There are a lot of good reasons to feed your herps Dubia roaches. In general, their benefits as feeders are many while their costs and compromises are few and far between.
The most important benefit of Dubia roaches in our view is that they are nutritionally superior to other feeder insects. They have more of the good dietary stuff animals need and less of the bad stuff they don’t. They are arguably the most nutritious feeder insect available. While an occasional insect here or there may have more of nutrient X or Y, food is a package deal. You have to take the bad along with the good, and Dubia roaches contain a lot of the good and very little of the bad.
In fact, this is where Dubia roaches shine. For an insect packed with so many important nutrients, they have such little downside nutritionally and otherwise that we’re sort of amazed they aren’t more widely known by the public at large. Even more amazing is that the long list of Dubia roach dietary benefits is just the beginning. In addition to nutritional superiority, animals typically love them, they’re easy to keep, they’re long-lived and have a digestive tract that seems to be made for gut loading, and this is just the beginning. There are many more reasons…
17 more, actually.
If you’re thinking about trying Dubia roaches but don’t know much about them, or if you’ve heard of them but aren’t convinced yet, this article can inform you about their benefits. Our experience with Dubia roaches has been overwhelmingly positive and we want to pass along what we’ve seen, experienced, and learned. Because there are reports from literally thousands of like-minded herp owners, we think the odds of you also having a positive experience with Dubia roaches are strongly in your favor.
Dubia roach nutrition is outstanding
Let’s start with a quote:
“Dubia roaches are a better feeder species than most other insects for pets. They are popular for feeding reptiles and amphibians because they contain a high amount of protein (a high quality herp food source). They are soft-bodied and have more meat for example than crickets making them an excellent food item for example for arachnids and small lizards.”
– Ahmad Alamer (external link)
We agree. Nutritionally, Dubia roaches are at the top of the list. They’re not only packed with lots of good things animals need, they deliver those things with less of the bad stuff than other insects. For example, they’re relatively high in protein, calcium, and minerals. They’re also low in fat and chitin. Comparatively speaking, they’re also high in meat vs. shell and have low water content. By weight, their nutrition is superior. It is common for animals eating around 10 crickets a day to consume just two or three similarly-sized Dubia roaches. This has been our own experience and we’ve heard reports of this same phenomenon from many herp owners.
You can see why this is true in the data. The following image is from our feeder insect head-to-head, which contrasts 20 of the most common feeders with the Dubia roach.
So back to the issue at hand…
At nearly 22%, Dubia roaches are near the top of the list for protein among feeder insects. This means that on a dry matter basis (DMB), they are 54% protein. This easily surpasses the upper minimum recommended protein intake for captive insectivorous herps according to the Merck veterinary manual (external link). It is generally accepted that insectivorous reptiles, for example, get no less than 30% to 50% dietary protein.
We believe replicating the natural diet of wild herps is the best way to achieve good health among captive ones. Quality, high-protein insects are not a luxury. They are a necessity. The scientific literature on the nutrition content of insects as feeders is a huge contributor to the body of research in this area. This is mainly because zoos have a financial incentive to design the healthiest diets they can for their animals. You might be amazed by how many companies sell exotic animal feed to zoos. With profit comes funding for research, and the researchers in the field of animal nutrition routinely cite a high quality protein source as one of their top priorities for captive herps. Dubia roaches meet that standard.
2. Nutrition Density
You can think of water as a nutrient delivered by feeder insects, or you can think of it as a lost opportunity to consume protein, carbs, fat, and other essential nutrients. Not that water isn’t essential; it certainly is. But in ordinary circumstances we choose the latter. Day-to-day, we want our animals to consume as many growth and health-promoting nutrients as possible. Water is part of that, and feeder insects play an important role in herp hydration, but our animals get plenty of water whether they eat Dubia roaches or crickets or mealworms. If we have the unfortunate opportunity of running into an emergency dehydration situation where an animal refuses to drink, we can switch to high water content feeders like silkworms and crickets.
