There are a lot of reasons to choose Dubia roaches for your animals. Broadly, their benefits are many while their costs are few. They don’t force you to compromise the way other feeders do. You can have a supremely healthy feeder that’s also widely available, that your animal will likely enjoy, that’s easy to feed and keep, and on and on. There are some very good reasons to try Dubia roaches.
Perhaps the most important benefit of Dubia roaches is that they’re nutritionally superior to other feeders. They are, arguably, the most nutritious insect available. While an occasional bug here or there may have more of nutrient X or Y, the fact is that food is a package deal. You have to take the bad along with the good. Dubia roaches have more of the good dietary stuff animals need and less of the bad stuff they don’t.
In fact, 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. Even more amazing is that a long list of Dubia roach dietary benefits is just the beginning. In addition to nutritional superiority, animals tend to love them. They’re also easy to keep, they’re long-lived, and they have a digestive tract that seems made for gut loading. And this is just the beginning. There are so many more reasons to love Dubia roaches…
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 information is for you. Our experience with Dubia roaches has been overwhelmingly positive, and we want to pass along what we’ve seen, experienced, and learned about this nutritious insect.
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 (pdf) (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 for good health, they deliver them with less downside compared to 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’s 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 from other herp owners of this happening.
You can see why this might be true in the data. The following image is from our feeder insect head-to-head, which compares 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 feeder insect list for protein. On a dry matter basis (DMB), they are 54% protein. This easily surpasses the upper minimum recommended protein intake for captive insectivorous animals 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 insectivores is the best way to promote good health among captive ones. Quality, high-protein insects are not a luxury. They’re a necessity. The scientific literature on the nutritional 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 researchers in the field of animal nutrition routinely cite a high quality protein source as one of their top priorities for captive insectivores. Dubia roaches meet their standard.
2. Nutrition density
You can think of water as a nutrient delivered to your animal by feeder insects, or you can think of it as a lost opportunity to consume other nutrients.
Day-to-day, we want our animals to consume as many growth and health-promoting nutrients as they can. Water is part of that, and feeder insects play an important role in insectivore 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 situation where an animal refuses to drink and becomes dehydrated, we can switch to high water feeders like silkworms and crickets.
For now though, we want to feed 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 would be a better measure if all insects were the same size and had the same dry matter to water ratio, but they aren’t, and they don’t. In fact, the differences between insects is a big part of what defines them as feeders. These differences are often profound. We find it much more useful to think in terms of nutrition in the context of what’s actually eaten. Consuming one thing means something else was not consumed, and we want to fill that limited space with as much nutrition as we can. This means feeding nutrient dense insects. That describes the Dubia roach perfectly.
Chitin is what adds structural rigidity to an arthropod’s hard exoskeleton. It’s fibrous and indigestible. It offers some benefits to reptiles and amphibians, but it can cause digestive problems in some animals when consumed in excess. Beyond this potential for gastric distress, it isn’t harmful per se. But like water, chitin represents a lost opportunity to consume something healthier. Something nutritious. All things equal, the more chitin your animals eat, the fewer essential nutrients they get. They need a little chitin, but not a lot.
Of all the feeders 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.
One of the Dubia roach’s unique features is a very long digestive tract. They are well adapted to life on the 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, along with occasional dead insects or other small animals.
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 slow it down.
To deal with food scarcity, Dubia roaches evolved special cells in their guts called myocytes. Myocytes house a species of cellulose-digesting bacteria that passes from one roach generation to the next. In return for playing host to these bacteria, roaches get vital nutrients like vitamin B and amino acids from their 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 feeder superiority. They have a special ability to hold food in their stomachs for up to three days before it moves along. In theory, you can serve three days 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 when it comes to gutloading.
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. Those specialized bacteria and the roach’s own digestive processes change the food’s chemical composition in ways that are beneficial to the roach, but also to the animals that eat them. Other feeder insects can’t do that. Other roaches can do it to some 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.
