Pure Hobby Hisser "Key" (WIP 2021)

As some of you may know, my username on all the invertebrate forums is "Hisserdude", so true to form I thought I'd create a reference of what the PURE hobby Gromphadorhini are supposed to look like, since we are facing a mislabeling epidemic that threatens to inadvertently eradicate pure hisser stocks from the hobby over time, making lines less and less unique and different from each other.

All coloration norms mentioned here are for adults, unless otherwise specified. Hisser nymphs of even pure stock can vary wildly in coloration, and thus their coloration usually can't be used when determining whether they are hybrids or pure stock.

All of these pictures have been pulled from various sources online and are all of pure bred individuals. I've given credit to the photographers under each and every photo, if someone wishes to have their photos removed, please contact me and it shall be done.

Basic hisser anatomy that I'll be referencing in this amateur "key", (my own picture of a Gromphadorhina sp. "Hybrid" male):

Aeluropoda insignis:
(Flathorn Hisser) 

Characterized by their noticeably flat morphology, and overall dark brown/black base coloration with red highlights. Females and juveniles often have more red coloration than the males do, and the brightness and intensity of the red coloration is often greatly exaggerated in photos due to the camera flash.

So far only known to hybridize with pure Princisia vanwaerebeki "Tiger"/"Tricolor". Most, if not all stock sold is pure.

©Josef Dvořák


Elliptorhina chopardi:
(Dwarf Hisser) 

Characterized by it's small size, black/dark orange pronotum, orange mesonotum and metanotum ending with darker borders, and mostly crisp orange abdominal coloration with very little to no darker striping.

Can probably hybridize with other Elliptorhina, maybe small individuals of other Gromphadorhini as well. Most, if not all stock sold is pure.

©Josef Dvořák

©Piotr Sterna

Elliptorhina cf. coquereliana:
(Dark Dwarf Hisser)

A recent addition to Blatticulture, one I hope we'll see in the US sometime soon! This rare species is only being cultured by a handful of hobbyists ATM, so information on them is scarce.
They are characterised by their distinct coloration, adults have a black base coloration, with orange strips on the anterior sections of their mesonotum and metanotum. They have pale spots on their thoracic pads, and they also have thin orange stripes going across all their abdominal segments. Coloration is pretty consistent between individuals, and should not vary much at all.
Major males have very pronounced, pointy horns, but small males have horns more similar to those of chopardi or javanica.

Elliptorhina davidi:
(Bumpy Hisser) 

An extremely rare hisser cultivar easily characterized by the heavily granulated (bumpy) exoskeleton of most individuals, but most noticeably nymphs and females, (males usually have rather smooth abdomens). The pronotums are either black or reddish, with the mesonotum and metanotum being a creamy orange ending with thick dark margins. The abdomen is usually a rather dark orange, no striping.
Current stock is very difficult to rear and can be prone to random mass die offs, something not seen in any of it's relatives.

Can hybridize with other Elliptorhina and possibly other small Gromphadorhini individuals, but since they are so rare in culture already, hybrids haven't been a huge issue. As such, most stock sold is probably pure.

©Lubomír Klátil

©Cody Will

Elliptorhina javanica:
(Halloween Hisser) 

This species is characterized by it's relatively small size and striking coloration. Adults either have black or red pronotums, the rest of the body is a bright, creamy orange color, with alternating bands of darker orange and black on every segment.

Can probably hybridize with other Elliptorhina and possibly small individuals of other Gromphadorhini. Most, if not all stock sold is pure.

©Oscar Mendez


Elliptorhina laevigata:
(V-horn Hisser) 

A somewhat rare species that's characterized by it's large size for an Elliptorhina, and yet slender build compared to other large Gromphadorhini, as well as the namesake "V" shaped horns on the adult males' pronotums. The base coloration of adult males is dark brown/black, with dull orange abdominal striping and thoracic pad spots visible on some individuals. Females have much more orange on their thoracic segments, and their abdomens are usually a dull red-orange with black striping.

