Living a Zoo Dream – Hissing Cockroach

Just when we thought spring had arrived, Minnesota decided to remind us of our northern latitude by providing a lovely snowfall. We even canceled school in Duluth and many surrounding communities! Despite the weather, this week has been fun, as I’ve continued to get involved in multiple aspects of the zoo.

As we’re always looking to improve and revitalize the zoo, I got to work with our staff to redevelop the old reef tank exhibit in our Australia building. The old exhibit had multiple issues and therefore needed to be closed some time ago.

While it’s never fun to close an exhibit, it does create the opportunity to think creatively about how we can re-purpose an area of the zoo. This week the staff worked hard to clean out all of the old rockwork and materials in the exhibit to prepare it for development for new animals. I could tell you what is coming in that space, but I need to save some material for future blogs!

I also had the opportunity to start training with our education department to be able to handle animals for education programs. We have a large number of animals that are used for our hundreds of on- and off-site education programs annually. These animals include: snakes, turtles, birds, rabbits and bearded dragons. The zoo takes the handling of these animals seriously and has a training program for those interested in participating.

Training ensures that animals are handled in a safe and consistent manner, and that our staff members as well as volunteers recognize any signs of stress in the animals. I have much more training to come, but it was fun to learn more about these amazing creatures. Come visit them in our Griggs Learning Center the next time you visit the zoo.

One group of animals often overlooked in Griggs is our collection of hissing cockroaches. Many people find cockroaches disgusting, but they are actually beautiful and amazing. Our hissing cockroaches are native to Madagascar. They can grow up to three inches long and can live up to five years in captivity. Their glossy exoskeleton is quite beautiful, and males have “horns” that they use for fighting.

Hissing cockroaches are critical to the ecosystem, as they are detritivores that turn leaves, logs and other plant matter into soil. Their “hiss” comes from pushing air through their abdominal spiracles. These animals will hiss as a show of dominance. But they also do it as a defense mechanism, mimicking a snake to scare away predators. Here is a link demonstrating the hiss of these unique animals. Please note that this video is not from the Lake Superior Zoo, and we don’t make our cockroaches hiss. We don’t like to intentionally scare or disturb them.

That’s all I have for this week. I hope you continue to enjoy this inside look at the zoo and the fun things that happen here on a daily basis. Here’s to hoping for some warmer weather and a great week for everyone!

Corey Leet is CEO of the Lake Superior Zoo. You can contact him at cleet@lszoo.org or 218-730-4500, extension 203. Find his blog at lszooduluth.org and on the Lake Superior Zoo’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.


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