Breeding Dubia roaches can yield big rewards for the do-it-yourselfer. When done correctly, a homegrown Dubia roach breeding colony provides feeder self-sufficiency, significant control over your animal’s diet, and direct access to a renewable supply of healthy feeders.
And to get these future benefits, all you need is an appropriate space, some energy and resources for up-front costs, and the will to make it happen. Learning, planning, and building a suitable breeding set-up takes patience and effort, but with the right advice and a little time, you can grow a Dubia roach breeding colony large enough to eliminate the need to buy Dubia roaches on a regular basis.
Our goal for this guide is to give you all the information you need to breed Dubia roaches effectively. And by all information, we mean all. When done right, breeding tropical roaches is fun and satisfying. But this is no small task. There is a lot to read and learn. Yes, you could probably throw a few Dubia in a bin along with heat, darkness, food, and water, and with a little luck you might get some new baby feeders in a few months, but a haphazard approach like this leaves something on the table. There is much more to breeding Dubia roaches correctly than that.
To that end, this is a complete guide. It covers every aspect of Dubia roach breeding. Our comprehensive approach allows you, the reader, to choose what level of engagement you want with your project. We tell you what results to expect for your efforts, but you certainly don’t have to do everything we suggest. Our job is to teach you how to breed Dubia roaches, based on our extensive experience, and let you decide from there how far you want to take it.
Breeding Dubia roaches at peak productivity
Meeting a Dubia breeding colony’s basic needs is a necessary condition for success, but we think this is just the beginning. While average growth and reproduction is achievable for most people, we want more for you than that. We give you information here that will help take your breeding project beyond “average” growth into “spectacular” growth.
That said, our goal here is maximum Dubia roach productivity. We’ve done a ton of testing over many years to discover what Dubia roaches need for the fastest reproduction and growth possible given their natural constraints as well as how best give it to them. While we won’t give away all our secrets, we’re happy to pass along some of the lessons we learned about cultivating and maintaining a Dubia breeding colony at peak productivity. Spoiler alert: it involves connections between Dubia roach health & productivity, as well as nutrition & environment.
Our approach is simple, but that doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Generally, we do everything we can to support the roach’s natural reproductive processes. This means providing them with the environment and nutrition they need. As we said: simple, but not always easy.
There is a lot of information below. Feel free to browse the links in the Table of Contents for whatever you’re looking for. We recommend starting at the beginning if this information is new to you.
Table of Contents
NOTE: Our Dubia Roach Care Sheet describes the basic food, shelter, and environmental needs of Dubia roach feeders. Generally, breeders require more elaborate care. Please see our Care Sheet for basic information about feeding and watering Dubia roaches that you plan to use as feeders.
Before you begin…
Assuming you already know that Dubia roaches are among the most nutritious if not the most nutritious feeder insect on the market, and you have already decided to learn how to breed them, there are a few things to know before reading this guide.
If all of this sounds good, read on. This Guide will help you get your project started. It explains how to set up a Dubia roach breeding colony and maintain it in a way that maximizes their health and productivity. You will also find useful tips and tricks to avoiding common pitfalls that can waste time and money in the long-run. We want to hep you turn twenty roaches into a hundred, or a hundred into a thousand or more, and to do it quickly.
The importance of gathering information
Dubia roach growth is subject to natural physical limitations. There are steps you can take to increase or decrease their productivity within those limits. We will help you boost their potency and maximize yield. This is important, but it turns out it is particularly important for Dubia roaches. That’s because the impact of diet and health on cockroach lifespan and productivity is cumulative. What you feed adults today impacts not just their productivity, but also their brood’s productivity. This inter generational impact is significant and may go as many as three or four generations deep.
This is why a focus on health is critically important for Dubia roach breeding success…and so is knowledge. Now that you know about the generational effects of the health of your roaches on productivity, you can take action. Knowledge is important. Gathering information before you begin helps you avoid problems and increase your efficiency. In this case it will increase the efficiency of your roaches too.
As a rule, Dubia roach reproduction slows as conditions move away from optimum. “Conditions” broadly include nutrition and environment. This means food, water, heat, humidity, etc. It follows that an improvement in one of these is likely to lead to a rise in the reproduction rate. Under ideal conditions, a single newly-emerged adult female can produce as many as 175 offspring in one year. At one year, around 120 of her direct descendants will be fertile, productive breeding adults. And, between 40 and 50 of their young will also have offspring.
This is exponential growth, and it is roughly what you can expect from your breeding project. It suggests a little planning is in order. We recommend deciding where you want to go with your project early. Like, now – or at least soon. Hopefully before you decide what supplies you are going to need or buy any equipment. It’s a lot easier to plan ahead than try to cope after the fact with a situation you didn’t anticipate.
What to expect: The Dubia roach reproductive cycle
A newly emerged adult female will begin mating 5 days from the date of emergence. B. dubia are ovoviviparous, which means that instead of laying eggs, females develop their young internally inside long, tube-like, multi-celled egg sacks called ootheca. Some roaches do lay eggs, but not Dubia. Birth occurs when a female expels her ootheca in response to nymph activity as they prepare to hatch.
Nymphs begin emerging from their oothecae shortly after the female discharges it. They will all hatch over the course of several hours. At this time they are white and very small – only about 1/8″ (3mm) long. They will turn from white to gray within a few hours as their exoskeletons dry and harden in response to air exposure. Before hardening, they are extremely fragile and very easily damaged, so do not handle them if possible.
NOTE: This fragility is true for white roaches at any stage. All roaches are white when they shed their exoskeleton in the transition from one instar (growth phase) to the next. They get their coloration from their hardened exoskeleton. Roaches tend to leave their group in search of isolation when the molting process begins. This behavior protects them from accidental or intentional damage while their shell hardens. It is best to leave molting roaches alone when you see them.