This species can probably hybridize with other Elliptorhina and Gromphadorhini, however due to it's relative scarcity in the hobby, no such hybrids appear to have been documented. All stock sold seems pure.

©Gabriele La Corte

©Cody Will

Gromphadorhina oblongonota:
(Wide Horn Hisser) 

A commonly cultured hisser species well known for it's large size, dark mahogany color, and the unusual width between the horns on males. Pure stock is easily characterized by consistent coloration of the adults, they should all be a dark maroon color, some individuals may have lighter spots on their thoracic pads and down the middle of their mesonotum and metanotum, this is normal. Large males often have elongate, shovel-like extensions to the anterior margins of their pronotums. Large nymphs are dark brown/black and often have white spots on their thoracic pads, and white gaps in between the abdominal segments.

This species can hybridize with other Gromphadorhina and maybe certain Princisia strains. If your colony has black or light brown/orange adults popping up, or very small adults that look more like G.portentosa than oblongonota, it's safe to say your colony has been hybridized. Most stock sold of this species appears to be pure, but hybrids are out there, so be careful!

Adults. ©Roachcrossing

Nymph. ©Ondřej Machač

Gromphadorhina portentosa:
(Common Madagascar Hisser) 

This is the OG hisser, once the most commonly cultured species, and unfortunately the species who's name is used to label the majority of hybrids in the hobby... There are a few different imports of this species, but pure stock of the oldest import (the one without locality information, and the only one currently kept in the USA), is characterized by a relatively smooth exoskeleton, black pronotum, mostly orange mesonotum and metanotum with dark borders (females sometimes having reddish orange spots on their thoracic pads. Pure males rarely have said spots, but when they do they're normally quite small). There should be little to no dark abdominal striping and crisp, orange to red-orange abdominal segments. This coloration should be consistent with very little to no variation.
Most, if not all currently pure portentosa in the US come from descendants of a culture from the Cleveland Aquarium, maintained since 1972, they apparently got theirs before the saturation of hybrids in the market and never added more bloodlines or kept other hisser species, which means they are as pure as can be. If kept properly, they also average noticeably larger than most hybrid "portentosa" stocks.

There are a number of "portentosa" color morphs out there, mainly black or dark brown morphs, however I don't think any of them came from lineage traced pure stock, most are almost certainly from hybrid lines, as extreme variability in coloration from the normal orange is typically the most obvious signs of hybridization. That being said, there have been reports of the odd jet black individual popping up in pure colonies, (though no one seems to have isolated that morph), so random rare variations can occur, but are usually very uncommon in pure bred US portentosa stock.

One verified morph that's been selectively bred for over time from the pure Cleveland Aquarium 1972 stock, the "LLE Mahogany" morph, features both normal looking adults and very light colored ones. Unlike hybrid color variation, this coloration had to be selectively bred for over multiple generations before there was any noticeable difference from normal portentosa. A couple different morphs are being developed from this somewhat variable pure strain, it'll be interesting to see more pure stock hisser morphs popping up in culture. 

There are two more imports of G.portentosa being cultured in Europe, Gromphadorhina portentosa "Masoala, Madagascar", and Gromphadorhina cf. portentosa "Ranomafana, Madagascar". Both have slightly darker, more variable coloration and perhaps more black striping on their abdominal segments than is typical of pure individuals of the 1972 Cleveland stock in the US... However, keep in mind that while wild G.portentosa coloration is probably quite variable, unfortunately in captivity, color variation, especially lots of dark individuals in "portentosa" stocks, is usually an indicator of hybridization with other, darker hissers like Gromphadorhina oblongonota or Princisia vanwaerebeki.
Pure colonies of the old import in the US have probably inadvertently been line bred for lighter than normal coloration over the years, so when we see colonies of the older import that have a lot of darker individuals popping up, be they black or dark brown, this is usually a sign of hybridization. Newer imports like the "Mosoloa" and "Ranomafana" probably throw out darker individuals because they are haven't yet been line bred inadvertently for any specific coloration, however these lines should always be labeled with their localities and hopefully won't be hybridized much in the future.

