Since spiders love narrow places they can crawl into, some feel most comfortable in old empty CD cases. Others, like the Banded Huntsman Spider, love to sit on bits of old plastic plant pots. “This is the reason I started to collect old plant pots. But they have to be a dark colour, preferably black. The spiders don’t like white ones,” Zoo keeper Joe, said.
Even the enormous Burrowing Cockroaches live here - deep down in the soil in containers where it is warm and dark.
Joe holds one 10cm cockroach on his hand. “They live in the dark and get stressed very easily. I only take them out when it’s really necessary”. For this reason the same cockroach is not taken out again until it is ‘ready’. Just like the Sydney Funnel-web Spiders which get lots of time off after they represent their species at the daily Spider Talk which is hugely popular with kids.
Giant Burrowing Cockroaches can weigh up to 35g and measure 80mm long. Their Latin name, Macropanesthia rhinoceros, means they’re also called the Rhinoceros Cockroach. True to their name, they can burrow up to a metre underground to make a nest. Like 97% of the animals on the planet, spiders and Burrowing Cockroaches are invertebrates, which means ‘without a backbone’. It is incredible that all other animals, the vertebrates, for example mammals, only make up 3% of all known animal species.
Burrowing Cockroaches play an interesting role being Australia’s largest cockroach. They can live up to 10 years and feed on dead leaves, performing an important ecological role in recycling nutrients in our forests. They actually have their skeletons on the outside. This so-called ‘exoskeleton’ does not grow with the body. It has to be discarded occasionally which leaves the cockroach behind in a pale beige colour. After about 12 strip offs in a year or two, a cockroach is grown up. Joe is taking care of the mother cockroaches and their ‘offspring’ until they’re ready to be shown to the public.
For now, there’s only one Burrowing Cockroach on display at Taronga Zoo. A little hidden crawly treasure whose species has existed for 250 million years. If they could speak, they probably had the most fascinating stories to tell.
Ramona Pradella, Media Intern