Ootheca fertilization to hatching
On average, females exhibit a fertilized, immature ootheca 19 days after adult emergence, and they give birth to their first batch of nymphs 70 days later. If you stock a new Dubia roach breeding colony with mature, breeding females, you may end up with newborn nymphs immediately. Those newborn nymphs will mature into adults in about 120 days. Females complete the procreation cycle by giving birth to their first clutch in about 70 days.
After giving birth to nymphs, females stay close to their offspring and show no interest in mating. This typically lasts about a week. Rather than pairing right away, they will look after their vulnerable, newly hatched young. In addition to helping their progeny survive, this time away from breeding gives the females time to replenish their energy stores. They actually eat more often now than when they were carrying fertilized eggs.
After several days pass, the offspring begin venturing beyond their mother’s protection, and the female is near the end of her recovery process. She begins showing interest in males again as she prepares for another round of mating. As a general rule, newly hatched nymphs will be self-sufficient by the time their mother has recovered from their birth and is ready to mate.
What do you want from breeding?
With this in mind, now is a good time to decide what you want from your Dubia breeding project, or at least become aware of the issues you may face down the road. It’s OK to not have answers to these questions now. Consider this a thought experiment to raise your awareness with information that will help you think and plan far enough ahead.
Ask yourself: Are you raising feeders? If so, do you have one animal, several, or many? How many breeding colonies will you need to sustain an adequate supply of feeders? Do you have a plan in the event you end up with too many (or too few) roaches? Are you raising breeders? If so, how much space will you need? How much time do you want to devote to this project?
With these answers (or at least questions) in mind, there are a few more questions to ask yourself. How do you want to proceed with the project? Do you want to set up multiple breeder bins now or wait until later? How will you heat those extra bins? Do you need to humidify the environment? If so, how will you do it? What foods will you feed the roaches and how will you meet all their nutritional needs?
Prepare yourself to get prepared
Feeding, cleaning, and heating are relatively easy tasks in a small Dubia breeding colony. However, the dynamics change when their population increases from tens to hundreds, and it changes again when it goes from hundreds to thousands. Think about the space, supplies, time, and other resources you will need to devote to your colony when it reaches the size you want. It may start slowly, but one day out of the blue their population may go exponential. This usually happens after the first batch of offspring mature.
As you move forward with your project and gain experience breeding Dubia roaches, try anticipating where bottlenecks may occur. For example, if you live in Alaska and you start your project in the summer, will you be able to maintain the high temperatures required for breeding through winter? If you live in Las Vegas and it’s winter now, will you have a cool spot for your colony in the summer? How will you deal with excess Dubia feeders if your breeding project is successful? Keeping one eye on the present and the other toward the future can go a long way to save you from problems that tend to come up when plans fail, as they do from time to time.
Materials: breeder colony equipment
You will need the following basic equipment. Some of it is optional, as noted in the details below.
- – Roach bins
- – Lids
- – Screen, glue or tape
- – Heat
- – Harborage
- – Water bowl, substrate
- – Food bowl, food
- – Thermometer
- – Hygrometer
- – Electronic thermostat
Ideally, buy three identical bins for your project. This assumes that you are planning a single Dubia roach breeding colony. You will need more bins for more colonies.
Of the three bins, one will house your breeding colony, another will become a rearing tub for the nymphs your roaches produce, and the third will be a spare for cleaning, sorting, and temporary storage. Note that it is not necessary to buy them all at once. In fact, depending on how you design your setup, you might not need them at all. You can start with many different sizes, but we found that as breeding colonies grow and expand, the natural gravitation is toward large bins of equal size. Interchangeability is a big plus when it comes to bin use and storage. To start, you need at least one bin that comfortably houses all of your breeding adults.
If you’re planning ahead, use bins that can accommodate not just the number of roaches you have now or plan on buying in the near future, but the number you expect after breeding begins and the colony has become established. Assuming you use vertically stacked egg flats or similar harborage, a good population density for breeding is around 200 to 250 adults per square foot. Fewer is OK, but more may lead to overcrowding and related problems. Dubia are social roaches and they need physical contact, but there is a limit to their sociability. Overcrowding causes stress, which can slow reproduction. Keep in mind that if you misjudge a bin’s capacity now, you can always make changes later. Dividing a Dubia colony between two bins is one solution to overcrowding. Another solution is swapping the entire colony into a larger bin.
NOTE: To calculate the square footage of a breeding bin, multiply length by width by height, then reduce the total by the amount of open space that is not filled with hide material. If you use egg crates, for example, and they cover the entire floor space but end six inches below the rim, calculate that open space and subtract it from the total. In small bins, the extra may not matter, and you can always go by feel until the colony begins getting crowded.
Select a container with smooth sides. The most common choice is plastic, but you can also use glass. Note that Dubia roaches can climb finely textured plastic, so be sure the sides are very smooth. Always test new enclosures before throwing away the receipt. Storage bins like ones made by Sterilite and Rubbermaid usually work well. However, they don’t all have smooth sides. Some are lightly textured, so be sure to check them out thoroughly. A general rule is that glossy plastic is smooth enough to prevent Dubia from escaping while plastic with a mat finish is not.
We suggest housing Dubia breeding colonies in plastic bins. They are the best choice in most situations. They are much lighter than glass, virtually unbreakable, and opaque. Plastic also conducts heat more slowly than glass, which means plastic bins are more energy-efficient.
Breeding Dubia roaches in glass enclosures like aquariums presents a few challenges. It’s something people do, but glass is more labor-intensive. Glass enclosures are heavier than plastic and more difficult to move. They’re also see-through and more difficult to keep dark. They may lead to higher stress levels among the roaches, and stress reduces Dubia productivity.