However, during the course of normal day-to-day operations we prefer feeding our animals more meat per ounce of insect ingested. This is also why we tend to prefer gross nutrient content as a measure of insect nutrition to dry material basis (DMB). DMB might be a better measure if all insects were the same size and dry matter to water ratio, but they aren’t. In fact, the differences between insects is a big part of what defines them as feeders, and those differences are often profound. We find it more useful to think in terms of nutrition in the context of what is actually consumed. Consuming one thing means something else was not consumed, and we want to fill that limited space with as much nutrition as possible. This means feeding the most nutritious insect possible. With respect to nutrition density, the most nutritious insect is the Dubia roach.
Chitin is the basic structural component of the arthropod’s hard exoskeleton. It is fibrous and indigestible. While it provides some benefits to reptiles and amphibians, it can also cause digestive problems in some animals. Beyond the potential for gastric distress it isn’t harmful per se, but like water, chitin represents a lost opportunity to consume nutrients that promote good health. All things equal, the more chitin your animals eat, the fewer essential nutrients they get.
Of all the feeders on the list for which chitin data is available, Dubia roaches have the least with just 3.5% of total body weight. For comparison, locusts are 20% chitin and waxworms are 13%. Dubia roaches not only supply more nutrients per ounce than these other feeders, but more of that dry matter is the good, healthy stuff like minerals that promote health and less of the other stuff that doesn’t. We consider that a win-win.
As everyday feeders, one of the Dubia roach’s most useful features is a very long digestive tract. They are well adapted to life on a nutrient-poor rain forest floor where decaying wood, rotting leaves and other detritus are its primary foods. In the wild, fruits and vegetables are a luxury, as are occasional dead insects or other small animals. It is likely that only fortunate roaches living in cities or villages get regular high quality foods. The rest are probably lucky to scrounge up the occasional grains, vegetables, or fruits.
This might deter other less hearty insects, but not B. dubia. It is a highly evolved scavenger. It doesn’t let a little thing like low nutrient environments stop it.
To deal with food scarcity, Dubia roaches evolved special cells in their guts called myocytes. Myocytes house a specific kind of cellulose-digesting bacteria that is passed from one roach generation to the next. In return for playing host, roaches get vital nutrients like vitamin B and amino acids from the bacterial action on polysaccharides. Since bacteria need time to digest cellulose, B. dubia developed an unusually long digestive tract.
Gut length is important, but how Dubia roaches use their long digestive tract also contributes to their superiority as feeders. They have the curious ability to hold food in their stomachs for up to three days before passing it along down the line. In theory you can serve three days worth of gutload to your animals, and sometimes more, in just one Dubia roach meal. This gives Dubia roaches an enormous advantage over other feeder insects.
But wait…there’s more. When animals eat gutloaded Dubia roaches, the gutload is in various stages of digestion. One days…two days…and three. The specialized bacteria mentioned previously and the roach’s own digestive processes have changed the food’s chemical composition in ways that are beneficial to the roach…and also to the animals that eat them. Other common feeder insects can’t do that. Other roaches can to a certain degree, and so can termites, but we can think of a few good reasons not to introduce termites into your home. Dubia roaches score again.
5. Ca:P ratio
Dubia roaches have a relatively high calcium to phosphorous ratio of about 1:3. The ideal range is between 1:1 and 2:1 Ca:P. Animals with dietary intake outside this range risk Metabolic Bone Disease and a few other serious medical conditions.
Unfortunately, almost all feeder insects fall short with respect to Ca:P ratio. This is why dusting with calcium powder like Osteo-Form (external link) or Repti-cal (external link) is common practice. Dubia roaches don’t have a particularly low Ca:P ratio. In fact, relative to other feeder insects it’s pretty high, but dusting or a gutload with calcium is still advised.
While this is another relative advantage for Dubia roaches, it probably isn’t very useful in practical terms because as you will see in the next section, the calcium level is low and dusting with calcium powder is advisable.
This is closely related to calcium:phosphorous ratio but different enough to be a benefit on its own. It could be argued that having a high Ca:P ratio but being extremely low in calcium in absolute terms is worse than having a low ratio but being high in calcium. Metabolic bone disease is way too common in captive animals, and it keeps occurring despite all the calcium dusts and gut loads out on the market. For the health of herps generally it would be good if, on balance, dietary calcium was increased naturally through a high-calcium feeder with no extra effort required from herp owners.
