A complete guide to breeding healthy and productive dubia roaches
Breeding Dubia roaches can yield big rewards for the do-it-yourselfer. When done correctly, a homegrown Dubia roach breeding colony can provide feeder self-sufficiency, significant control over your animal’s diet, and the convenience of a directly accessible supply of renewable feeders. While learning, planning, and building a suitable setup takes some up-front time and effort, with the right advice, a sufficiently large Dubia roach breeding colony can save you money in the long-run by eliminating the need to buy Dubia roaches on a regular basis.
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.
Our techniques: Better than “average”
Meeting a breeding colony’s basic needs is a necessary condition for success, but we think that’s just the beginning. While average growth and reproduction is easily attained, we want more than that. And we want more for you than that. This Guide is designed to give you the information you need to take your breeding project beyond “average” growth into “spectacular” growth.
Our goal here is maximum Dubia roach productivity. To that end we’ve done a ton of testing over a long period of time to discover what Dubia roaches need for maximum growth and reproduction as well as how to best provide it to them. While we won’t give away all our secrets, we’re happy to pass along some of the lessons we’ve learned about the connections Dubia roach health and productivity have with the nutrition and environment we – and you – provide for them.
If all of this sounds good, read on. This Guide will help you get 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 avoid common pitfalls that can waste time and money. The goal is to help you quickly turn twenty roaches into a hundred, or a hundred into a thousand or more.
Dubia growth has natural physical limitations, but there are plenty of things you can do to maximize their potency now and in future generations. To that end, we believe health is key, and it turns out that the impacts of good health on the lifespan and productivity of cockroaches are cumulative. We think the information we’ve gained from our experience raising roaches can help ensure the success of your breeding project, and we’re happy to pass it along to you.
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 aspect of either nutrition or environment leads to a rise in the reproductive rate. Under ideal conditions, a single newly-emerged adult female can produce 175 offspring in 1 year, at which time around 120 of her direct descendants will be adults and between 40 and 50 of their young will also have offspring.
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 females develop their young internally inside long, tube-like, multi-celled egg sacks called “oothica” rather than laying eggs. Some roaches do lay eggs, but not Dubia roaches. Birth occurs when the female expels her ootheca in response to nymph activity as they prepare to hatch.
Nymphs start emerging from oothecae shortly after females discharge them. As they emerge over the course of a few hours, they are white in color and about 1/8″ (3mm) long. They will turn gray within several hours as their exoskeletons dry and harden in response to exposure to air. Before hardening, they are very fragile and easily damaged, so do not handle them if possible.
NOTE: This holds true for white roaches at any stage. Dubia roaches of all ages are white after they shed their exoskeleton as they transition from one instar to the next. You will notice that they leave the group in search of isolation when the molting process begins. This behavior may serve to protect them from accidental or intentional damage.
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 from then. 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 will complete the procreation cycle by giving birth to their first clutch 70 days later.
After giving birth to nymphs, females remain close to their offspring and show no interest in mating. This typically lasts a week or so. Rather than mating right away, females take the opportunity to look after their young. They also replenish their energy stores by eating more frequently than when they were carrying fertilized ootheca. As the females recover and prepare for another round of mating, their offspring begin venturing beyond their mother’s protection. The newly-hatched nymphs will be self-sufficient to the degree that they can find food on their own by the time their mother is ready to mate again.
What do you want from breeding?
Now is a good time to decide what you want from your Dubia roach 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 and get you thinking about issues you will face down the road.
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 given the number of animals you have? Do you have a plan in case you end up with too many roaches? Are you raising breeders? If so, how much space will you need and how much time do you want to devote to the project?
With those answers (or at least questions) in mind, there are a few more questions to ask yourself. How do you want to proceed with the breeding project? Do you want to set up multiple breeding bins now or wait until later? How will you heat additional breeding 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 all easy chores when Dubia roach colonies are small, but the dynamics have a way of changing when the population increases from tens to hundreds, and again from hundreds to thousands. Think ahead about what space, supplies, and time you’ll need when your colony reaches the size you want. Dubia roach colonies start slowly but one day out of the blue – usually after the first batch of offspring mature – the population may explode. It literally goes exponential.