In short, if you see Gromphadorhina portentosa for sale, be sure to check if they're labeled as "Pure", (or if they are from the newer two EU imports), compare them to pictures of known pure stock, and if necessary, ask around and do some lineage tracing, (for example, if the stock looks completely pure and comes from some random hobbyist, who got theirs from Roachcrossing, who got theirs from Orin Mcmonigle, who got his from the Cleveland Aquarium's colony, you should be good). If things don't add up and the hissers do not match the description above or the pictures below, then it's relatively safe to assume they're hybrids, most currently sold G.portentosa stock is.

Pure Cleveland Aquarium 1972 Stock. ©Roachcrossing

"LLE Mahogany" Morph, originating from the 1972 stock. ©Roachcrossing

"Masoala, Madagascar" Stock. ©Cafarnarium

"Ranomafana, Madagascar" Stock. ©Cafarnarium

Gromphadorhina sp. "Madagascar - Unidentified":
(No Common Name) 

This is a fairly recent, unidentified import in the hobby. This species is characterized by it's relatively large size and width, as well as the dark pronotum, rusty red abdominal coloration, and faint dark markings around the abdominal spiracles, with light orange abdominal margins, (though some adult females lack the pale abdominal margins and look more like standard G.portentosa). Some adults have somewhat bright orange spots on their thoracic pads.
At first glance, this species can look like oblongonota, but the pronotums of this species, particularly the males are notably different than in oblongonota, being far less rounded and more squared off in shape. This phenotype is actually closest to portentosa, and possibly represents a local form or even an undescribed subspecies of portentosa.
Adults can vary quite a bit in length, but the largest can supposedly reach ~85mm, rivaling G.oblongonota in length and apparently surpassing them in width and bulk.

This species has proven to be rather slow growing and breeding compared to other Gromphadorhina and still remains rare in the hobby. Be sure to compare coloration and pronotum shape to the pictures below when determining if stock is pure.

Adult male. ©Loach's Roaches

Subadults. ©Loach's Roaches

Left to right: Male G.oblongonota, male G.sp. "Madagascar" ©Loach's Roaches

Princisia vanwaerebeki "Tiger" & "Tricolor" (ex. Gromphadorhina grandidieri)
(Tiger Hisser) 

The US stock of this species is characterized by the black/reddish black thorax, and the abdominal segments being a creamy yellowish/tan coloration with black striping, (males usually being a bit lighter than females). Females often have red spots on the sides of the pronotum, and both males and females have red spots on the thoracic pads. Individuals will occasionally have a light patch on the metanotum, or a dark line going down the middle of the abdominal segments, along with other very minor striping variations. The abdominal coloration of adults often dulls with age.
Sometimes adults of pure stock can come out with abnormally dark brownish abdominal coloration, with the base coloration being more brown than normal; this is an aberrant color variation that the average hobbyist may want to cull from their colonies, and should prompt a lineage tracing check. Regardless of coloration, adult males should always have shallow but noticeable notches on the front of their pronotums, this is perhaps one of the best ways to test stock purity in this phenotype.
As for the majority of individuals, there should be no huge variation in the striping pattern, and if the pale abdominal coloration has been replaced with a dull brown or orange, the black stripes are incredibly thick and/or very abnormal compared to the below individuals of US stock, or some individuals don't have any stripes at all, these are signs of possible hybridization.