At 312 mg/kg calcium, Dubia roaches are higher than most feeder insects, and the benefits of calcium should not be understated. Getting it in sufficient quantities will help your animal avoid metabolic bone disease. however, because other issues relating to captivity mean even more calcium should be consumed by captive herps, we suggest dusting with calcium powder even if you’re feeding them Dubia roaches.
7. Vitamins & Minerals
For our article comparing Dubia roaches with other feeder insects, we set out to gather all the vitamin and mineral data available for the most commonly available feeder insects. We found that vitamin and minerals, while varying from study to study – sometimes by a lot – are generally more plentiful in Dubia roaches and some other roach species generally.
We also found it interesting that one study (external link) considered many common feeder insects nutritionally deficient (# of nutrients): waxworms(9), superworms(8), giant mealworm larvae(7), adult mealworms(6), mealworm larvae(5), adult house crickets(4), house cricket nymphs(4), silkworms(4), and earthworms(4). You will notice that Dubia roaches are not on this list.
At about 8%, Dubia roaches are mid-range with respect to fat content. This is one area that varied widely in research data. Some reported high fat while others reported low. What’s interesting is that roaches have what’s called a “fat body” that stores energy (including proteins) for future use. It’s part of their adaptive response to scarcity. In times of plenty they store up energy for reproduction or for times food may be difficult to find. Fast growing nymphs have a much smaller fat body and therefore less overall fat because they haven’t had time to store it up.
Captive herp fat requirements are not well studied. It seems the scientific consensus is about what you’d guess after applying some common sense. Reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids need dietary fat. This is especially true for insectivorous ones. They don’t require huge amounts – just enough to provide the essential lipids they’re unable to manufacture themselves. High fat insects like waxworms are generally considered healthy, but they should probably be more of a treat than a staple. Again, this goes back to opportunity cost. If your animals are filling up on fat beyond what they need, like water or chitin, they’re missing the chance to eat protein and carbohydrates.
Unfortunately no one is quite sure what they need. In this case we default back to that which is found in their natural prey, which in the wild of course varies.
9. Feeding Interest
As cockroaches go, Dubia roaches are not particularly fast, but they aren’t exactly slow either. They’re just about right for peaking the interest of insectivorous animals like bearded dragons, chameleons, and arachnids without being too fast or overwhelming. They will wander a cage for those who allow their animals to hunt and stay active inside a feeding bowl for those who don’t. With a little strategic placement they will climb branches for arboreal animals, scale screen walls in search of warmth, and scamper around on the ground in search of shelter.
In the cases where an animal finds them too fast or aggressive, Dubia roaches can be slowed down by putting them in the refrigerator for a few minutes. For animals that like them fast, the roaches can be taken directly from a high-temperature enclosure to the animal’s cage. Adult male Dubia move noticeably faster than the females and juveniles of both sexes, and when necessary the refrigerator trick works great on them.
In our experience, Dubia roaches are very good at eliciting a feeding response. When one of our animals isn’t interested, it usually means it’s not hungry. It’s worth noting that there can be an adjustment period for animals used to eating other insects. A good way to break this habit is to allow the animal not to eat for a day or so. Not too long…just long enough for hunger to overcome any reluctance to change old habits. It only seems to take one or two Dubia roach meals for most animals to register them as OK to eat.
10. All-Around Nutrition
While closely related to the benefits of specific nutrients, all-around nutrition deserves a category of its own. One of the biggest challenges in herp nutrition is finding a complete and balanced food source, and since that doesn’t exist we compensate by dusting, gut loading, and including as much variety in the diet as possible. The problem is that this is difficult and at times impossible. In an ideal world, a single insect would meet all our animal’s nutritional needs.
While not perfect, Dubia roaches are the closest to a nutritionally complete feeder insect that we’ve found. Since supplementation at this point in time is inevitable, the goal is to find as complete a “base” food source that we can and then supplement with vitamins, minerals, and occasionally other insects from there. Dubia roaches seem to be made for this purpose due to the nutritional advantages previously mentioned, and this in itself is a very large nutritional advantage – maybe even the biggest of all.
Dubia roach husbandry benefits
In addition to their many nutritional benefits for animals, Dubia roaches also have some advantages for animal owners. First though, let us say that tropical roaches like Dubia, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, and others are not scary creatures. They are not the roaches you see scurrying a hundred miles per hour across the kitchen floor, eating anything and everything in their path. B. dubia are not pests. They are clean, social roaches that pose very low risk to people and property.