And of course, you can probably imagine what a disaster breaking a glass aquarium full of roaches would be. When we think roach bin, we think plastic. Glass does have one advantage over plastic though, and that is it can’t melt. Heating a glass aquarium requires more energy than plastic because of glass’ relative thermal properties mentioned above, but it is safer with respect to heat and electricity. We have never seen a heating pad melt a plastic bin, but we have read accounts of heating strips catching fire.
Choose a bin that’s at least 18″ x 18″ x 18″ even if you expect housing a very small breeding colony. This is big enough for a few egg flats and a food and water bowl, and there is no need to worry about too much space with just a few roaches.
All things equal, there is no container upper size limit for larger breeding colonies. The roaches will appreciate whatever space you give them, and they will find a way to make use of it. However, you may want a size you can handle comfortably. Consider that you may need to move the bin often, and a 30-inch container full of roaches is a lot more manageable than one that’s five feet long and weighs 70 lbs. If a bin is wider than your arms can comfortably stretch, you may need help each time you move it.
Be sure to get the lids that come with the bins even if you think you won’t use them. You may change your mind later. While lids are not necessary for keeping roaches in a proper enclosure, they can offer convenience in unexpected ways. For example, say you want to separate nymphs from adults. This means maintaining two colonies, and depending on your space availability, it might be nice to stack the bins vertically. Lids make this possible.
Lids also help keep things like pets and other insects out. We have heard reports that rats love Dubia roaches. This is not a problem we’ve experienced, but we have no reason to doubt it. If lids can prevent a rat problem, we’re all for using lids.
Unlike keeping a few roaches in a container as feeders, Breeding Dubia roaches is a long-term project. As such, breeding colonies need proper ventilation. Simply keeping the lid askew or propping it up with some random object just won’t do. Too many things can go wrong with this approach. We suggest creating ventilation holes and covering them with fiberglass or metal window screen secured with either hot glue or tape. As noted below, Dubia roaches can chew through fiberglass screen, so use metal screen if you expect the roaches might reach it. Fiberglass or plastic is fine if you’re sure they will never reach it, and if for some reason they did, it wouldn’t matter terribly if they chewed holes in it. However, if you rely on the screen to keep roaches in, use something they can’t destroy. In this case, that is metal.
While Dubia roaches can survive a range of temperatures, their fertility rapidly decreases to zero as temperatures move away from 85º or 90ºF. Ideally, a Dubia breeding colony would be housed in a temperature-controlled room maintained within this range. However, if this is not possible or practical, an external heat source will likely be required to raise internal bin temperature to the proper levels.
There are a few options for heating a Dubia roach breeding colony. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Heat emitters, light bulbs, heat mats, and space heaters are all commonly used for this purpose. In deciding on the right heating method for your situation, keep the following in mind:
- Keep all heat sources outside the enclosure. This means no light bulbs, heat mats, or ceramic heat emitters inside any breeding bin. Nothing your roaches come in direct contact with should ever get above 90ºF.
- For peace of mind and to avoid damage or injury, always follow manufacturer instructions for your chosen heating method. Don’t take chances or cut corners with heat or electricity.
- Consider controlling heat with a thermostat if it can be done safely.
- Either create a backup heat source on a separate thermostat in case the first one fails, or place your breeding bin in a place where a heating failure won’t wipe out the colony.
There are many ways to heat a Dubia roach breeding colony. We don’t recommend any one method. Instead, we discuss what methods are available and leave it to users to decide which works best for their situation. Two of the most popular heating methods are heat mats and heat emitters – usually combined with placing the bin in a warm spot in the home. In our view, the preferred way to provide external heat is however it can be done safely and effectively while maintaining air temperature between 85ºF and 90ºF. The temperature can occasionally dip lower, but it shouldn’t go much higher. Avoid low heat because it slows Blaptica dubia growth. Alternatively, high heat stresses them out, and this should really be avoided. Always keep in mind the negative affects of stress on Dubia roach productivity when planning or managing a breeding colony.
As a general rule, avoid paper that has a lot of chemicals. Some types of paper have more than others. A few examples of high chemical papers include glossy magazine paper and bleached white paper – especially if it comes from a freshly opened ream. These heavily processed papers will “off-gas” chemicals, and the high heat, moisture, and low airflow found specifically in breeding colonies may speed the process and potentially increase the toxic load. What ultimately happens to a colony’s productivity as a result of chemical exposure depends on the type of chemicals in the paper. Some possibilities include lower virility and higher mortality among newborns and adults.
There isn’t much information tying specific chemicals to the paper we use, so we try to keep it as clean and basic as possible. Cardboard and paper products designed to store food seem generally safe. We always let paper products breathe for a while before putting them inside any roach colony.
NOTE: Egg crates are the classic Dubia roach harborage material. They work great because they increase surface area, which allows you to house more roaches in a given space. You can find egg crates online.
Food & water supplies
The food and water equipment used for Dubia breeding is the same as those for general care. Feeding supplies are typically generic and applicable to any situation. However, there are several ways to provide water to roaches. The various methods require different supplies, and you will need to choose one for your project.
In making your choice, remember that while there may only be adults in the colony now, if all goes well there will also be tiny baby nymphs in the future. Newborn nymphs need immediate access to water. Without it they can become dehydrated and die. This often happen very quickly. Tiny nymphs have fewer reserves, their exoskeletons take a while to harden, which leaves them open to dehydration, and they dry out without proper humidity and drinking water. Make sure they have regular and reliable access to moisture. Not interrupting that access is important for their survival.