As you move forward, try to anticipate where bottlenecks may occur. If you live in Alaska, for example, and you start in the summer, will you be able to maintain the high enclosure temperatures required for breeding through the 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 feeders if your 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 – as they do from time to time – plans fail.
Materials: Breeder colony equipment
The following is a list of basic equipment you will need. As noted in the details that follow, some equipment is optional.
- – Three roach enclosures
- – Lids
- – Screen, glue or tape
- – Heat
- – Harborage
- – Water bowl, substrate
- – Food bowl, food
- – Thermometer
- – Hygrometer
- – Electronic thermostat
Ideally, buy three identical bins for your breeding project. 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’s not necessary to buy them all at once, and depending on how you design your setup, maybe not at all. You can start with as many different sizes as you like, but we found that as colonies grow and expand, the natural gravitation is toward large, equally-sized bins, as their interchangeability is a big plus in usage and storage. At a minimum, you will need one bin that can comfortably house all of your breeding adults.
If you’re planning ahead, use bins that can accommodate not only the number of roaches you have now or plan on buying in the near future, but the number you anticipate after breeding begins and the colony is 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 its related problems. Dubia are social roaches and they need physical contact, but there is a limit to their sociability. Reproduction may slow as a colony becomes overcrowded. Keep in mind that if you misjudge a bin’s capacity now you can always make changes later. Dividing the colony between two bins is one solution to crowding. Another solution is switching the entire colony to a larger enclosure.
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 be enough to 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 and always test new enclosures before throwing out the receipt. Storage bins like ones made by Sterilite and Rubbermaid usually work well.
We advise using plastic bins in most situations because glass is heavier, breakable, see-through, and conducts heat better than plastic. You can breed Dubia roaches in a glass enclosure like an aquarium, but it’s more labor intensive. It’s also more difficult to provide them with the darkness they need to reproduce at full capacity. Stress reduces Dubia productivity, and too much light and visible activity will cause your roaches stress.
And of course, you can imagine what might happen if you slip and break an aquarium full of roaches. When you think roach bin, think plastic. Glass does have one advantage over plastic though, and that is that it can’t melt. Heating a glass aquarium requires more energy because glass transfers heat more efficiently than plastic, and that means you’ll lose it more quickly, but it’s also safer from the perspective of heat and electricity. We’ve never seen a heating pad melt a plastic bin, but we have read accounts of heating strips catching fire. It’s within the realm of possibility, so be cautious.
Choose a bin that’s at least 18″ x 18″ x 18″ even if you anticipate housing a very small breeding colony. This is big enough for a few egg flats and a food and water bowl, and it won’t be too spacious even if you have just a few roaches.
All things equal, there is no container upper size limit for larger colonies. However, you may want something that’s a size you can handle comfortably. Consider that you may be moving the bin frequently, and a 30-inch container full of roaches is a lot more manageable than one that’s five feet long and weighs 60 pounds. If a bin is wider than your arms can comfortably stretch, you may have to get help from someone each time you want to lift it. This is something to keep in mind.
Get the lids that come with the bins even if you think you won’t use them. You may change your mind later. And while they may not be necessary for keeping roaches in, they can offer convenience in unexpected ways. Say you want to separate nymphs from adults and maintain two colonies. It can be nice to stack the bins vertically. Lids make this easy. They also help keep things like pets and other insects out, which may be useful depending on your situation.
Because Dubia roach breeding colonies are long-term projects, they need proper ventilation. Keeping their lid askew or propping it up in one corner just won’t do. This means you should take the time to create a few ventilation holes and cover 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 buy metal screen if you expect them to be able to reach it. Fiberglass or plastic is fine if you’re sure they won’t ever reach it, and if for some reason they did, it wouldn’t matter terribly if they made holes in it. If you rely on screen to keep roaches in, use something they can’t chew through, like metal.
While Dubia roaches can survive a wide range of temperatures, their fertility rapidly decreases to zero as temperatures move away from about 85º to 90ºF. Ideally, a Dubia colony would be housed in a temperature-controlled room maintained at or near this range. However, if this isn’t possible or practical (and in most cases it isn’t), an external heat source may be used to raise temps in the roach bin(s) to an acceptable level.