11. They’re clean
Dubia roaches require temperatures found in the tropics to survive, but they tolerate low humidity. This means their enclosures remain mostly dry. Assuming a plant-based diet and adequate enclosure maintenance, their poop will won’t smell and will be a less likely breeding ground for unwanted pests like mites or flies. While these issues can occasionally occur, properly managed colonies can remain remarkably clean and problem-free.
Despite their reputation as disease vectors, cockroaches are meticulous groomers and may spend more than half of their time grooming. The diseases certain species have been known to carry originate not with the roach itself but its environment. In fact, other feeder insects in the herp trade – not Dubia roaches – have been singled out as potential disease carriers. Crickets, mealworms, superworms, black soldier flies, and houseflies are regularly noted for their potential as disease sources. The cause is usually assumed to be moist and warm living conditions in combination with the insects excretions and uneaten food items. We were unable to find any research suggesting the same for Dubia roaches.
12. They don’t smell
It follows from their cleanliness that neither Dubia roaches or their enclosures smell bad. This has been our experience and is the general consensus among roach-keepers. As far as we can tell this is unique among feeder insects. Crickets smell awful. Mealworms get funky. Mealworm beetles stink when disturbed. All the feeders we’ve tried have smelled in one way or another – divided only by the degree and scope of stench nastiness.
Dubia roach enclosures have a little mustiness that trends toward the smell of the foods they eat. Whether that’s because the aroma of the food simply fills the enclosure or the roaches smell of the foods they eat is unclear, but what matters to us is that when they’re eating mostly oranges, grains, and other all-natural plant ingredients, the smell is barely noticeable. When we do notice it, it’s not noxious or offensive. Any odor that does exist becomes stronger and takes on a different smell when they eat more animal-based foods, but even then we wouldn’t describe the smell as unpleasant per se. It’s just different and stronger.
It’s worth noting that all Dubia roaches regardless of diet will emit a slightly musky odor when agitated. That smell is also mild and doesn’t linger.
13. They don’t make noise
Have you ever dealt with chirp, chirp, chirp in the middle of the night? Dubia roaches don’t chirp, hiss, cluck, or anything else. The most you’ll hear from them are the soft pitter-patter of tiny feet as they search for their next meal, or maybe a date for the evening. We suspect most of the scurrying heard within a colony relates to mating behavior.
14. They’re prolific breeders
If you’re buying Dubia roaches for a steady supply of feeders, you’re in luck. Adult female Dubia may produce around 35 nymphs every other month once their requisite environmental needs are satisfied. Fertility is strongly connected to habitat and health, so you’ll need to adjust these things as you move forward.
15. They can’t climb glass or slick plastic
Assuming the walls are smooth enough, lids on Dubia roach enclosures are an option rather than a necessity. Lids help maintain humidity and temperature and they can prevent curious pets and others from creating unwanted problems. But they aren’t required. All things equal, there’s no need to lock Dubia roaches in. They can’t climb non-textured surfaces like other roach species.
16. They don’t fly
Dubia roaches have wings but they aren’t for flying. That pretty much sums it up.
17. They don’t attack or bite
This is probably self-explanatory. Dubia roaches won’t attack, bite, or otherwise harass you or your animals. Darkling beetles may nibble on resting reptiles or arachnids. They may even try eating their fellow food bowl mates. Mealworms can devour crickets alive and crickets bite with powerful jaws. On the other hand, Dubia roaches are harmless. From our perspective, people tend to lump all cockroaches together. For that reason B. dubia and other tropical roaches get a bad rap. Before getting into feeding them to our animals we had no idea about the differences between, say, and American cockroach and an Argentinian cockroach, so the general public’s mis-perceptions are understandable. And yes, no one – including us – wants to see cockroaches in their home or god forbid a restaurant, but by and large tropical roaches are harmless. They don’t pick up nasty bacteria in sewers and track them into our kitchens. There is very little comparison between a German cockroach living in the sewer during a hot, muggy summer and an Argentinian cockroach that spends half its day preening and wouldn’t survive ten days outside its carefully controlled enclosure.