To that end, all food and water dishes, bowls, lids, or whatever you use should have roughly surfaced sides that roaches of all sizes can easily climb. In most cases, you can sufficiently “rough up” a smooth-sided container with a little coarse sandpaper. 80 grit usually works fine. A scouring pad may work as well. Give the container some texture and the roaches will find water or food on their own. Never assume that because adults can reach the food or water that their nymphs will be able to reach it too. Make sure they can by creating a rough surface.
In order to maintain the temperature in the breeding range, you need a way to measure it. Any thermometer will do. Small, inexpensive, battery-powered electronic thermometers with a probe work well for this purpose. More expensive ones that check spot temperatures with a laser offer ease, convenience, and accuracy, but they aren’t necessary. Whatever type you choose, be sure it is reliable and reasonably accurate.
Unless you know that the humidity in your colony will remain above 40%, we recommend a hygrometer. For breeding, keep humidity between 40% and 60%. Higher is OK, but you should avoid anything lower. Productivity may slow if humidity is too low. The main problem with lower humidity is the female roach’s ootheca. They tend to dry out and become infertile when humidity is below 40%. If this happens, the female will drop the eggs and begin producing new ones. This takes time and resources, and is obviously something to avoid if your goal is peak productivity. Nymphs also don’t do as well in low humidity for the reasons mentioned before.
There are several ways to increase humidity. You can mist with water, increase the size of the water bowl, place an open bowl of water near the enclosure, or use a humidifier. Whatever you choose, be careful with water in or near a Dubia roach colony. High temperatures plus water, darkness, and roach frass equals mold and bacteria. Mold and bacterial overgrowth are bad news for Dubia roaches generally, but particularly bad news for breeders specifically. Pathogenic mold and bacteria or simply too much of either one may affect egg production and nymph growth, and some can even be bad for you! Always take your unique situation into account in this regard, and be safe.
Related reading: Dubia roach die off: causes and cures »
Unless you maintain the room where you keep your colony at proper breeding temperatures, you will need to connect your heat source through an electric thermostat. Some people forego thermostats in favor of unrestricted heat mats or light bulbs, but we don’t recommend this. It’s too easy for something to go wrong, and when things go wrong with heat and small spaces they tend to go wrong quickly, and with bad results.
Because thermostats are relatively inexpensive and widely available, and because the consequences of not having one can be catastrophic, we recommend not skimping in this area. The $20 to $40 you may spend on a basic model is inexpensive in light of your overall investment in time, effort, and equipment for your breeding product. You don’t need anything fancy. Just a basic device that you can adjust to turn heat on when the temperature dips below 85ºF and turn it off when it rises above 90ºF.
Selecting a location for your breeding colony
The right environmental conditions are essential for breeding Dubia roaches successfully, and a good location makes creating these conditions easier. Keep the following in mind when selecting a site for your bin:
- Evidence suggests mating peaks when Dubia roaches are exposed to a 12/12 (hour) light/dark cycle.
- Light strongly influences Dubia roach behavior.
- If you err, try to err on the side of too much dark rather than light.
- Light stresses Dubia roaches and stress affects procreation.
- There is no such thing as too much darkness when it comes to breeding.
- It’s easier to adjust humidity in small spaces than large ones.
- The higher the humidity, the more important air circulation becomes.
The ideal place for your breeding bin is one (a) with adequate darkness and air circulation, (b) without loud noises or frequent disturbances, and (c) with temperature, humidity, light, and dark maintained in the range that maximizes productivity. A good spot might be a dark closet with light from a light bulb on a timer. Or it could be a basement, a corner in a quiet room, or a garage with similar conditions.
NOTE: Putting effort into selecting a suitable spot up front may lead to less ongoing effort and expense down the road. On one hand, a place with ideal conditions for breeding requires the least amount of effort and cost. The further away it is from providing ideal temperature, humidity, light, and dark, the more energy, effort, and ongoing cost bringing these things up to standard will require.
Setting up the breeding bin
The basic breeding bin setup is food and water on one side with hide material filling the remaining space. As mentioned, paper egg flats are our preferred harborage material. They are convenient, inexpensive from the right source, and in our experience, they are safe for roaches. Adult dubia like them because they provide the internal spaces they like for socializing and nymphs like them because they are good for hiding. You may use other paper or cardboard if you wish, or any other material that suits your needs, but be mindful of the chemical issue and choose the material accordingly.
If you use egg flats, pack them in the bin vertically, face to face. Put in enough to hold all the roaches in the colony. For a full colony of breeders, use as many flats as it takes to fill all empty floor space minus what is needed for food and water. Packing egg flats tightly is not necessary in the beginning if you only have a few roaches, of course. At that point you only need enough hide material to shelter the roaches currently in the colony. You can add more flats now if you like, but you can always add more later as the colony grows.
NOTE: Egg crates will collapse in on each other when stacked unless you reverse the direction of each consecutive flat. This means front to front, then alternating the next flat so it’s back to back. Or, because egg flats have spaces for five eggs in one direction and six in another, you can rotate consecutive flats 90-degrees right or left and stack them in whichever direction you like (front to back, front to front, etc).
No matter how you stack them though, they will always collapse at least a little. You can address this by placing cardboard squares between each flat. Our squares are about 8-inches square, but size is not critical. They just need to be large enough to prevent collapse.
Again, be mindful of chemicals. Corrugated cardboard may contain chemicals, so use it at your own discretion and with caution. Keep an eye out for any negative effects on productivity or the roaches themselves after adding a new batch of cardboard or other paper product from an untested source. If in doubt, let the cardboard air out for a while before adding it to the colony.
The idea behind stacking egg crates or other harborage material is to create as much accessible surface area as possible while avoiding pockets where frass and other debris can accumulate. Nymphs like to bury themselves in frass, and a pile of frass and buried nymphs on top of paper or cardboard holds moisture. This is a breeding ground for mold and fungus. Whatever hide material you use, stack it vertically as much as possible. This way, frass falls to the bottom of the bin instead of accumulating on paper surfaces. Frass on the bottom of the bin is OK. Frass on paper often leads to moisture build-up, which you should avoid.