In the US this species has been erroneously labelled as "Gromphadorhina grandidieri", however real G.grandidieri look nothing like these AT ALL... According to George Beccaloni, the taxonomist behind the CSF who's also working on the Gromphadorhini and has gone on hisser collection trips in Madagascar himself, these are most likely a distinct locale or perhaps even an undescribed subspecies of Princisia vanwaerebeki, and should be labeled as such. 
He notes that while the pronotum shape of the adult male "Tigers" is a bit different from that of the average P.vanwaerebeki "Big" or "Androhamana" male, they're still more similar to that species than any other, with a shallow but noticeable notch present in the anterior margin of the pronotums of adult "Tiger" males. The shallowness of the notch, along with the consistently smaller horns is likely due to the overall smaller size of the "Tigers" compared to the other Princisia locales, likely due to geographical variation, (or them being a new vanwaerebeki subspecies). Their abdominal patterning is also rather similar to that of the holotype of P.vanwaerebeki, there's no other described hisser species with abdominal striping anything like that. 

In Europe there is a strikingly similar strain of hisser labeled as Princisia vanwaerebeki "Tricolor", which in my opinion probably originated from the exact same stock as our "Tigers", and are just labeled differently and were perhaps inadvertently line bred for slightly different coloration, (it seems they took a little longer to get established in Europe than in the US, and may have originally come from US keepers). However I'm not 100% sure the "Tricolors" and "Tigers" are one and the same, and a lot of "Tricolor" stocks appear to have been hybridized, so we in the US should still keep the "Tiger" moniker for our stock IMO.

This species can hybridize with other Princisia and Gromphadorhina species, which leads to a lot of really dull looking hybrids with base abdominal colorations of brown and some darker brown striping, and some individuals that look nothing like "Tigers" at all... They can also hybridize with Aeluropoda, making flatter, more dully colored individuals. Most stock in the US is pure, pure stock in Europe appears to be nearly nonexistent now though, with pale, stripeless "portentosa" looking individuals popping up in many cultures, something that never seems to happen with pure "Tiger" stock...

US stock. ©Roachcrossing

US stock. Color a bit dark due to lighting, note metanotum spot. ©Roachcrossing

Europe's Princisia vanwaerebeki "Tricolor" stock. ©Cafarnarium

Princisia vanwaerebeki "Black & White":
(Black and White Hisser) 

This breed of Princisia used to be characterized by the mostly black pronotum, black mesonotum and metanotum with small, dull red spots on the thoracic pads, and the abdominal segments being a creamy white with thicker black striping than the P.vanwaerebeki "Tricolor".
Nowadays though, all stocks of this strain are quite similar to P.vanwaerebeki "Tricolor", only being differentiated by having darker, smaller dots of red coloration on the thoracic pads.
There should be little to no variation in coloration, especially no highly dark or stripeless individuals, to be considered pure.

See the P.vanwaerebeki "Tiger" & "Tricolor" description for notes on the ID of this strain, which also probably represents the exact same locale or subspecies of P.vanwaerebeki as those two, just purposely or accidentally line bred for different coloration.

This stock can hybridize with other Princisia strains, and almost certainly Gromphadorhina species. Pure colonies of this stock appear to be rather rare in culture, (outnumbered by "Tricolor" and "Tricolor" hybrids), and care should be taken to preserve what few cultures there are left that do appear pure. Be very wary of hybrid stocks when looking to obtain this strain.

Old stock ©Jörg Bernhardt

Old stock ©Jörg Bernhardt

Current stock ©Cafarnarium

Princisia vanwaerebeki "Big/Black":
(Vibrant Hisser) 

This was once the most commonly cultured Princisia form, unfortunately there are probably almost as many mislabeled hybrids of standard P.vanwaerebeki as there are of G.portentosa...
Pure stock of this Princisia strain is characterized by an overall dark brown/black coloration, with red spots on the thoracic pads and yellow/orange borders on the margins of the abdominal segments. Some individuals have darker or thinner abdominal borders than others, with males sometimes having very thin borders, but none should completely lack the margins (except in melanistic individuals which may occasionally pop up in pure cultures), and none should have actual thick striping. This general coloration scheme should be rather consistent, with no major variations, (like chocolate brown individuals, ones completely lacking yellow/orange abdominal borders, light colored "portentosa" looking individuals, etc.).