There are a few options for heating a Dubia roach breeding colony, and each has its own set of 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:
- All heat sources should be kept outside the enclosure. This means no light bulbs, heat mats, or ceramic heat emitters inside the bin. Nothing your roaches can come in direct contact with should ever get above 90ºF.
- For peace of mind and to avoid injury and damage, 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 breeder bin in a location where a heating failure won’t wipe out the colony.
NOTE: There are many ways to heat a Dubia roach breeding colony. Two of the most popular are heat mats and heat emitters in combination with a warm spot in the home. In our view, the preferred way to provide external heat is however it can be done safely while maintaining air temperature between 85ºF and 90ºF. The temperature can dip lower on occasion, but it should not go much higher. Low heat slows B. Dubia growth and breeders should avoid it for this reason. However, high heat stresses them out, and this should reallybe avoided. Always keep in mind the negative affects of stress on Dubia roach productivity when planning or managing a colony.
For breeding, avoid paper with a lot of chemicals. A few examples of paper to avoid are glossy magazine paper and any type of bleached white paper – especially if it comes from a freshly-opened ream. These heavily processed papers will “off-gas” chemicals. This is especially true when they’re exposed to heat and moisture like the kind found in Dubia roach breeding colonies. What ultimately happens to a colony’s productivity as a result of chemical exposure depends on the type of chemicals in the paper, but some possibilities include lower virility and higher mortality among newborns and adults.
Food & water supplies
Dubia roach food and water requirements for breeding don’t differ much from those of general care. Feeding supplies are typically generic and applicable to most situations, but there are several ways to provide water to roaches. Different methods require different supplies, so you’ll need to choose one.
In making a choice, remember that while there may only be adults in the colony now, there will be tiny baby nymphs in the future. Nymphs need immediate access to water. If they don’t get it they may dehydrate and die. This can happen quickly. Nymphs are far less capable of handling stress than adults. They have fewer reserves, they’re smaller, and they will dry out and die without proper humidity and water. Make sure access to moisture in a breeding colony is regular and reliable. It should not be interrupted.
Also make sure all the roaches in the colony – now and in the future – can access it. This means all food and water dishes, bowls, lids, or whatever you use should have roughly-surfaced sides roaches of all sizes can easily climb. In most cases, a smooth-sided container can be sufficiently “roughed up” by a little work with coarse sandpaper. 80 grit usually works fine. Just give it some texture with the sandpaper and the roaches will find the water on their own.
You will need to know the temperature in the colony. For this, any thermometer will do. Small, inexpensive, battery-powered electronic thermometers with a probe works well for this purpose. More expensive spot checking thermometers with lasers are nice, but they aren’t necessary.
Unless you know the humidity in your Dubia roach breeding colony will remain above 40%, we recommend a hygrometer. Try to keep the humidity between 40% and 60% if your accommodations allow it. Higher is OK but lower should be avoided. Breeding and growth will slow if humidity is too low. The main problem with lower humidity is the ootheca, or female’s egg sack. It will dry out and become infertile if humidity is too low. When this happens the female will drop it and start producing a new one. This takes time and resources. Another problem is that nymphs don’t do as well in low humidity.
There are several ways to increase humidity inside Dubia enclosures. You can mist with water, increase the size of the water bowl, and/or place an open bowl of water near the enclosure.
NOTE: Always be careful with water in or near a Dubia roach colony. High temperatures plus water, darkness, and roach feces equals mold and bacteria. Mold and bacteria are bad news for Dubia roaches. And, some types of mold or bacteria could also be bad for you. Do some research on any potential topics of concern if you have any questions or doubt, and as always – be safe.
Unless the room in which you store your colony is maintained at the proper breeding temperature, you will need to connect your heat source through an electronic thermostat. Some people forego thermostats in favor of unrestricted heat mats or light bulbs, but we don’t recommend that. 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 that you don’t skimp in this area. The $20 to $40 you may spend on a basic model is inexpensive considering your overall investment in time, effort, and equipment. You don’t need anything fancy – just a basic, adjustable device you can set to turn heat on when the temperature dips and off when it rises. Whatever heating method you decide to use for your enclosure, aim for an internal air temperature of about 90ºF.
