Library Pets

Countway has Cooper the Therapy Dog … the Ernst Mayr Library has a flourishing group of Gromphadorhina portentosa. More familiarly known as the Madagascar hissing cockroach, these animals, which can grow up to 4 inches long, are quite unlike their pesky cousins, the ones that invade our homes and, though harmless, usually disgust us. After all, most people don’t enjoy going into their kitchens at night and opening a cabinet only to have multiple roaches skitter into corners, across counters, and even up one’s arm. Note the newly molted roach in the pictures.Hissing Cockroaches in the Ernst Mayr Library

G. portentosa, on the other hand, move slowly and can’t survive on book glue and soap scum as their unpopular cousins can. They earn their common name by making a startling hissing sound when disturbed or upset. Males will hiss at each other, wave antennae, thump their abdomens, and even push each other around. (Adult males have humps on their thoraxes that distinguish them from females and are can be used in encounters with rivals.) And unlike female pest roaches, which simply drop their little egg-filled capsules in any crack or corner, G. portentosa females retain their egg capsules inside their bodies until the young hatch.

The library currently has three groups, one consisting of all adult males, another of females and young. Recently, we put a few males and females together for a cockroach orgy. They were first separated in an attempt to control the population, but the babies keep coming; since males don’t develop their characteristic humps until they are close to adulthood, we think that the adolescent males are taking advantage of lack of competition from their elders to have their way with the females. In the past few weeks, however, there have been no new babies, hence a chosen few were selected to carry on the colony. Stay tuned!Hissing Cockroaches in the Ernst Mayr Library

Need some relaxation but can’t get an appointment with Cooper the Therapy Dog? Come to the Ernst Mayr Library, borrow a cockroach container, put it on one of the comfortable desks in the Library, and watch the action (there won’t be much) while you read or study. Offerings of bits of banana or other soft fruits are gratefully accepted, and will probably be rewarded by a view of gourmet dining cockroach-style.