Isopods are an ancient, wonderful crustacean. They have evolved out of prehistoric sea floors to moist soils in forest floors all around the world to dominate as detritivores. Today, these unassuming bugs have become exceptionally valuable in the pet keeping world. Of course, this has led to an uptick in interest in isopod care. This is due to the fact that they are excellent for keeping in vivariums as part of a “bioactive setup“. This essentially means that the enclosure would require minimal outside upkeep. Their job is to keep their enclosure clean of wastes and pests (such as mites), and they do it well. Of course, they also make an enriching snack for animals that love to forage.
Whether you want to use them as an important part of your other setups, or just keep them as pets, it would help to read up on their needs. With this guide, you will be well on your way to understanding isopod care, and providing a good home for them.
Like all animals, pill bugs will need a safe place to live and proliferate in your home. Thankfully, isopod care does not require much in terms of space requirements or environment control. Simply take a plastic bin, and drill a bunch of breathing holes in it. Be sure to keep your isopods in a dark, secluded area, such as a closet. If you are concerned about runaways, be sure to cover your breathing holes with a fine mesh. You will also want to put them in a container with a tight lid.
After setting up your bin, be sure to provide materials and areas in which your bugs can hide and proliferate. This can be done by simply putting cardboard egg cartons or cork bark around their enclosure.
While – as stated before – it doesn’t take much to keep isopods comfortable and healthy in terms of environment, there are still a few things that need to be taken into consideration. For instance, many pill bugs need a controlled level of humidity to properly breathe. This is due to the fact that isopods rely on a primitive breathing organ known as “pleopodal lungs”. These absorb oxygen from moisture. In other words, your isopods may die without the proper level of moisture in their environment.
In some drier climates, keeping your rolly polies at the appropriate level of humidity can prove to be a challenge. We would recommend spraying their enclosure with a misting bottle as needed. Providing plenty of leaf litter and moss should also assist in keeping their environment humid enough for a longer period of time. To assess whether or not your enclosure has the proper level of moisture, check your leaf litter and make sure it is damp to the touch.
As for temperature, most pill bugs prefer a consistent 73-82 degrees Fahrenheit (around 23-26 degrees Celsius). To ensure that the enclosure remains at the proper temperature, keep a digital thermometer with a probe inside of it.
Isopod Care and Feeding
Of course, a cornerstone of your isopod care will be in feeding them what they need. Now, many people assume that you can throw any bit of old food wastes into an isopod enclosure and expect them to thrive. It’s true that pill bugs aren’t picky eaters. However, there are still some feeding requirements that you are going to have to take into consideration. These considerations will make sure they’re at their best.
The first order of business will be making sure that your bugs will have a constant supply of leaf litter to consume. We would recommend using a mixture of oak leaf litter and sea grape leaves for the ideal isopod food. You should avoid taking your supply from outside where there is risk of contaminating your enclosure with pests and random chemicals or even worse, pesticides.
After you have the basis of their diet established, supplement it. You can do this by feeding them just about any sort of food wastes you have around. Just be sure not to leave too much material in the bin, and clean up anything that they won’t eat. Old foodstuffs (especially moist, sugary fruits) are a magnet for mold and mites.
Your isopods will also need a reliable source of protein. This helps them grow to their full potential and maintain their shells. If you are choosing to place your specimens in a vivarium for another pet, the wastes of that other animal should be sufficient. Other viable sources of protein include fish flakes and dried shellfish such as krill. They also need a supply of calcium that can be as simple as small bits of cuttlebone.
Isopod Care and Colony Management
Most bug keepers will understand the effort and time it takes to manage the size of a colony of insects. After all, maintaining the overall health of your colony will involve keeping it from growing too large or small. Of course, this will also benefit individual organisms, and is an important part of isopod care.
One mistake that many pill bug keepers make is feeding their specimens to another pet too soon. Before introducing your isopods into another colony, it is recommended that you provide them with enough time to establish their population. Otherwise, you risk running out of isopods entirely and having the colony crash.
A colony growing to an unmanageable size should be avoided as well. This can cause a reduction in resources such as space and food, and proliferate bad genetics throughout your lines. If you wish to continue to grow your colony (maybe you’re looking to put up isopods for sale), you may of course set up another bin. This will allow each individual more space. If you want to reduce your overall colony size or simply dispose of certain individuals, you may euthanize them by putting them in a freezer.
Whatever you do, no not release your pets into the wild. Invasive species can cause unneeded disruption in the local ecosystems.
Final Thoughts on How to Care for Isopods
If you are looking at isopods for sale, it would be beneficial to be prepared. By setting your enclosure up ahead of time, and keeping this guide in mind, you will maximize your chances of success. Before you know it, you will have a healthy, thriving colony of cool crustaceans at your fingertips.
If you want any tips regarding how to choose and seek out your first isopod, you’re in luck. You can read our article “Types of isopods for beginners to advanced keepers”. It is all about which isopods make good pets for people with varying levels of experience. There are a variety of helpful experts that can be easily reached out to in a variety of online forums.