Selecting a location
The right environmental conditions are essential for successful Dubia roach breeding, and a good location makes creating those conditions easier. Keep the following in mind when selecting a location for your breeder bin:
- Evidence suggests mating peaks when Dubia roaches are exposed to a 12/12 (hour) light/dark cycle.
- Dubia roach behavior is influenced by light.
- If you err, try to err on the side of too much dark rather than light.
- Light stresses Dubia roaches and stress affects procreation.
- For breeding, there is no such thing as too much darkness.
- It’s easier to adjust humidity in small spaces than large ones.
- The higher the humidity the more important air circulation becomes.
The ideal spot to keep your breeding bin is one where there is adequate darkness and air circulation, is not subjected to loud noises or frequent disturbances, and where temperature and humidity are maintained at the best levels for breeding. A good spot might be a dark closet with light provided by a light bulb on a timer. Or it could be a basement, a corner in a quiet room, or a garage with similar conditions. Where you end up putting the breeding bin is only important in so far as the spot provides the conditions Dubia roaches need in order to breed.
NOTE: Putting more effort into selecting the right location probably means less ongoing effort and expense maintaining the conditions your breeding colony needs for peak production. Time and effort spent up-front can reduce work in the long-run. It can also save you money. Heating bills can be reduced significantly, for example, by finding a good location for your bin.
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’re convenient, inexpensive if you find the right source, and in our experience they’re safe for roaches. They also create the kind of spaces Dubia roaches prefer for mating and their offspring prefer for hiding. You may, however, use other paper, cardboard, or whatever material suits your situation. Just 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 of them to hold all the roaches in the colony at once. For a “full” colony of breeders, use as many flats as it takes to fill up all empty floor space, minus what you need for food and water. Packing egg flats tightly is not necessary in the beginning, of course. Right now you only need enough hide material to provide shelter for all 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 care is taken to reverse the direction of each consecutive flat, as in front to back then back to front. Or, because egg flats are 5×6, you can rotate each flat 90-degrees right or left and then stack them in the same direction. However, because no matter how you stack them there will be some collapse, you can cut squares of cardboard and insert them between each flat. Ours are about 8-inches square, but the size is not terribly important.
Again, be mindful of chemicals. Corrugated cardboard often contains chemicals so use them at your own discretion, and with caution. Keep an eye out for any negative effects on the roaches after adding a new batch from an untested source.
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 will hold 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. 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 but especially water. One reason we favor egg cartons is because roaches cannot easily move them. Crumpled paper, for example, can be pushed around the bin by the weight of the roaches and may come in contact with the water bowl. When this happens, the paper absorbs the moisture and may dry out the bowl. This is bad news for the roaches, but even worse, water may transfer to the frass. You don’t want wet frass in a hot, dark, humid enclosure. It turns thick like clay and will not dry on its own. If it’s thick enough it will stay wet for weeks. This is plenty of time for bacteria to colonize and jeopardize the health of your roaches. When bacteria colonizes, it smells of ammonia and at that point the bin requires thorough cleaning.
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 roaches can reach it. As a reminder, 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 inside or around your storage area. Not in the bin itself, of course, but near it. 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 landlord.
NOTE: dispose of any dead roaches killed by roach bait immediately and wash your hands thoroughly after handling either them or any roach trap. Roach poison is highly effective and persistent, which means it will stick around on your hands or clothes or whatever else you touch as long as six months. During this time it will remain highly toxic to roaches. You never know how roach poison on a surface in your home could find its way back to your roach colony, so eliminate the potential for harm and wash your hands after handling anything associated with roach traps immediately.
In deciding how many ventilation holes to cut and what size, keep the following in mind:
- Holes must be large enough to allow adequate circulation but small enough to prevent too much humidity and heat from escaping.
- The size and number of ventilation holes you choose depends on the conditions in and around the storage area and in the breeder bin itself.
- Any size or number of holes can be used if the storage area is maintained at the ideal breeding temperature and humidity.
- 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.
- If you err, do it on the side of smaller/fewer holes. You can always make them bigger…not so easy making them smaller.
After creating the holes, cut the screen to size and attach it to the lid with tape or hot glue.
NOTE: Buy quality tape that won’t lose adhesion when exposed to heat and moisture. HVAC foil tape is best. Duct tape will work in most cases. Avoid craft tape, masking tape, and scotch tape. Hot glue works nicely.