NOTE: Keep harborage away from food, and especially water. One reason we favor egg cartons is because roaches cannot easily move them. Crumpled paper, for example, can be pushed around by the weight of the roaches. When it is, it may contact water, wet food, or moist water crystals. The paper will wick moisture from whatever it touches and it will tend to dry out.
While this is bad news for the roaches, it gets worse. The moisture may transfer to the frass, and you don’t want wet frass in a hot, dark, humid enclosure with low air circulation. It turns thick like clay and will not dry on its own. It can stay wet for weeks, which is plenty of time for bacteria to colonize and jeopardize the health of your roaches. If you ever smell ammonia, clean the bin, find the source, and fix the problem.
Create ventilation by cutting a hole (or holes) in the breeding bin lid and securing it (or them) with screen. Use metal screen if there is any possibility the roaches might reach it. Remember that Dubia roaches can chew through the fiberglass window screen commonly sold in hardware stores. This is a good time to mention that you may want to consider buying a few roach traps and placing them in or around your storage area. Not in the bin itself, of course, but nearby. Roaches that escape the colony will be less likely to end up wandering around your house, or your bedroom…or your apartment building. Dubia roaches are generally recognized as harmless, but you may want to avoid having to explain that to your neighbor, or your boyfriend/girlfriend…or your landlord.
NOTE: dispose of any dead roaches killed by roach bait immediately and wash your hands thoroughly after handling dead roaches, roach bait, or roach traps. Roach poison is highly effective, and it is persistent. It lingers on skin, clothes, carpet, and anything else it may touch. It can persist as long as six months! During this time it remains toxic to roaches. You never know how roach poison in your home might find its way back to your roach colony, so eliminate the potential for harm and wash your hands immediately after handling anything associated with roach traps or bait.
In deciding how many ventilation holes to cut and what size, keep the following in mind:
- Holes must be large enough for adequate circulation but small enough to prevent too much humidity and heat from escaping.
- The ideal size and number of holes depends on the conditions in and around the storage area and in the breeder bin itself.
- When the storage area is maintained at the ideal breeding temperature and humidity, ventilation holes become less important.
- Create smaller holes if temperature outside the bin is cooler than required for breeding.
- Create smaller holes if humidity outside the bin is lower than that required for breeding.
- Err on the side of smaller/fewer holes. You can always make them bigger. It’s harder to make existing holes smaller.
After creating the holes, cut the screen to size and attach it to the lid with tape or hot glue.
NOTE: Use high quality tape that won’t lose adhesion when exposed to heat and moisture. HVAC foil tape is best. Duct tape will work in some cases but tends to degrade over time – especially in high humidity. Avoid craft tape, masking tape, and scotch tape. Hot glue works nicely.
NOTE: Start with small ventilation holes and cut larger ones as needed. It’s easy to overestimate the size of the holes required for adequate ventilation. Cut small, then monitor and measure conditions in the enclosure. Don’t guess. Measure and make adjustments as you go.
The right tools for breeding: Dubia roaches
With any project, the right tools for the job are critical. In this case, the right tools are healthy Dubia roach stock with adequate nutritional reserves. At its most basic, breeding Dubia roaches requires adult males and females. However, attaining maximum productivity requires the right mix of healthy, nutritionally prepared adult females and males. Getting either the mix or the nutrition wrong will slow process and lead to sub-optimum results.
Mating: The female to male ratio
In our experience, the ideal F:M ratio for breeding Dubia roaches is somewhere between 3:1 and 7:1. Below 3:1, males become overly aggressive in their bid to impregnate females. When this happens, the higher stress depresses mating activity within the colony. This leads to lower productivity. Productivity also slows above 7:1, but we don’t really know why. We suspect it might be that some measure of “good stress” motivates mating, but this is just a guess.
When fine-tuning the female to male ratio, it is helpful to understand Dubia roach sex differences and mating behavior. Females only mate when they’re ready while males are ready most of the time. This results in competition among males. During courtship, males harass rivals by disrupting their courtship displays. They keep this up until a male establishes dominance over others, or until they lose interest. This usually lasts only as long as it takes for mating to begin, so the dominance they establish is temporary. There is a constant stream of males in breeding colonies trying to assert and maintain their dominance.
NOTE: Start on the higher end of the female to male range and adjust down from there. Keep an eye on mating behavior and productivity when making adjustments. Reductions in productivity from too few males is smaller than that of too many, so it’s better to start with too few males than too many.
It’s also important to note that males reportedly eat nymphs when competition for females is high. This may be good for them because it increases their mating opportunities, but it’s bad for you because it reduces productivity. It may also increase internal colony stress. You can reduce competition between males by increasing the F:M ratio.
Stock: healthy breeding females
Healthy, fertile adult females are key to productive Dubia roach breeding. All things equal, healthy females:
- produce larger broods
- live longer
- produce offspring with lower mortality rates
- produce offspring that grow faster
- recover from giving birth faster and more completely
- produce offspring that are themselves more fertile as adults
The health of your roaches can determine the success or failure of your Dubia breeding project. Good health isn’t everything, but poor health limits reproduction. It affects how fast roaches multiply, and this determines how fast a breeding colony grows. Reduced productivity means fewer feeders once the colony is mature and established. Poor health in adults may also affect the nutritional quality of the offspring they produce. This may limit those offspring’s ability to produce at optimal levels when they are adults. They may also be less nutritious feeders as nymphs.
