your very own hissing invertebrate. You might be surprised at how fun and interesting they are, and how rewarding they can be as a companion.