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Dubia Roach Care and Natural Nutrition

Blaptica Dubia Roaches are widely heralded as one of the best available options we have for captive bred feeder insects, and I have to agree with that both for the individual simply purchasing them as a feeder as well as the hobbyist looking to start a colony to help support their collection. Dubia roaches are naturally high in protein, are not fowl smelling, don't bite or fly, and are easy to keep alive until you need them. They're also one of the most prolific roach species that generally require very little human intervention making them a worthwhile investment. 



Scientific name: Blaptica Dubia

Common name(s): Orange Spotted Roach, Guyana Spotted Roach, Argentine Spotted Roach, Dubia Roach


Lifespan: Adult males live about 9 - 10 months, females live approx 1.5 years in captivity

Max adult size: 1.6"-1.8"


Life Cycle:

Birth - Dubia roaches are ovoviparous, meaning they are born via eggs that are hatched within the body of the female. Nymphs are born white and soft, approximately 1/8" and darken shortly after birth as they harden. 


Nymphs - Juvenile roaches are called nymphs. Dubias have seven instars, or phases between molting, and molt six times between birth and adulthood. They grow approximately 1/8" with each molt (varies depending on environmental variables) about every three to four weeks.


Adulthood - Dubias reach adulthood at about five to seven months of age in optimum captive conditions. Male and females are sexually dimorphic, or exhibiting noticeable physical differences. Males are light brown and have long wings that extend the length of their body while females are dark black and brown with caramel stripes and spots along their abdomen. The female has primitive wing stubs that are virtually useless. Males are not adept at flight and generally just flutter their wings to control decent from a higher point. 


Habitat: Dubia roaches are adapted to forest life. They're unable to climb slick surfaces such as glass and struggle to climb plastics. Their tiny clawed feet are much more useful for climbing the trunks of trees. This species is generally shy and prefer to hide under leaf litter in their natural habitat, emerging at night to forage and breed. 


Temps: Dubias can easily survive temperatures between 75 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. For breeding, temps between 80 - 95 Fahrenheit are recommended. (In my experience, they seem to do best around 90 degrees.) 


Humidity: These roaches do not require much special attention in the way of humidity. Humidity levels around 40% are just fine. Unless one lives in a very dry climate, misting the enclosure is unnecessary and often promotes the growth of mold which can be very dangerous to the colony.  


In captivity, they are more comfortable in a dark box and are generally inactive in daylight thus rendering heat via a heat lamp inefficient. Instead, a heat pad or under tank heater is best. The lid of the container should be well ventilated. Cutting a hole at least half the size of the lid typically does the trick. The opening in the lid can be covered with window screen or mesh to keep the roaches contained and prevent any unwanted insects from getting into the container. (Taping the screen is a pain, try hot glue instead)


Cleaning out the container is not typically necessary. The excrement of roaches is called frass. Small nymphs hide within and feed on the frass of adults for the first few instars. Cleaning out the frass is not necessary unless there is a concern of mold or it really becomes abundant, but a thin layer along the base of the container is fine and will not cause odor. Water crystals, wet sponges, produce, and anything else that may cause the frass to become damp should be separated and placed on a Tupperware lid or in a food container to prevent mold and maggots. 


When selecting containers for food and water sources, I recommend containers that are not slick as Dubias struggle to climb slick surfaces. You can cut a V shaped hole in the side to create a doorway but realistically this will likely just cause the contents to spill out. Instead, gently sanding the container with a fine grain sand paper will help make the plastic coarse enough for the roaches to scale the sides. Placing a small pile of water crystals and food onto the tupperware lid itself is also a great alternative if you have a small amount of roaches in the container. Most colonies will not go through food so quickly that they'd be left without it if you're checking every day or every few days using this method. 


Feeding:

In their natural environment, roaches are efficient scavengers able to seek out dead leaves, decaying trees, fallen fruit and other foodstuffs using their antennae. Roaches are capable of self selecting nutrients that suit their needs.


Studies have found that the dietary needs of roaches vary, particularly between males and females. Male roaches tend to prefer a diet high in carbohydrates rather than high in protein. Females, however, require a higher protein diet which has been speculated to be due to the amounts of protein that they use in order to produce oothecae, but would also occasionally select carbohydrate rich options at certain points. Nymphs also favored higher protein choices during certain periods in their growth, especially toward the latter instars. 


In lab tests, Dubias are found to thrive on a diet with between 23% and 25% plant based protein. This number is so specific that even 2% more or less showed dramatic differences in the roaches' overall well being and even the length of their lifespan due to the buildup of uric acid.


Uric acid is a natural byproduct of protein digestion however high levels of uric acid can be dangerous and even deadly. The digestive system of most creatures will excrete excess uric acid. However Dubia roaches have a special adaptation to help them survive life in the wilderness where proteins may be hard to come by. Instead of excreting uric acid when excess protein is consumed, it is stored in the fat body of the roach as an energy reserve to be used later when proteins are scarce. This is a great tool that contributes to the roaches' astounding ability to survive a harsh environment, however it is flawed. Lab tests on the effects of proteins on roaches has found that their bodies don't have any sort of mechanism to control this uric acid retention. Instead, the body will continue to build up the antioxidant until the roach dies. 


