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Rachel’s Roaches Rock!

Blattodea Culture Group meeting

     

The Blattodea Culture Group (Blattodea being the scientific name for cockroaches) is a club for mainly adults interested in studying and breeding cockroaches. The whole swapping thing is basically because people get new species to culture (culturing meaning breeding and keeping as pets): that’s the whole point of why we went. I was very excited, especially just before the swaps started. Cockroaches are very diverse, and that is one of the main reasons why people want more species of them.  Most of them are very pretty, too, or they have a good defence system that is complicated enough to study. 

 

When I went to the Blattodea Culture Group meeting at the London Natural History Museum, first there was a bit of milling about and working out a few possible swaps.  When we had all arrived (we, as in, all of the members of the BCG) we listened to some talks.

 

The first was by George Beccaloni on collecting hissing cockroaches in Madagascar .  He said that he had discovered a new species of hissing cockroach, it was very big, black and shiny.  It was also extremely aggressive, hissed a lot and used the spikes on its legs as weapons that could easily draw blood.   The cockroaches in Madagascar don’t live in the rainforest but in the dry forest in central Madagascar [photo 1, copyright of G. W. Beccaloni]. 

 

 

The new species was found on a limestone plateau in holes in the limestone.  After his talk I asked the question ’what creatures would eat Madagascan hissing cockroaches’.  His answer was mainly lemurs and spiky hedgehog-like things called tenrecs [photo 2].  In

Madagascar there are no rodents and the hissing cockroaches take over that role: being a pest in other people’s houses.  They are not pests here though, and I don’t really care if they are pests in other places, they are just cute and cuddly to me!  

The second was Adrian Durkin.  He was on a TV programme and he was trying to convince pest controllers not to kill cockroaches.  It was a good idea, especially from my point of view as I love them so much.

Then we were shown the website that the BCG made (www.blattodea-culture-group.org).   It has a bit for identifying worldwide cockroach species.  If you go abroad and find a cockroach, when you come back you can look it up there.   There are images and short descriptions and of course the name so that you know what it is.  If you keep cockroaches and you have a problem, then you can go to the Cockroach Forum (http://www.blattodea.net/) of the same website and somebody from the BCG will answer and tell you what to do.

Then there was a talk by Dr.Phil Bragg who was really interested in stick insects, but in a rain forest in Borneo that he was looking for stick insect in, he photographed cockroaches, put them into a slide show and did a talk about them.  I learnt that any winged cockroaches will come to a light if you set out a light trap at night – but you will only catch males, which is annoying if you want to breed them.  Phil has written a book called An Introduction to Rearing Cockroaches [photo 3] which is good because it tells you how to keep cockroaches, types of cockroach, handling, cages, feeding, breeding, sexing and lots more.  Send a cheque for £2.70 to Dr. P.E. Bragg, 8 The Lane, Awsworth, Nottingham , NG16 2QP , U.K if you would like a copy.  

 

After the talks, we had lunch, and then we went back and did the proper cockroach swapping.  There was a table, and we all put our cockroaches on it and then we took the ones that we wanted and let other people take the ones they wanted.  So it was not organised, like ;’do you want mine because I want yours’ kind of swap, but more like ‘if you want these, you can have them. 

I took three boxes of cockroaches.  One containing ten Madagascan hissing cockroach nymphs (Gromphadorhina oblongonota [photo 4: nymphs]), and the other two both containing ten Lucihormetica subcincta nymphs [photo 5].

 I got 12 Death’s Head cockroaches (also known as Blaberus craniifer [photo 6]) and

74 Ergaula capucina (nicknamed ‘play-dead roaches’, photo 7 male right, female left).  The Ergaulas can play dead very convincingly.  Not only do they look dead, but they also make a smell when they feel threatened.  It is the stench of rotting flesh, so everyone gets the message (unless you know that they are faking it) so almost all of the time they are safe.  The others are very beautiful, especially as nymphs.

The whole thing had been a brilliant experience, but unfortunately the next meeting is in Germany , so we can’t go.  I talked to lots of people, every single person was very interesting and I must have learnt something from everybody.  I learnt that:

  • Some cockroaches smell of almonds.

  • Somebody said that his cockroaches would not eat kiwi – maybe it is too acidic.  Someone else said that his love sweet potato – something to try if you ever keep some.  This picture [photo 8] shows that this is right, but as soon as the light was switched on they all ran away – the one on the kiwi is probably just running off.  They don’t seem to eat mushroom either, but I guess this is because it goes off too quickly in the humid climate you have to provide for the roaches.

  • You can put cockroaches in the fridge to calm them down – but not for very long, and you have to be careful.

  • Cockroaches can get extra minerals and protein from fish food pellets.  It makes them grow bigger, makes their exoskeletons harder because exoskeletons need lots of vitamins.

  • Some cockroaches pair up for life, helping each other to raise their babies. There is even a species, on the other side of things, that breeds without males and so does not need a social network at all.  This is called parthenogenesis.

  • Not all cockroaches are nocturnal, some are diurnal and some come out at dusk, which is called crepuscular.

  • Cockroach blood is properly called haemolymph.

 

I am very happy that I have acquired two new species and very excited about them.  Cockroaches are cool!