18. They eat almost anything
For their benefit and the benefit of the animals they nourish it’s best to feed Dubia roaches fresh whole foods, but the fact is that roaches – including B. dubia – can survive on almost anything (external link). In fact, many species can go a very long time without eating. Female Eublaberus posticus can live a year on water alone. The Madagascar Hissing cockroach can live a month without food or water. The average survival time of roaches in the baberdae family (to which B. dubia belongs) is 27 days.
But this is not the way to optimum health. That is achieved by supplying Dubia with grains, seeds, nuts, at least one source of high quality protein, and frequent fruits and vegetables. They would love the core when you finish your apple. If you eat a carrot, bite off a hunk and drop it in their enclosure. Making a salad? Put aside a piece of lettuce for the roaches.
As feeders, Dubia are very simple and easy roaches to maintain. You can add a quality gutload before feeding them off if you like, or you can stick with whole foods. Whatever you like and your animals require. They do respond differently to various foods with respect to growth and breeding, but as feeders they are very simple to keep.
The protein issue is a contentious one among Dubia breeders. In the wild, Blaptica dubia ingest protein along with the plant matter they eat. That may be bacteria, fungi, and even the larvae of other insects. Like any roach, B. dubia can also be cannibalistic. This is particularly true when the amount or quality of protein in their diet is sub-par. And, they probably wouldn’t pass on a chance to eat any insect carcass they happen across. But that said, they are not well-adapted to continuous, large quantities of protein. They are thrifty invertebrates that evolved in nutrient-scarce environments, and the adaptations that allowed them to survive and thrive in those conditions are the same ones that kill them if they eat too much protein. It’s a complicated issue that we address in more detail in our article about B. dubia and dietary protein, which is an important read if you’re a prospective breeder.
19. They are long-lived
Dubia roaches live between one and two years on average. The lives of other feeders are usually measured in weeks or maybe months rather than years. Feeding off fewer Dubias than planned isn’t a problem. They take months to mature, grow relatively slowly, and their growth slows substantially in cooler temperatures. At around 70 degrees they may stay in their current instar for a year!
20. They won’t infest your home
Unless you live in a tropical climate, tropical roaches won’t be colonizing your home. Dubia roaches need conditions similar to those found in the equatorial regions of Central and South America to survive and breed. That means consistent high temperatures and humidity. Anything short of that won’t cut it. Not a basement, under a refrigerator or behind a kitchen cabinet – unless of course your basement, refrigerator, or kitchen are located in the tropics. We let feeder insects roam free in our reptile enclosures, and if the Dubia aren’t eaten within a few days we have to remove them because they get listless. If left for more than a few weeks they will die. For these reasons and others – including the fact that we’ve never heard of Dubia roaches setting up a colony in someone’s home – we think the risk of colonization outside a controlled, enclosed environment is very low.
As an aside, Dubia roaches are banned from importation (external link) into the state of Florida. This seems to come more from their annoyance at becoming a breeding ground for once captive, non-native reptiles and other animals than out of concern for damage to habitat or property. Blaptica Dubia is not considered a pest in their countries of origin. They prefer the rain forest and do not typically live around people. They certainly don’t scavenge off humans like other roach species do. As far as we know there aren’t any instances of B. dubia colonization in the wild anywhere in the U.S.
Wrapping it up
We hope we’ve at least made the case that you should try Dubia roaches, if not switch to them outright as a primary feeder. We went the early adoption route and we’ve been very pleased with our results. Our biases should be obvious and we freely admit them, but it’s also true that we wouldn’t have switched to Dubias – let alone decided to breed them and work to develop their potential as feeders – if we didn’t think they had a lot to offer. Their nutritional superiority hooked us early. From their high protein and low chitin to the security of knowing we’re feeding our animals insects with at least three times the capacity to deliver our gutload…and deliver it in various forms as its digested over time. We were ultimately sold by their ease, convenience, and the awesome lack of the annoyances we had become so accustomed to with other insects. Our cricket escapees and their incessant chirping is down 90%. One might not fully appreciate the peace and quiet of no indoor crickets chirping late at night unless you’ve walked in those shoes.
There are so many advantages to Dubia roaches that this itself an advantage. We see them increasing in popularity with the passage of time, and we expect that will continue. Herp owners will be well-served when that happens.