On the flip side, good health supports reproduction. Breeding is energy-intensive, and roaches that do well tend to have adequate nutritional reserves to draw on throughout the process. They eat a fair amount while carrying their young, but they eat even more between the time they give birth and become pregnant again. As nymphs, roaches tend to store away nutrients they will need later as adults. This suggest that quality breeding stock is very important. By the time nymphs reach adulthood, the time for storing reserves has passed. They can’t make up for lost time, and much of their reserve status is baked in.
We believe raising healthy roaches from the start is critical. We also believe it makes sense to pay particular attention to supporting the physical health of your breeding females. It’s not only good for them, but it’s good for you, your animals, and the success of your breeding project.
There are several steps you can take to attain, support, and even improve female Dubia roach health. You can:
- Buy healthy roaches at the outset
- Provide the recommended conditions for breeding
- Follow the general guidelines in our Dubia Roach Care Sheet
- Improve and maintain food quality
- Reduce pesticides by feeding organic foods
- Remove any number of toxins by providing distilled, well, or bottled water
NOTE: Many people find it surprising that these things have an impact on Dubia roach reproduction. The fact is that the cockroach’s reputation as tough and even “indestructible” in some cases is not correct. In reality, they are delicate and responsive to their environment. Their health is closely tied to what they eat and where they live, and like any other insect they have a capacity for health or disease. Tropical cockroaches breed well in some circumstances, but poorly in others.
To reproduce at their greatest potential, they need to live in conditions that support their health. Consider that Dubia roaches have advanced palates that allow them to distinguish protein from carbohydrates. This is not a random trait. It exists because nutrition is important to their survival. They need these and other nutrients in different amounts at different life stages precisely because their environment does matter.
Feeding roaches: nutrition for breeding
Breeding Dubia roaches efficiently requires adequate dietary support. The health and nutritional status of females influences how often they mate and the survivability of their young. This means they need not only enough food, but food with the nutrients their bodies need for maximum production.
Adding to the difficulty of providing Dubia roaches with the foods they need for optimum health is that they need different nutrients at different life stages. All things equal, a newborn nymph eats differently than a mid-stage nymph. Adult males eat differently than females, and adult females eat differently than other adult females depending on where they are in their reproductive cycle.
Fortunately, for a healthy breeding colony, you don’t have to know what nutrients your roaches need or when they need it. As it turns out, Dubia roaches self-select for dietary nutrients based on their needs. Simply supplying them with a range of healthy foods can meet and exceed their nutritional needs because they know what they need, and when.
As mentioned before, Dubia roaches are able to distinguish protein from carbohydrates, just as we can. They crave the foods their bodies need. For example, young nymphs show a strong preference for protein. When given a choice, they tend to choose higher protein foods because they need protein to fuel their rapidly growing bodies. On the other hand, adult males at times prefer carbohydrates. They will eat fruits, vegetables, and grains when given a choice between these foods and others with higher protein and fat. Adult females are another matter. They prefer protein sometimes and carbohydrates other times.
We have addressed dietary protein in the Dubia roach diet along with the dietary self-selection issue. Give it a read if you’re interested. We strongly recommend checking it out if you’re thinking about blending your own roach chow. There are some good tips as well as words of caution.
Protein, carbohydrates, and fat
Provide a range of foods containing various amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fat to all the roaches in your breeding colony. This means a mix of high protein and low protein foods. The same goes for carbohydrates. You want to give the roaches control over how much of each nutrient they eat. You can find an in-depth explanation of how to do this and why in the linked article above. The main takeaway is that Dubia roaches have different nutritional needs at different times, and you can meet these needs by providing a varied diet of whole food ingredients.
We recommend our dry roach chow because it eliminates the guesswork. It has the right balance of nutrients determined by significant testing and lots of experience over time. But of course, you’re welcome to feed your roaches your own blend of dry ingredients in whole form if you choose.
Fruits and vegetables
For a breeding colony, we suggest a diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables. They have many important nutrients dry ingredients don’t, and they provide them in forms dry ingredients can’t. While your breeding project can succeed without them, we believe they are important. Our breeders are always more productive when they have access to fruits and vegetables. In all likelihood, yours will be too. So if your goal is high productivity, don’t skimp on fruits and vegetables.
A note about oranges
Common wisdom suggests that oranges improve Dubia roach fertility and increase mating. We haven’t noticed this in our own colonies. We do give oranges to our breeders, but only because they like them a lot. Especially adult males. However, they eat plenty of other fruits too. Their favorites include bananas and apples, and production doesn’t slow when oranges are out of season. While oranges are a healthy choice for breeding Dubia roaches, we don’t think they’re required.
Commercial gut-loads and “insect diets”
For breeding Dubia roaches at peak productivity, we recommend avoiding these products. “Insect diets” and gut-loads typically contain high vitamins or minerals and other ingredients for the health of insectivores and not insects. These products are essentially gut-loads. Some ingredients in a gut-load may hurt Dubia roach growth and productivity if they are too high and/or fed too often. A gut-load’s purpose is healthy pets and not healthy insects, so it will by definition sacrifice the health of the insect to improve the health of the insectivore.
The bottom-line answer is that these products are probably OK as occasional dietary supplementation in many Dubia roach breeding situations, but they introduce too many unknowns for peak breeding. We recommend avoiding them when maximum productivity is the goal.
Birth: New Dubia roaches!
If conditions are right, you should have new Dubia roach nymphs in a few months. Healthy females bear around 25 or 30 live nymphs per cycle. Dubia roaches are not particularly well-studied, so our best guess is that cycle length is between six and eight weeks.
We know that the average newly emerged adult female mates five days after she becomes an adult. We also know she bears young 70 days after becoming an adult. That means new adult females have a 70 day reproductive cycle. We suspect the cycle for mature adult females is shorter, but we aren’t sure exactly how much. Our best guess is between 35 and 45 days.
