How to sex a cockroach

14 September, 2008

Question: I have five pet Giant Burrowing Cockroaches and would like to know if they are boys or girls. How can I tell the sexes apart? Is there anything I can do to encourage them to mate?

Answer: Male and female Giant Burrowing Cockroaches, Macropanesthia rhinoceros, are quite similar in appearance. However, it is possible to tell them apart by looking at their pronotums. The pronotum is the shield-like structure just behind the head.

Giant Burrowing Cockroach (Macropanesthia rhinoceros) - female and male

Giant Burrowing Cockroaches. Note the female's smooth rounded pronotum (left) and the male's sculptured pronotum (right).
Photographer: Alan Henderson / Copyright: Minibeast Wildlife

Female Giant Burrowing Cockroaches have a pronotum that is rounded and smooth. The males have pronotums that are much more sculptured. This difference is only obvious in adults and sub-adults; it is very difficult to sex juveniles.

Giant Burrowing Cockroaches usually mate in early summer. You can keep the sexes together all year round, but they may be more likely to mate if you introduce them to each other just before the mating season. Increasing the temperature and humidity of their environment will also encourage sexual activity.

If your cockroaches do mate, they are most likely to do it at night. You should provide your mated females with shallow substrate and a bark shelter. Keep the humidity of their enclosure high and minimise disturbances.

A Giant Burrowing Cockroach in an enclosure

A Giant Burrowing Cockroach in an enclosure.
Photograph: Rodney Start / Source: Museum Victoria

Female Giant Burrowing Cockroaches usually give birth to about 20 live young. The young will remain with their mother for up to 12 months, reach maturity at 2 to 3 years and live for up to 10 years.

More information on the husbandry of this, and hundreds of other species, can be found in the Museum Victoria publication entitled Keeping Bugs Alive! A guide to keeping Australian Invertebrates.

Comments (6)

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Alex 17 December, 2010 08:24
I bought 3 juvenile giant burrowing cockroaches online. I found what seemed to be the eaten remains of one after only two weeks. 4 months later the other smaller cockroach's head went missing...his legs were still moving. Remaining cockroach gaining weight fast. Are they cannibals?
Discovery Centre 5 January, 2011 12:17

Hi Alex, Giant Burrowing Cockroaches have never before been known to eat each other. Here at the Melbourne Museum we keep individuals togethers for years and never have a problem. Sometimes one will start doing lots of digging and excavating that disturbs its housemates – at which time we will separate them until the excavator settles down. Maybe have a look through the enclosure and ensure there are no predators about.

Jeremy 27 February, 2014 18:51
Hi Discovery centre, I too have witnessed the giant burrowing cockroaches from southern queensland eating each other, whether these are the same species I do not know. I believe the problem may be the food availability or preference however I am unsure.
Discovery Centre 11 May, 2014 16:29
Hi Jeremy, we know of no records of Giant Burrowing Cockroaches (Macropanesthia rhinoceros) eating each other. Juveniles moult regularly and their old skins can sometimes be mistaken for dead individuals, and in some cases they will eat the old skin to regain some of the proteins lost in the process. This species normally does well on dried gum leaves and diced apple.
Joshua Atherton 10 August, 2013 07:25
Hi, sorry to respawn an old article. I have 4 of these buggers on the way, what's an ideal humidity to keep these? Regards, Josh
Discovery Centre 14 August, 2013 15:13

Dear Joshua,

The ideal humidity for Giant Burrowing Cockroaches (Macropanesthia rhinoceros) is about 60%. These cockroaches live in the northern parts of Qld but they can often be found in sandy coastal areas where humidity is relatively high, as well as more arid inland areas where humidity is significantly lower.

The best way to provide this is to spray the substrate daily if the enclosure has no lid or if the lid is well ventilated. Less often if there is little ventilation. Try not to spray the entire substrate, and instead spray a wide strip along one edge so that the cockroaches themselves can determine where they want to hang out.

More information on this and other invertebrate species can be found in the 'Bugs Alive' book produced by Melbourne Museum, or on online forums.

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