Giant Burrowing Cockroaches

Last updated: Friday 27 May, 2016

(Macropanesthia rhinoceros)

Weighing in at a hefty 30g, Giant Burrowing Cockroaches are the heaviest cockroaches in the world. Their lifespan is equally impressive—they can live up to 10 years!

Fortunately, the preferred habitat of this long-lived cockroach is not your kitchen cabinet! Also known as the Rhinoceros Cockroach or the Litterbug, these gigantic roaches are endemic to Queensland and prefer life in the compacted sands of forests in north east Australia. They’re found along the coast from Rockhampton to Cooktown, and on the Whitsunday Islands.

A member of the Blaberidae Family, they’re unrelated to the much-maligned American or German cockroaches spotted in cupboards across Australia. While the Giant Burrowing Cockroach is not known to be threatened, its habitat is at risk.

Behaviour

Giant Burrowing Cockroaches certainly live up to their name. Measuring up to 80mm, they're giants of the cockroach world and as big as the palm of your hand!

Unlike most insects, Giant Burrowing Cockroaches are wingless, as there’s little need for wings when you spend most of your life underground!

During the day they live at the end of their burrow, in a chamber that can be one metre deep in the soil. They dig burrows with their stocky, spade-like legs. Males have a particularly pronounced ‘scoop’—a shield on the top of their head that's perfectly suited for digging, and fighting with rival males.

They’re most active at night when they surface to gather food from the forest floor. They cart their loot—dry leaves, twigs and bark—underground to eat in the comfort of their chambers. They're particularly partial to crispy Eucalyptus leaves. In this way, the species is an important nutrient recycler – converting leaf litter into soil.

Unlike most insects, which lay eggs, the female Giant Burrowing Cockroach gives birth to live young. In each clutch there are up to 30 young (nymphs). The female cares for her offspring in her underground chamber, feeding them the leaf litter she gathers at night.

During this time the nymphs molt (shed their outer layer) up to 12 times, before they’re fully grown. The Giant Burrowing Cockroach is generally solitary, meeting only to mate. After many months the young will eventually leave the family home, venturing out to dig a burrow of their own.

Threats

The Giant Burrowing Cockroach emits a loud hissing noise if threatened by predators. But habitat destruction is the biggest threat for these gentle giants. Like many invertebrates, little is known about their former range, but we do know that their main habitat—forests in northern Queensland—has been dramatically cleared in the last 200 years.

What Bush Heritage Australia is doing

Through our work on Reedy Creek Reserve we're protecting the habitat of the Giant Burrowing Cockroach.

Reedy Creek Reserve protects an endangered vegetation type: an intact patch of Queensland coastal and riparian forest. This vegetation type has been extensively cleared across its former range to make way for development.

We work with neighbouring land-owners to look after the plant and animal species, like the Giant Burrowing Cockroach, that call Reedy Creek Reserve home. We carefully manage fire on the Reserve to look after native species, and to protect nearby homes. We also work with our neighbours to re-vegetate the forest, using native plants, like Eucalyptus.

Protect Hamelin Station
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