Pronotum structure is arguably more important when differentiating pure Princisia stock from hybrids. Pure Princisia vanwaerebeki "Big" males should always have a noticeable "notch" on the anterior margin of their pronotum, right over their heads, as well as strong horn structure. Hybrid Princisia have very variable pronotum shapes, some males having the notches, others lacking them, and with horn structure that looks rather wimpy at times. 

Pure colonies of this strain are known to be quite finicky compared to other hissers, which may be why they are less common than the more virile hybrid stocks, (pure stock is very rare in the US right now).
Some people don't use the strain name "Big" when selling this species, which OK for now, considering there's only one pure Princisia strain in the US ATM. Doesn't necessarily mean they aren't pure, but be sure to check for color consistency of course, from any colony that's supposedly from this "default" Princisia strain...

Note that this strain, while considered by many to be the "default" Princisia strain in culture, doesn't look much like the holotype at all in terms of coloration...

This species can hybridize with other Princisia and Gromphadorhina species, and many "G.portentosa" colonies appear to be hybrids of portentosa and this Princisia strain. Most stocks sold of this species are hybrids, check very carefully for coloration of the stock you buy and receive. If they're a mix of all black, very light, thickly striped, normal and/or "portentosa" or "oblongonota" looking individuals, and males have very variable pronotum shapes and horn structure, it's safe to say they're hybrids.

©K.I.D. Kucharscy


Princisia vanwaerebeki "Androhamana, Madagascar":
(Vibrant Hisser) 

This more recent import of Princisia vanwaerebeki from Androhamana Madagascar is very similar to P.vanwaerebeki "Big" in general color palette, but males have an abdominal striping pattern more similar to that of the "Tiger/Tricolor" stocks. So the base abdominal coloration is a dark tan color, with black stripes.
Females barely have any tan striping on their abdomens at all, and are a little more similar to the P.vanwaerebeki "Big" females in patterning, with the abdominal margins being orange/yellow.
Both sexes have black pronotums, mesonotums and metanotums, with reddish-orange spots on and right next to the thoracic pads. Adult males have prominent anterior pronotum notches, as is typical of this species.

They are a close match to the holotype specimen, more so than any other Princisia strain in culture, and being a recent import kept by a select few careful breeders, they have yet to be hybridized! However, their general appearance can actually be quite similar to that of various Princisia hybrids in the hobby, so it is imperative that people always label this strain with the locality "Androhamana", and that keepers take the utmost care in keeping their colonies pure, as telling these apart from hybrid stocks may be tricky, (though one would likely expect a higher amount of variability in coloration and sizes in hybrid colonies)

Male, standard coloration. ©Cafarnarium

Same male, different lighting, note the striping. ©Cafarnarium 

Female with full abdomen. ©Cafarnarium

Female. ©Cafarnarium

I hope that this amateur "key" to the hobby hissers has proven useful, I'll try to keep this page updated with any new hisser species that enter the hobby. Hopefully we'll get some more new species and strains in the hobby soon, and hopefully we can preserve what pure stocks we already have by labeling hybrids correctly and taking measures to prevent accidental hybridization, (don't add "new blood" to pure colonies without being absolutely sure they're pure too, make sure all hisser colonies are completely escape/contamination proof, etc.). 😁


  1. By the way, P. vanwaerebeki 'Big' is characterized by the absence of additional spots on the edges of the metanotum, while the rest of the other lines (including the holotype) have them, and even if they are absent in an individual, then other individuals in the group must have :)

    1. That's odd, because in all of the pictures I've seen of supposed "Big" line, the adults had spots on the metanotums... Or at least, most of them did. They seem to be from the same exact source stock as the "normal" form of Princisia in the hobby, just supposedly line bred for larger size (which doesn't appear to be consistent) and perhaps slightly different coloration, if your metanotum theory is true.