Whatever the case, you will have a steady stream of new Dubia roach nymphs within 70 days if you stock your breeding colony with newly emerged adult females. Pro tip: You can cut that time to zero by starting with currently breeding females.
What to do next
There is no need to make any changes when you see the first baby nymphs. In fact, we suggest that you don’t. New Dubia roach colonies stress easily, and removing newborns probably adds to that stress. Nymphs in a colony of breeders will neither increase nor decrease breeding. The only reason to remove them is to make room for new babies in an already overcrowded colony or to give newborns conditions that differ from the breeding colony.
You should allow Dubia roaches in new, immature breeding colonies to carry out their business undisturbed. Consider preparing a second bin for rearing the young offspring from your breeders, but don’t use it until required by the need for space or other circumstances. Allow the colony to become established before making changes. Dubia nymphs and adult females stress easily and they are particularly sensitive to change. Adult females become noticeably stressed by big changes to their environment, including the removal of nymphs
Temperatures for nymphs
Nymphs do best when temperatures are between 80ºF and 90ºF. Try to maintain this range in your breeding bin. If necessary, you can house nymphs in their own enclosure away from adults. They don’t need adults for anything but protection, and this is not an issue in captivity where there is nothing to prey on them. If the colony has a problem with overly aggressive males attacking small nymphs, the solution is reducing the number of males to ease breeding stress and not removing the nymphs. Male aggression issues will to persist after you remove nymphs because you didn’t address the root problem.
We base our nymph temperature recommendation solely on experience. Unfortunately, there isn’t much study data on temperature and Dubia roach breeding (external link). We know that nymphs are more sensitive to temperature than adults, and that they tend to handle temperature extremes and other stresses poorly.
NOTE: Keep in mind that removing all the nymphs from a breeding colony is a massive disruption and should only be done when necessary. In time you will get a feel for what your roaches need and what disturbances they can tolerate without affecting growth and productivity. Start paying attention to these things now. Develop a sense of what’s normal and use your judgment. Removing nymphs often will have a negative impact. This is especially true the first time you do it. Females may even drop their immature ootheca in response to the stress. When this happens, females must start producing a new ootheca from scratch. Always seek to minimize stress by limiting disruption.
Food for nymphs
Nymphs need a variety of micro and macro-nutrients to facilitate growth and support health. At this early stage, they show a strong preference for protein. For fast growth, make sure they have access to lots of high quality protein from birth. Remember that too much protein is harmful to their health in the long-run, so make sure they have other food too. As mentioned, Dubia roaches self-select nutrients based on their needs. Use this to your advantage. Give them a variety of nutrients and let them chose.
NOTE: You can house breeding adults and nymphs of all sizes together. A separate bin is not necessary, though it can come in handy for sorting, cleaning, and maintaining an awareness of what is happening inside a colony. Changes and problems that affect reproduction are much easier to spot and diagnose if nymphs are routinely removed from the breeding colony. Every four to six weeks is probably enough. Not too often though, as mentioned above.
As an aside, nymphs and growing juveniles eat much more as a percentage of body weight than adults. Sometimes they prefer protein while other times they prefer carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables. This is something you can only really get a sense of when you house breeding adults separately, but it’s not an issue if you give all your roaches food in forms they can self-select. For example, whole fruits and vegetables and whole grains. However, it becomes an issue with foods so finely blended that choosing one nutrient over another is impossible.
Nymph general care
Dubia roach nymphs are far more fragile than adults and older, larger nymphs. They can benefit from a little extra care, and there are things you can do to increase their chances of survival.
You will notice that nymphs tend to congregate around food and water sources. This is probably because like most newborn animals they need to eat and drink often. If they can find a safe spot near or even inside their food or water bowl, they often set up camp there. It’s common to find nymphs buried in their food. Adults don’t do this nearly as often.
To support their needs, be sure they have constant access to food and water. If you have to feed or water them sporadically, make the time between feedings and watering as short as possible. You don’t want your baby Dubia dying from dehydration. They can probably handle more time without food than water, but it is best to cut food disruption as much as possible. You want to support their fast growth because it sets them up as productive breeders or nutritious feeders later in life, and you don’t want to waste that opportunity. Once it’s gone, it’s lost forever.
Feeding off new nymphs
We recommend resisting the urge to feed off newborn nymphs as long as you can. In most cases, a new breeding colony will not provide a sustainable supply of feeders until it becomes established. This can take a while. With respect to breeding, an “established colony” is one containing roaches at each stage of development, where constant replenishment is occurring within each instar as new roaches are born and existing roaches grow and mature. This will not happen until the first batch of nymphs born in the new colony have grown and themselves become productive adults with offspring. You can get there with a batch of adult males and females. Alternatively, you can do it instantly with a starter colony containing roaches of all sizes and stages of development.
Understanding the Dubia roach growth rate can help you plan your project and your colony. Developing a sense of the Dubia roach reproductive timeline will help you decide how many nymphs you can feed off and still meet your population goals. It can also help you decide how many roaches to start with if you want to feed some nymphs off before they mature.
If you decide to start feeding off newborn roaches right away, or before they mature, be very careful to allow some of each size to reach maturity. Soon after nymphs start arriving you will get a sense of how many roaches the colony can afford to lose to feeding without appreciably affecting its expansion. However, keep in mind that it’s very easy to feed off too many. If this happens, there will be a gap in the colony’s “production” that will persist until it works itself out over time. This can take a while. Of course, you could buy some roaches of the right size to fill the gap, but it’s easier to avoid the problem altogether by not feeding off more than the colony can afford to lose.