NOTE: Start with small ventilation holes and cut larger ones as needed. Enlarging holes that are too small is easier than fixing holes that are too big, and people tend to overestimate the size of the holes required for adequate ventilation. Monitor and measure the actual conditions in the enclosure rather than guessing.
The Right Tools: Choosing Dubia roaches
With respect to your breeding stock, the right tools for the job are critical. A successful Dubia roach breeding project requires the (a) right mix of (b) healthy adult females and males. Getting either of these things wrong can result in slow progress and 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, colony activity is depressed and stress rises. This can lead to lower productivity for the whole colony. Above 7:1, productivity also slows in our experience, 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 your breeding colony’s 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 to mate most of the time. This results in competition among males. During courtship, males harass rivals by disrupting their courtship display. They keep at it until a male establishes dominance over others. 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 establish 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.
NOTE: Males reportedly eat nymphs when competition for females is high. This can increase mating, but in the end it reduces productivity and probably increases colony stress. You can reduce competition by increasing the female:male ratio.
Stock: Healthy breeding females
A stock of healthy, fertile adult females is key to highly productive Dubia roach breeding. All things equal, in our experience, healthy females:
- produce more offspring
- 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 Dubia roaches will have a big impact on the success or failure of your breeding project. Female health is not everything, but it can be a limiting factor that determines how fast a breeding colony multiplies and how many feeders it supplies at maturity after it has become established. We believe it also affects the nutritional quality of the feeders produced, which of course has a direct impact on the nutrition and health of the animals that eat them. Therefore, it makes sense to put real effort into raising and supporting the physical health of your breeding females.
There are several steps you can take to improve and maintain female Dubia health. You can:
- Buy healthy roaches at the outset
- Provide the recommended environmental conditions for breeding
- Follow the general care 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: All things equal, we’ve found that the health of females has a huge impact on their productivity. Within the limits of their physiology, improving their health will increase the number of babies they produce.
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 accurate. In reality, they are very responsive to their environment. In fact, they are very sensitive to it. Their health is closely tied to what they eat and where they live, and like any other insect they can be either healthy or unhealthy. They breed well in some circumstances and poorly in others.
To reproduce at their full potential they need to live in conditions that support it. Consider that Dubia roaches have sophisticated palates that can 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 environment does matter, and for this reason they are sensitive to their environment.
Feeding: 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 optimum production.
Adding to the difficulty of providing Dubia roaches with the foods they need for optimum health is the fact 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, you don’t have to know exactly what nutrients each roach needs or when it needs them to have a healthy, productive breeding colony. As it turns out, Dubia roaches self-select for dietary nutrition. It’s possible to meet almost all of their nutritional needs by supplying a wide range of healthy foods and letting them choose what to eat.
As mentioned above, Dubia roaches have an ability to distinguish protein from carbohydrates – just as we do. They crave the foods their bodies need when they need them. Young nymphs, for example, show a strong preference for protein. When given a choice, most of them will eat more protein than carbohydrates. Adult males, on the other hand, strongly prefer carbohydrates most of the time. They will eat fruits, vegetables, and grains when given the choice. Adult females are another matter. They prefer protein some of the time and carbohydrates at other times.
We actually addressed this topic in an article we wrote about dietary protein in the Dubia roach diet. If you’re interested in the topic, give it a read. Definitely check it out if you’re thinking about blending your own roach chow. If that’s the case, be sure to check out our words of caution.
Protein & carbohydrates
Provide both nymphs and adults in your breeding colony with a wide range of foods containing various amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. This means they should have some high protein foods and some low protein foods. The same is true for carbohydrates. The idea is to give them a choice of how much of each they eat. The article linked to above contains an in-depth explanation of what to do and why, if you would like more information on the topic. The bottom line is that Dubia roaches have different needs at different times, and you can meet their needs by providing a varied diet of whole ingredients.
We recommend our dry roach chow because it eliminates the guesswork. It has the right balance of nutrients determined by significant testing and our general experience over time. But of course you can feed your roaches your own blend of dry ingredients in whole form if you choose. This means whole oats, wheat, etc.
