I have had the opportunity to breed and keep four popular species of roaches in recent years with the hopes of better feeding and stimulating my chameleons with a varied diet. The promise of unlimited nutritious food for my chameleons was too good to pass up. The experience has been educational to say the least. Some of these roaches I would consider to be a great success, and I would recommend to other reptile keepers without hesitation. On the other hand, many of the roach species have been disappointing for me and my chameleons. Below I have outlined my opinions and experience with Green Banana Roaches, Red Runner Roaches, Lobster Roaches, and Dubia Roaches.
Green Banana Roaches – Panchlora Nivea
Starting with an interesting and seemingly promising type of roach, the Green Banana Roach. The Green Banana Roach is mainly a nocturnal animal, but it is a climber and can often be found near the top of whatever enclosure it is in. This is a good thing for chameleons because that is where your chameleon will be hanging out often. It is light green in color, which is also a positive as chameleons LOVE light green colored bugs such as mantis and grasshoppers. The size was rather small in my experience despite purchasing the “Giant” variety. They were generally about the size of a medium cricket at ½-inch with probably less nutritious mass than a half inch cricket. These may be a good size for smaller chameleons or other small reptiles, but for my panther chameleons it would take 20+ to make a meal I would imagine. Not that I ever managed to have or catch 20 at a time! They were incredibly difficult to keep and breed for me. They can climb smooth surfaces, so their container needed to have a gasket type lid. I had a large plastic tote with just that kind of lid and I cut holes in and attached screen to the holes. I included a soil like substrate to retain some moisture as these roaches are recommended to have some moderate level of humidity. I was able to reproduce some of these roaches in their habitat but never at a rate that would allow me to start feeding them off to my chameleons. Even when the population was moderately growing, these roaches were very difficult to catch! They are incredibly fast, can fly short distances, and climb in some cases to escape threats, which means they would be climbing out of the tote when I removed the lid. The initial cost of these guys is expensive they are even available from specialty stores. I believe I paid somewhere near $100 for 40 mixed nymphs.
I would not recommend these roaches as a sustainable feeder due to the smaller size, slow reproduction rate, difficulty catching and feeding, and the expensive cost to obtain.
Red Runner Roaches – Turkestan cockroach
I have mixed opinions of these guys. I found Red Runner Roaches to be extremely easy to keep and reproduce. I kept them in a large plastic tote with wheat bran on the bottom and vertical egg crates for surface area. I fed them carrots, sweet potatoes, alfalfa pellets, Repashy bug burger, mustard greens, and bananas. They absolutely devour anything I put in their enclosure and reproduced at a corresponding rate. I could barely keep up with their appetite. These roaches lay egg casings which hatch a few days later. This is different from Lobster Roaches and Dubia Roaches which have live birth. I liked their size and feel like it is perfect for female panther chameleons and for juveniles. They are a slightly too small for adult male panther chameleons but still would make a decent meal regardless. Red runner roaches cannot climb smooth surfaces and do not fly. I believe a person could get away with keeping them in a tote without a lid, but I had a lid on my red runner enclosure because I didn’t want to risk them moving in with me. I have read that they can become a nuisance infestation if you are not careful. I believe most households are too dry for them to reproduce outside of a habitat unless you live in some of the warmer southern states.
The problem I had with these roaches was that my chameleons never took to liking them. The female Red Runner Roaches have a shiny black and red husk, true to their name and I believe this color was a turnoff for my chameleons. The males on the other hand are golden in color and have wings. My chameleons did like to eat the male red runner roaches because of their non-threatening appearance compared to their redder and shinier female counterparts. Unfortunately, the males are smaller in nutritional mass and catching individual males and leaving the females is not a sustainable feeder solution for me with the number of chameleons I am feeding daily. Also, the stress of them escaping and infesting my household was finally enough for me to call it quits with the Red Runner Roach. Since my chameleons do not like Red Runners and they pose a moderate risk of home infestation, I cannot personally recommend a Red Runner Roach colony for Chameleons.