NOTE: It’s natural to lose roaches between birth and adulthood. Not all nymphs survive, even in ideal conditions. Keep this in mind when deciding how many to feed off. As a general rule, you will end up with fewer roaches than you expect. You can maximize the number of nymphs that reach adulthood by paying attention to their needs and making adjustments as you go. Pay particular attention to minimizing stress and providing adequate nutrition.
Cleaning a breeding colony
Healthy Dubia roach breeding colonies need only occasional cleaning. Perhaps once every few months. The cleaning interval may end up being shorter in reality if problems develop. Generally, waste will accumulate at the bottom of your bin. Though unsightly, it is important to allow it to stay unless it becomes wet, moldy, or foul, or if it gets too deep. This in itself can lead to moisture retention, which contributes to the first set of problems.
The material is “frass”. By definition, frass is the mix of roach feces, discarded exoskeletons, remains of dead roaches, and discarded food particles that develops – in this case – inside a roach bin. Frass is normal and healthy for roaches. It does not smell bad and Dubia roaches like the cover it provides. However, moisture will accumulate in frass when it becomes deep enough, and if that happens it may develop a bad smell. At this point the bin requires cleaning. Remove some frass before moisture accumulates to avoid the build-up of mold and bacteria.
Seek to balance frass accumulation and “cleanliness”. The right mix is the amount of frass that poses the least amount of risk of problems for you or your roaches in light of the benefits it provides.
Frass in a breeding colony
As mentioned, and within reason, frass is good for roaches. However, it also has benefits particular to breeding Dubia roaches. Understanding these issues can help you foster roach health, raise productivity, and lower your chances of encountering problems.
Among the first things newborn Dubia roaches do is eat is their ootheca. Roach egg cases are high in fat and protein, and they are highly nutritious. The next thing they do is eat is frass. While gross by human standards, this serves several crucial functions. First, it kick-starts bacterial colonization of the young roach’s guts. Food shortages are common in the wild, and these bacteria helps Dubia roaches survive by enhancing plant matter digestion.
Second, frass provides nitrogen, which the roaches convert to protein. Frass-eating is the Dubia roach’s insurance policy against extinction. Simply put, it helped the species survive and evolve. Newborns grow extremely fast, and they can survive at least initially even without food because they eat frass.
A spare bin comes in handy when cleaning a Dubia roach breeding colony. You can either set up the spare bin and transfer your roaches to it, or use it to store roaches while you clean out the original bin. If you didn’t buy identical bins from the start, you may want to consider doing it now, when it’s time to clean.
NOTE: A properly cared for Dubia roach colony does not smell bad. Foul odors are usually caused by problems like rotting food, mold, or a build-up of dead roaches. Investigate any unusual smells immediately. Always try to quickly identify the cause, fix it, and take steps to prevent its recurrence.
Using cleaner crews
Consider using “cleaner crews” in your colony. Cleaner crews are insects – commonly Dermestid beetles and lesser mealworms – that work to reduce bacterial and fungal growth in a roach bin by processing (eating) dead roach carcasses (in the case of Dermestid beetles) and undigested or spilled vegetable-based food particles (in the case of lesser mealworms). Either of these two insects can be used alone, but they can also be used in combination. In fact, both of these two insect species together tends to be more effective than either one alone.
Cleaner crews are common in captive Dubia roach colonies. They don’t present much bother for the roaches, and their cleaning services are highly beneficial. Their benefits far outweigh any annoyance their presence may present to the roaches. They don’t have a direct effect on breeding, but the indirect effects are tremendously valuable.
Choose whether to use cleaner crews based on your circumstances. Generally, cleaner crews are probably not necessary in small colonies where very few roaches die and little frass accumulates. However, they are a necessity in large colonies like ours. If you’re starting a brand new Dubia breeding colony from scratch, you may start straight off with cleaner crews or wait to see when or if they’ll be needed.
Egg carton replacement
Stacking style and enclosure humidity are the two main determinants of egg carton longevity. The proper way to stack them is vertically, face to face, and in this configuration, they can last months before degrading to the point of needing replacement. When stacked horizontally, frass and moisture accumulate and roaches chew through them much more rapidly.
Egg crates also absorb moisture, and the heat and humidity Dubia need for breeding weakens their structure. The more moisture in the air, the faster they degrade. Stacking them vertically with enough space between for some air to circulate will maximize their longevity. You only need to change egg cartons when they don’t function because they have become damp or soiled, or when your roaches have chewed away too much of their structure.
Sharing the bounty
In time, and if you stick with it, your Dubia roach breeding project will yield a renewable supply of feeders. Follow our advice and you may even end up with more than you need! When this happens, consider sharing the bounty with friends or acquaintances who keep reptiles, amphibians, arachnids, or other insectivorous animals.
A better experience
One of the big, intractable problems in the herpetological trade is malnutrition. Bone, kidney, and other nutrition-related diseases are unfortunately very common among exotic animals. Dubia roaches may help solve some of these problems. In addition, we recommend always dusting feeders because captive insectivores may need more nutrients than their wild counterparts to help deal with the stresses of captivity. It’s a good way to cover all your bases, just in case.
Related reading: How and why to gut load Dubia roaches »
Dubia roaches go a long way to reducing problems insectivorous animals experience in captivity. We got into breeding them because we discovered their many benefits, including superior nutrition. While no bug is perfect, Dubia roaches come closest in our view. Broadly speaking, Dubia roaches make it easier to keep exotic animals as pets. And we think the more people are aware of the benefits of Dubia roaches, the better experience they will have with their pets.
The future of Dubia roaches
If you’re here to learn about breeding Dubia roaches, you probably already know how nutritious they are as feeders. Not everyone does, so please spread the word! Hardcore herp owners, breeders, dealers, and keepers have adopted Dubia roaches as primary feeders. The broader public is coming along, and Dubia roaches are becoming more popular with each passing year.