Fruits and vegetables
For a breeding colony, we recommend a diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables have many important nutrients dry ingredients don’t, and they provide them in forms dry ingredients can’t. While you can probably get away without them, our breeders are more productive when they have a constant supply. In all likelihood, yours will be too.
A note on oranges
Common wisdom suggests 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. They are particularly fond of bananas and dates, for example, and their production doesn’t slow when oranges are out of season.
NOTE: Organic food is not a requirement, but if you see the wisdom in it but don’t want to go fully organic, consider starting with just a few foods. Those typically low in pesticides and anything originating in the US are excellent candidates. Avoid fruits or vegetables that still look fresh two days after you fed them to your roaches.
Birth: New Dubia roaches!
If conditions are right, healthy females will bear 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’re not 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 start your breeding colony with newly-emerged adult females. That time can be cut to zero by starting with currently breeding females.
What to do next
There’s 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 newborn nymphs shortly after they arrive 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 provide newborns with conditions that differ from the breeding colony as a whole.
Dubia roaches in new, unestablished breeding colonies should be allowed to go about their business undisturbed. Consider preparing a second bin for rearing the young offspring from your breeders, but don’t use it until space or other circumstances require it. Avoid making big changes until the colony is established. Dubia roach nymphs stress easily and seem particularly sensitive to change.
Nymphs do best between 80ºF and 90ºF. Try to maintain this range in your breeding bin. If absolutely necessary, nymphs can be housed in their own enclosure away from the adults. They don’t need adults for anything but protection, and that’s probably not an issue in captivity. If the colony has a problem with overly-aggressive males, the solution should be to reduce their numbers rather than remove the nymphs. If you just remove the nymphs, the male aggression problem still exists.
Our temperature recommendation is based solely on experience. Unfortunately, there isn’t much study data on temperature and Dubia roach breeding (external link). We know nymphs are more sensitive than adults, and they tend to handle temperature extremes and other stresses poorly.
NOTE: Keep in mind that removing all the nymphs from a 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 effect. Start paying attention to these things now and use your judgment. Removing all the nymphs from your colony often, or shortly after birth, will have a negative impact on breeding. This is especially true the first time you do it. Females may drop their immature ootheca in response to stress, and when they do that they have to start again from scratch. Always seek to minimize stress by limiting disruption.
Nymphs need a variety of micro and macronutrients for optimum health and growth, but 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 can be detrimental to their health, so make sure they have other food too. As mentioned, Dubia roaches cam self-select foods they need when they need them. Use this to your advantage. Give them a variety of nutrients to chose from.
NOTE: Breeding adults and nymphs of all sizes can be housed together. A separate bin is not necessary, though it can come in handy for sorting, cleaning, and maintaining an awareness of what’s happening in the colony. Changes and problems that affect reproduction are much easier to see and diagnose if nymphs are routinely removed from the breeding colony. Every four to six weeks is probably sufficient.
Nymphs and growing juveniles eat much more than adults. Sometimes they prefer protein while other times they prefer carbs from fruits and vegetables. This is something you can only really get a sense of when breeding adults are housed separately. This is a non-issue if you provide all your roaches food in forms they can select. For example, whole fruits and vegetables and whole grains. However, it becomes an issue when foods are blended so finely or thoroughly that choosing one nutrient over another is impossible.
Feeding off new nymphs
We recommend that you resist feeding off newborn nymphs when they arrive. In most cases, a new breeding colony will not provide a sustainable supply of feeders until it becomes established. This can take a while. The definition of an “established breeding colony” is one that contains roaches at every stage of development, and constant replenishment is occurring within each instar (growth phase) as roaches grow and mature. This can’t happen until the first batch of nymphs born in the new colony have grown and themselves become adults and begin producing offspring, or unless you start the colony with roaches of all sizes.
In this regard, our article about Dubia roach growth rate can help you plan your colony. Developing a sense of the Dubia roach reproductive timeline will help you determine how many nymphs you can feed off and still achieve your colony population goal. It can also help you decide how many roaches you would have to start with so you can feed off some nymphs without compromising that goal.