Related reading: All about gut loading Dubia roaches »
5. Ca:P ratio
Dubia roaches have a relatively high calcium to phosphorous ratio of about 1:1.5. 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 shortly, the calcium level is low and dusting with calcium powder is advisable.
This is closely related to calcium:phosphorous ratio but different enough that it is 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 insectivores generally, it would be good if dietary calcium intake increased naturally through a high-calcium feeder with no extra effort required from pet owners.
At 560 mg/kg calcium, Dubia roaches are higher than almost all other feeder insects. Getting enough calcium helps animals avoid metabolic bone disease. however, because captive reptiles and other insectivores should consume even more calcium than normal, we recommend dusting with calcium powder even if you’re feeding Dubia roaches.
7. Vitamins & minerals
When we set out to compare the Dubia roach to other feeder insects, we gathered all the vitamin and mineral data we could find for the most commonly available feeders. We discovered that vitamins 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 in the lower-third range of fat content, with around half of other feeder insects having more and the other half less. This is one area that varied widely in the research data. Some researchers report high fat while others report it as 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 become 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 insectivore 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 need huge amounts – just enough to provide the essential lipids they can’t make themselves. High fat insects like waxworms are generally considered healthy, but they should probably be more of a treat than a staple. This is due to their fat content. 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 with respect to fat. 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 slow either. They’re just about right for grabbing the attention of insectivorous animals like bearded dragons, chameleons, and arachnids without being too fast or overwhelming. They will wander a cage if you allow them for your animals to hunt, or stay active in a feeding bowl if you 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.
If an animal finds them too 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 and placed in the animal’s cage. Adult male Dubia are noticeably faster than females and juveniles. When necessary, the refrigerator trick works great on them.
In our experience, Dubia roaches are very good at triggering an animal’s feeding response. When one of our animals isn’t interested, it usually means it’s not hungry. It’s worth noting that there may be an adjustment period for animals used to eating other insects. In these cases, old feeder habits can be broken by not feeding the animal for a day or two. 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. Once they do, you may find that the animal prefers them.
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 insectivore 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 dietary variety 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 seems largely 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 made for this purpose due to the nutritional advantages already mentioned. 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 like those found in the tropics to survive, but they tolerate low humidity. This means their enclosures can stay mostly dry. Assuming a plant-based diet and adequate enclosure maintenance, their frass (poop) will won’t smell and will be a less likely breeding ground for unwanted pests like mites or flies. While these things can occasionally occur, properly managed Dubia roach colonies tend to stay 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 insect’s 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 nor their enclosures smell bad. This has been our experience and the experience of others. As far as we can tell, this is unique among feeder insects. Crickets smell awful. Mealworms get funky. Mealworm beetles give off a stink when disturbed. All the feeders we’ve tried have smelled in one way or another – distinguished only by the degree of nastiness.
Dubia roach enclosures tend to smell like whatever 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. What matters is that when they’re eating mostly oranges, grains, and other all-natural plant ingredients, their smell is barely noticeable. When we do notice it, it’s not noxious or offensive. Any existing odor becomes stronger and takes on a different smell when they eat more animal-based foods, but even then we wouldn’t describe it as unpleasant. It’s just different.
It’s worth noting that all Dubia roaches regardless of diet will emit a slightly musky odor when agitated. That smell is 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. Males climb as high as they can, jump, and flutter to the ground. Females don’t have wings, and neither do the nymphs. 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. The worst we’ve seen is an occasional tendency to nibble at skin, but it’s always after we’ve handled food. And as soon as the roach realizes the hand isn’t a pile of whatever food we just put down, they usually run away terrified. Maybe if they’re starving they might smell dead skin cells and try to gather them up, but they would probably fail and run away.
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 misperceptions 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 of course not the way to optimum health. You achieve that 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 your 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 colonize 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 is 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 become 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 extremely low.
As an aside, Dubia roaches are banned from importation (external link) into the state of Florida and Hawaii. 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.