Cuban Burrowing Cockroaches

The Cuban Burrowing Cockroach, Byrsotria fumigata

Here is a very good paper written by Lucian K. Ross on The Cuban Burrowing Cockroach, Byrsotria fumigata. In comprises of information on the actual species, and then a comprehensive guide on how to culture them for live food.

Please bear in mind, although this paper has been written as regards their use as live food with scorpions they make excellent live food for any insect eater.


Cuban Burrowing Cockroach

Byrsotria fumigata

The Cuban burrowing cockroach, Byrsotria fumigata, is an inhabitant of warm, humid tropical regions of Cuba, the West Indies and Central America. It is a small to medium, flightless species that burrows into soil and hides under surface debris; remaining concealed during the day; exiting the substrate during crepuscular and diurnal periods to mate and feed.

It’s reclusive burrowing behavior during the day and nighttime foraging behavior makes the Cuban burrowing cockroach a ‘perfect’ prey species for nocturnally active scorpions.

Other factors that contribute to the usefulness of this cockroach as a feeder species for scorpions and other invertebrates is that they cannot climb the smooth surfaces of glass and plastic vivaria; cannot fly, are easy to keep and breed, and provide a better shell-to-meat ratio than crickets (Acheta domesticus).

Unlike crickets, Cuban burrowing roaches do not smell or foul-up their enclosure; they can live up to 1-2 years in captivity, are easy to breed, moderately prolific and aside from the initial investment for 2-4 dozen to start a breeding colony, you do not have to purchase a new supply every 7-30 days. Unlike mealworms, waxworms and superworms that may be rejected by many scorpions, Cuban burrowing cockroaches are readily and greedily accepted by scorpions and other invertebrates, and provide more ‘meat’ and nutrients than crickets and other commonly available, commercially reared invertebrate feeders.

Cuban burrowing roaches are dark in overall coloration; ranging from medium brown to black, with the anterior portion of the body being darker than the posterior (abdomen). The majority of females possess a yellowish border around the anterior and lateral edges of the dark pronotum.

If maintained in an environment with a temperature range of 78ºF-82ºF (26ºC-28ºC); humidity levels of 40%-50% and fed a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and protein (e.g. dry dog food pellets), males and females will reach adult lengths of 30-48 mm in 5-7 months. Higher temperatures and frequent feedings results in increased rates of growth and development in the nymphs and more rapid reproductive rates in adults.

Males mature faster than females and reach maturity in 6-8 instars (majority = 7). The larger and more robust females reach maturity in 7-9 instars (majority = 8). Distinguishing the sexes is easy due to brachyptery being a common sexually dimorphic character in many species of cockroaches. In B. fumigata, the females are brachypterous (short-winged) when sexually mature and the males possess wings that extend only three-quarters the length of the abdomen or in rare specimens, the wings extend the full-length of the abdomen. Males possessing either size wings cannot fly.

Female Cuban burrowing cockroaches are ovoviviparous (live-bearing); maintaining the egg-case (ootheca) within the body until the nymphs are delivered during parturition (birthing). Reports suggest that post-birth females may produce a secretion that is fed upon by the newly-emerged nymphs.

To start a breeding colony, you’ll need to locate an online dealer that has adults available. E-mail or call the dealer and request 2-4 dozen adults, with 8 females and 4 males per dozen. This will insure that a large number of females will be gravid and produce offspring (brood size can vary, with 15-35 the average number of nymphs produced per female/per mating). If you cannot find a dealer with available adults, you’ll have to acquire nymphs. The only disadvantage in acquiring nymphs is that the number of males-to-females is unknown. If buying from a private breeder, ask if you can acquire 1-2 gravid females or nymphs from the same female. In the majority of broods of B. fumigata, the number of males-to-females is generally equal. Rarely, broods may contain 1-5 more males than females.

Growth and development is hemimetabolistic, with the nymphs resembling the adults (except for the development of the wings) throughout their development and with each successive molt becoming larger and darker in overall coloration.

The most practical, commonly available and inexpensive container to use as an enclosure for rearing cockroaches is a large, rectangular, 30-45 gallon plastic storage bin (e.g. Sterilite 39 gallon, Ultra Latch Tote #1935). Cuban burrowing roaches are reclusive and prefer low-light and nocturnal conditions; the use of clear or opaque bins are not recommended unless the enclosure will be stored in a dark room or area of the home. Several manufacturers (e.g. Sterilite) offer large storage bins molded in solid blue, green, sand and red plastic. A storage bin with a depth of at least 12” (30 cm) is recommended.

Wash the bin and the lid thoroughly with mild dish detergent and warm water and allow to dry. After the lid is dry, it will need to be modified to provide airflow into and out of the enclosure. To provide ventilation, cut and remove a 10” x 10” square section from the middle of the lid and use silicone to affix an 11” x 11” piece of mesh screen or ¼” or ½” hardware cloth over the ventilation hole. The mesh screen or hardware cloth is more a precaution to keep pets and the curious out of the enclosure.

Add a 2”-3” (5-7.5 cm) layer of moist tan peat to the enclosure. Next, add several large cardboard egg trays, pieces of flat cardboard or a few handfuls of dried leafs over the surface of the substrate. The roaches will gather between the substrate and ground cover, making them easier to collect. Some breeders do not recommend the use of substrate in the enclosure claiming that it makes cleaning the enclosure more time consuming. However, I’ve been rearing colonies for the past 3 years and have not had to remove all of the substrate from a single enclosure during that time.

Every 3-4 months, remove half of the substrate to another temporary container (a white plastic mop bucket) and sift through the substrate and remove any nymphs or adults and return them to the main colony and discard the old substrate. Add fresh substrate to the primary colony until it is returned to its former, pre-cleaning level. In enclosures without a substrate, the roaches tend to be more stressed and reproductive rates tend to decrease on average.

Feeding Cuban burrowing cockroaches is easy as they will eat almost anything placed within the enclosure. However, to achieve maximum growth and a healthy supply of robust feeders the diet should consist of plenty of fruits and vegetables (mangos, bananas, apples, oranges, green leafy vegetables, carrots, celery, plantain, dandelion greens, etc.) and a high-protein, dry dog food as well. For nymphs, high-protein, dry baby cereal (e.g. Gerber) or fish food flakes can be added to the diet. Keep a supply of dry dog food in a medium size, shallow microwaveable plastic container (e.g. Glad) buried in the substrate, leaving only the upper ¼” of the container exposed to insure that food is always available in the enclosure. Fruits and vegetables can be placed on a small paper plate on the substrate. Vegetables should be offered fresh but fruits should be allowed to over-ripen as Cuban burrowing cockroaches consume greater amounts of fruit when over-ripened in comparison to fresh fruit.

Cuban burrowing cockroaches maintained on a diet with reduced fruits and vegetables or a diet of only dog food, are not as healthy and robust, do not grow as large or reproduce as often; the number of nymphs per brood decreases and the rate of growth of the nymphs decreases if not maintained on a balanced diet containing fruits, vegetables, and a source of high-protein.

All-in-all, the Cuban burrowing cockroach offers many advantages over many roach species (i.e. cannot climb glass, cannot fly, breeds moderately fast, etc.) and other traditional feeder insects, and due to the various sizes of nymphs, makes a great feeder species for nocturnally active scorpions from instar II to adulthood.

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