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’ll get a sense of how many roaches the colony can afford to lose to feeding. However, keep in mind that it’s easy to feed off too many before you realize it. If this happens, there will be a gap in the colony’s “production” that will persist until it works itself out over time. Of course you could buy some roaches of the appropriate size to fill the gap, but it’s easier to either do that from the beginning, if necessary, and avoid trying to figure out how many and of what sizes to replace.
NOTE: It’s natural to lose roaches between birth and adulthood. Even in ideal conditions not all of them will survive. 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 that reach adulthood by paying attention to their needs and making adjustments as you go. Pay particular attention to minimizing stress.
Cleaning a breeding colony
Dubia roach breeding colonies need only occasional cleaning. A very rough estimate is once every few months, but certainly sooner if any unusual smells develop. Waste will accumulate at the bottom of your bin, and although unsightly, it’s important not to remove it unless it becomes wet, moldy, or foul. Frass itself is sort of self-limiting. Moisture will begin to accumulate when it becomes deep enough, and it will develop a bad smell. The bin needs to be cleaned at this point. Ideally though you want to clean it before moisture accumulates as it can be a danger to the roaches.
Frass is another name for roach feces. It accumulates over time in all Dubia roach colonies. However, it accumulates slower in breeding colonies with newborn nymphs. To a point, the more newborns, the slower frass builds up.
The first thing newborn Dubia roaches eat is their ootheca casing (egg case). The next thing they eat is frass. This serves several purposes. First, it kick-starts the colony of bacteria they need in their guts to survive in the wild. Second, it provides nitrogen, which they convert to protein. Frass-eating is the Dubia roach’s insurance policy against annihilation. Simply put, it helped them survive over millions of years. Newborns grow extremely fast, and they can survive at least initially even in the absence of food because they eat frass.
A spare bin can come in handy when cleaning a Dubia roach breeding colony. You can either set up the spare bin and transfer the 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 colony does not smell bad. If a foul odor is present, it’s probably caused by rotting food, mold, or because roaches are dying. Investigate any unusual smells right away. Identify the cause, remove it, and take steps to prevent its recurrence.
The use of cleaner crews
You may want to consider using “cleaner crews” in your bin. These are other insects – commonly Dermestid beetles and lesser mealworms – that work to keep the enclosure free of bacterial overgrowth 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, and they can also be used – often more effectively – in combination.
Whether or not to use them is a personal choice that should be made on a case-by-case basis. In very small colonies where very few roaches die or very little frass accumulates, cleaner crews may not be necessary. In large colonies like ours they are a necessity. Those starting a brand new Dubia roach breeding colony from scratch can either start straight off with cleaner crews or wait to see when or if they’ll be needed.
Egg carton replacement
Stacking and humidity are the two main determinants of egg carton longevity. The proper way to stack them is vertically, face to face. In this configuration, they can last months before degrading to the point where they need replacement. When stacked horizontally, frass and moisture accumulate and roaches chew through them much more rapidly. Egg crates absorb moisture, and the heat and humidity Dubia need for breeding weakens their structure. The more moisture in the air, the faster they degrade. Egg cartons only need to be changed when they don’t function because they’re damp or soiled, or too much of their structure has been eaten away.
Share the bounty
In time, if you stick with it, your Dubia roach breeding project will yield a large, renewable supply of Dubia roach feeders. You may even end up with more than you need. If you do, consider sharing the bounty with friends or acquaintances who keep reptiles, amphibians, arachnids, or any other animal that might benefit from the superior nutrition Dubia roaches provide
A better experience
One of the big, intractable problems in the herp trade is malnutrition. Bone, kidney, and other diseases related to malnutrition are unfortunately common among exotic animals. We dust and gut load our feeders because captive insects tend to lack the nutrients or the variety of nutrients animals find in the wild.
Dubia roaches go a long way to reduce these problems. We got into breeding them because we found that they are the most nutritious feeder insect available for our animals. While no bug is perfect, Dubia roaches come the closest. Broadly, Dubia roaches make it easier to keep exotic animals as pets. The more aware people are about Dubia roach nutrition, the better experience they will have keeping herps.
The future of Dubia roaches
If you’re here learning how to breed Dubia roaches, you probably already know how nutritious they are. Please spread the word. Dubia roaches have already been adopted by hardcore herp owners, breeders, dealers, and keepers, and the broader public can benefit just the same if not more than the experts by following that same path.