German cockroaches (Blattella germanica) have the distinction of being known among entomologists as "the cockroach that gives other cockroach species a bad name." They're members of the approximately 30 species out of 4,500 known members of order Blattodea that cause problems for humans. On the bright side, if you want to keep them as pets, they're nearly impossible to kill, easy to care for, and incredibly prolific.
German cockroaches are easy to find. This introduced species has naturalized, meaning it's found all over the U.S., reproducing with jolly abandon anywhere there's sufficient food, moisture and shelter. That means everywhere with a warm climate and in every other climate, too, provided there's heating during colder months. While you won't find them for sale in pet stores, wherever you happen to see one -- at home or abroad -- it's guaranteed there are many hundreds more, so the ones you have your eye on won't be missed.
A Ritzy Apartment
Your new friends need their own room -- one with special security measures. Cockroaches can climb vertical surfaces, including glass and plastic, can fit through openings you can barely see and are incredibly fast. You can house your pets in a plastic tub covered in cheesecloth held in place with a large rubber band, or if you would rather be able to watch them, in a 5 to 10 gallon terrarium with a tight-fitting, sliding and locking, fine mesh lid. A petroleum jelly barrier smeared all the way around the tank's top inner 2 or 3 inches will discourage crawling out, because it's absolutely guaranteed some roaches will be able to fit around the lid, or through the mesh in the case of new hatchlings.
Cockroaches like to hang out in groups, on vertical surfaces, in the dark. You can build them a nifty clubhouse out of used egg cartons -- the method of choice for professional cockroach breeders. Line the tank with newspaper and remove it when it gets damp and stinky. You can add pretty much any other furnishings you want, as long as they provide dark spots for congregating. Total surface area is more important to your roaches than tank size -- filling the tank with many pieces of egg carton multiplies available living space.
Roaches will eat pretty much anything. You just have to make sure they have enough of it and remove leftovers before they're infested with mold and mites. Pet food, kitchen scraps, your leftovers -- it really doesn't matter. They do need some protein to properly molt and reproduce, but as long as their diet is varied and abundant, their needs will be met. They need constant access to water and some humidity. You can build a safe cockroach waterer by filling a shallow dish with either cotton balls or gravel to create safe places to stand while drinking. Misting once a day may be advised in very dry climates or weather.
The Big Question
The feelings most people harbor toward German cockroaches begs the question: Why? Why would anyone want to raise these pests as pets? There's not a whole lot of demand for the critters, and it's very rare for them to be raised on purpose. A few hardcore ecologists raise them as part of indoor composting units, a few animal trainers in the film industry raise them as animal actors, and they're raised as feeders for other animals. The danger of escapees infesting your home is very real and they are an invasive species. It's strongly suggested if you're interested in pet roaches, you choose a clean, large, tame, pet-like species, such as the Madagascar hissing cockroach, instead.
- Amateur Entomologists' Society: Cockroaches - (Order: Blattodea)
- Amateur Entomologists' Society: Cockroach Caresheet
- BugsInCyberspace.com: Cockroach Care for the Pet Roach, and Feeder Roach Care Sheet for Reptiles and Amphibians
- Texas A&M University, Agrilife Extension: German Cockroach
- University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Extension in Lancaster County: German Cockroaches
- University of Florida Department of Entomology and Nematology: German Cockroach
- University of Pennsylvania, College of Agricultural Sciences - Entomology: German Cockroaches
Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.