In short, the key to successfully feeding a colony of Dubias is options. Attempting to feed a single food source, whether that be high carbs or high protein, can negatively affect roaches in the colony at different life stages. If proteins are too scarce, you may find that the males are subject to wing chewing. If the only food source available is a high protein food, you may notice a higher frequency of deaths in males. Instead, offering a food source high in carbohydrates such as cereal grains as well as a 23 to 25% protein diet will allow the roaches to self select the foodstuffs to satisfy their nutritional needs at any given time in their life cycle. It is widely debated whether or not Dubias can or do consume animal proteins naturally. Scientific journals deduce the occasional meal of decaying animal proteins may give them the protein boost they need in order to reproduce or molt since their natural diet is quite lacking in protein and these tasks take quite a toll on their protein reserves. Still, their diet is inarguably primarily herbivorous and detritivorous and thus protein sources should be plant based. 


If you should choose to feed a dry/powdered diet it is also recommended that you offer fresh produce. Many food sources are depleted of certain nutrients when processed and this will help ensure the roaches are getting the vitamins and minerals that they need. Offer just enough produce that they can eat it within a day or so to prevent mold and keep from attracting unwanted pests. 


If you are not attempting to breed roaches and are simply keeping them alive until you're ready to feed them off to a pet, a commercial roach chow will make a suitable gut load and do no overall harm to your feeders over that short amount of time. 


Regardless of what or how you choose to feed your roaches, a good rule of thumb is to only feed your feeders what you would want your reptiles eating. Even though roaches have more nutritional value to them than simply their gut content, gutloading is a great way to boost nutrients ingested by your pet. There really isn't much that they won't eat but of course as they say, you are what you eat and we want our pets to be healthy and therefore we want their feeders to be healthy too so strive to feed them well. 


Also, interesting tidbit; in my experience over the years I have found stark differences in the nutritional preferences of different species of roaches. Unfortunately, I'm hard pressed to find a whole lot of information on the specifics of Dubia roach nutrition, and even less for other species. Keep a lookout, I'm working hard to gather my tips and tricks for feeding Dubias and a few other species in a future post.


Watering/Moisture:

So, if you don't already know this, giving insects including roaches access to plain old water is not a good practice because they are experts at drowning. Even though roaches breathe through spiracles on the underside of their abdomen and not through their mouth, and they can hold their breath for at least 45 minutes and have seemingly no issues climbing in and out of the containers when they don't contain water, they still manage to drown. I don't get it either. 


However, moisture is very important for the well being of your roaches and you must have a source of moisture available. If your roaches don't have sufficient access to water for a prolonged period, the roaches will struggle to breed and molt properly and may die in the process, the wings of adult males will not fully expand and will be permanently shriveled and you will likely see a lot of males with chunks missing from their wings due to wing chewing. 

How are we to best hydrate them without drowning them? There are quite a few suggestions in this department. The main ones are sponges, water crystals and vegetables. 


Sponges

I don't like them. I'll just be honest. That is 100% my opinion and you can do whatever you want. They work, there's no arguing that. But I'm basically a high functioning germophobe and I cannot stand sponges. Not even in my own kitchen. I have one but that's because I live with other human beings who seem to think they're necessary. I spend more times microwaving it (by the way, you should microwave your damp sponge for 2 minutes every day to kill little nasties that might be lurking there) than I do using it. They're damp and they stay that way for a long time, which makes them great for retaining moisture for your bugs to slurp but that plus the heat in your box also creates the perfect environment for bacteria and mold to grow. 


Hard pass. 


Water Crystals

Water crystals are a great option. They're cheap, they're easy to use and bugs love them. I can't think of a single downside. I've been using them for as long as I've had roaches at least which has been since...2010 I believe. And I still use them today. Get a home depot bucket with a lid, fill half way with water (half way because the full bucket is HEAVY and that's a loooooot of water crystals which will take a long time to use and they do smell musty after a few months so you'll only want to make as many as you can use in a few months and then wash your bucket before making the next batch) and toss in those little magic beans and you're set. Keep the lid on to keep out organic materials that may mold, chemicals, debris, etc. Done and done. How much better can it get?


Vegetables

Fresh veggies are also a great option especially if you're just keeping your bugs alive until you're going to use them and you don't feel like dealing with measuring out and storing water crystals (I mean that's not hard but...) or just to feed to your bugs as a part of their diet. I give my colonies both water crystals and fresh fruits and veggies. Potatoes have been a favorite especially for crickets for a long time but I prefer carrots over potatoes for their better nutritional content. 


Now here's the thing about vegetables. Just like they do, they will decay and cause mold, and if you've been paying attention you know that mold is bad. So, only give small portions, about as much as they can eat in a day or two. Check back and make sure it has been fully consumed or remove it and provide more fresh veggies. You especially want to avoid overfeeding wet foods like tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, berries, apples, watermelon etc. As foods that are more dry like potatoes and carrots sit around and decay they tend to dry out but a lot of fruits and some vegetables that have higher water content kind of become...soup. Yuck. This will bleed into the frass at the bottom of the bin, any dry food that you have in there, your egg flats or cardboard pieces or whatever, and basically turn everything into a mushy moldy mess. That takes quite a bit of time to clean up, you'll have to throw away your food and furniture (egg flats or cardboard or whatever) and well, it's just icky. To add to this unsavory soup, in no time flat you will find that new uninvited guests have moved in; fruit fly larvae. I mean, if you're trying to start a culture, that's great. But not in your roach bins. 


Thanks for reading! We're always open to suggestions for future posts and happy to answer any questions you have.

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