Lobster Roach – Nauphoeta cinerea
The lobster roach initially seemed very promising to me. I purchased 300 mixed sized nymphs online and housed them in a setup similar to the setup that I kept the Red Runners in. Large tote, bran bottom, egg crates for climbing surface. I fed them similar food including carrots, sweet potatoes, alfalfa pellets, Repashy bug burger, mustard greens, and bananas. The main difference in keeping these guys is they can climb smooth surfaces including glass, so I kept a 3-inch layer of thin petroleum jelly at the top rim of the plastic tote which acts as a climbing barrier. They are not able to fly far, but I did keep a lid on the plastic tote just to be sure.
Within a few months, my lobster roach colony had multiplied drastically. They bear live birth and I now had a large size variety of roaches in the bin and had enough to safely start feeding them off without affecting the sustainability of the colony. The adults are slightly larger than Red Runners but much smaller than adult dubia roaches. The size of these guys is perfect in my opinion because Dubia roaches can quicky become too large for most panther chameleons and these lobster roaches seemed to cap out at the perfect size for a good meal for females and males. They were rather difficult to capture when it was feeding time and I found myself using tongs and grabbing them like Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid. There are probably better ways to capture them, but because they can quickly climb smooth surfaces, I didn’t feel comfortable putting them in a sifting device like I would Dubia Roaches.
After all the hassle of individually catching dozens of adult lobster roaches, my chameleons were generally not impressed or interested. Some did have a feeding response, but the majority were hesitant at best. Most did not eat them at all. I placed the lobster roaches in my chameleon cages in a 16-ounce deli cup like I do with all the roaches I feed, but because these Lobster Roaches climb so well, I had to grease the top rim of the cup so they wouldn’t escape soon thereafter and begin their own colony in the chameleon cage and then expand their empire to the rest of my house.
These roaches can pose a significant risk of household infestation and I have heard that their temperature and humidity requirements are even lower than that of the Red Runners. I was very concerned every time I tried to feed Lobster roaches to my chameleons, and I would not observe them eat them but I would find them not in their cup in the morning. I believe I am fortunate that I have not developed an infestation with these lobster roaches, and I worried constantly about it.
Due to my chameleons unenthusiastic feeding response and the added risk of household infestation, I have decided to discontinue my Lobster Roach colony. This was a difficult decision for me because they were such successful breeders and seemed like such a perfect meal for my chameleons. My chameleons and I disagreed on that last point.
Dubia Roaches – Blaptica dubia
Spoiler Alert! These are the champion in my opinion. I have had dubia roaches for three years now as of writing this review and plan on keeping them for as long as I have panther chameleons. I keep my dubia roaches in a large 50 gallon plastic tote with bran on the bottom and vertical egg crates for climbing surface. I feed them my standard roach diet including carrots, sweet potatoes, alfalfa pellets, Repashy bug burger, mustard greens, and bananas. I needed to heat their totes with external heat to stimulate better breeding as it can slow down to a stall in normal household temperatures. While they are not as fast reproducers as Red Runners or Lobster roaches, I have been happy with the rate I have been able to achieve with my dubia colonies. An adult dubia female is much too large for a female panther chameleon and I would probably not recommend feeding an adult female dubia roach even to my largest male panther chameleon. The male dubia roach is a much more managemeal size for most adult male panther chameleons and even most of my large females make short work of a male dubia roach. The male dubia roach has large wings and not as much body mass as a juvenile dubia that has not molted yet, so I usually try to catch the smaller but juicier mid-sized dubias for feeding time for my chameleons. Some of my pickier chameleons won’t eat a male dubia with their large wings, but they will readily eat an un-molted male or a smaller female. Most of my chameleons will eat dubias with no problem and I only have a few holdouts to this day that require crickets or superworms. Contrary to the common negative roach reputation, I have found dubia roaches to be very clean insects with no smell coming from their bin. Dubia roaches are generally considered not to pose an infestation risk in most climates in the U.S. due to their tropical nature. I am not personally concerned where I live about them becoming a problem, but you should check your local weather and household conditions and make that decision for yourself. I have been extremely happy with my dubia colony and using them as a feeder. I highly recommend researching and starting a colony for yourself if you can.