Isopods are an ancient crustacean that evolved in prehistoric oceans some 300 million years ago. Both then and now, various types of isopods serve the extremely important function in many ecosystems of being detritivores. That essentially means that their diet consists of anything dying and rotten in their environment. This can range from animal wastes to organic substrate matter to smaller pests such as mites and so much more. This makes them part of the “clean up crew” of the natural world, and are essential to the health and functioning of the habitats they reside in.
Today, there are around 10,000 types of isopods in the world. Of those, some have the capacity to thrive in human captivity. In fact, their popularity has only grown in recent years due to their usefulness in various pet vivariums. As part of a bioactive vivarium (basically an enclosure that needs minimal human maintenance), they are essential to the health of any animal that resides in it.
It’s not difficult to observe that the world of isopods is almost as varied and unique as they are. Indeed, collectors and casual fanciers keep these bugs around for a variety of reasons. Some of which go beyond support for another pet. Here are some of the most common types of isopod you will find in pet spaces, and what they’re typically used for.
Types of Isopods Kept As Feeders/Cleanup Crew
While many people obtain isopods primarily as a part of their vivariums cleanup crew, it is a simple fact that many of these organisms will be eaten at some point when housed with a larger, insectivorous pet.
Being rich in vital nutrients that some animals need to survive such as calcium and protein, many keepers maintain a colony of isopods as a reliable food source for their pets. They also make for excellent enrichment for animals that love to forage for their food. Just make sure you have a separate enclosure to safely proliferate the colony so that they’re not in danger of dying out.
Some of the more commonly kept species of pill bugs for vivarium use include:
These unassuming, small orange/brown isopods are affordable, hardy, and quick to proliferate.
Powder Orange/Blue (Porcellionides pruinosus)
These active, prolific little bugs (which are actually the same species and can breed with one another) are among some of the most affordable isopods on the market. They are also known for their unique “Powdery coat” of blue and orange on their shells.
Dairy Cow (Porcellio laevis)
This type of isopod is slightly larger than some of the other entries on this list, measuring in at just under an inch. This makes them a wonderful snack for some mid-sized lizards such as bearded dragons. They are also known for their unique shell, which sports small black splotches on a white exterior.
These silver and grey isopods originate from the soils of Greece and Italy. They are a great beginner species, as they breed very well in captivity.
Of course, many isopod owners simply enjoy the appearance and presence of these critters in their homes. This leads them to seek out especially cool looking ones. They may even be looking to set up a breeding program to play with their genetics or sell them. Of course, these prettier pill bugs may be slightly more expensive than the previous entries. Because of this, they wouldn’t typically be used as “feeder” or “cleaner” animals. Note that most of these flashier, more expensive species tend to fall under the “Cubaris” genus. This is because of their unique, attractive coloring and overall appearances.
Types of Isopods Kept As Pets
Some of the most common isopods for sale kept as pets include:
Despite the name, these rolly pollys do not in fact have solid white shells. In fact, they host a variety of colors including silvers, light purples, and hints of yellow. This combines to make an ethereal, mysterious appearance.
While this type of isopod was initially discovered in Miami, Florida, this particular morph was isolated in North Dakota. They sport a light, almost translucent shell, and are one of the few isopods for sale in the hobby to have solid pink coloring.
These guys are pretty much exactly what you would imagine when hearing the term “panda king isopod”. Their rounder appearance and somewhat shorter body length (coming in at just .65 inches) combined with the black ends on their head and rears totally evoke the image of an adorable, cuddly panda. They especially resemble the herbivorous Asiatic bear when curled up into a little ball.
With a name that literally translates to “white reflection” and a ghostly white, almost transparent shell to match, it is not hard to see why these isopods are common in collector circles. The black dapples sported along their bodies make for a unique, striking appearance. Their fishy counterpart, the shiro utsuri koi, wear similar markings.
Rubber Ducky (Cubaris sp)
These highly sought after pill bugs, known for their slower rate of reproduction, measure in at just over half an inch. They sport a blueish-black shell with notable yellow features, especially around the head and rear. Their small, beady, jet-black eyes stand out against their yellow head and hold a resemblance to an adorable rubber-ducky face.
Isopods Kept As Gardeners
While perhaps a slightly less well known utility for these critters, another common use for rolly pollys is allowing them to aerate your soil and turn your food waste into compost. They are also excellent for keeping dead leaves off of the garden floor.
*Note: Make sure not to leave too many isopods near your younger plants. They might chew the leaves.
Keeping Your Different Types of Isopods Healthy
Like with any pet, you have to keep good husbandry practices into consideration with any type of isopod. Especially when trying to keep a larger colony. While pill bugs do generally make great, easy to care for pets, they need looking after. Neglecting them can result in the unnecessary death of individual organisms, colony collapse, and can even impact the health of your vivariums.
While it is quite easy to maintain a food source for your isopod colony, it is still important that you put thought into their feedings. They need a constant supply of substrate such as oak leaf liter to live in and feed on. It is important to not leave any food that your bugs won’t eat. That is only an invitation for pests, mold, and disease. They also need a regular protein source. Some of the most commonly recommended sources of protein for your isopods include:
- Fish flakes
- Animal wastes
- Dried fish and shrimp
Humidity With Different Types of Isopods
These critters have evolved to thrive on land after millennias of residing under the sea. Naturally, they do require some level of moisture. With that being said, different types of isopods do, indeed, have varying needs. Especially when it comes to humidity. Many isopods of the “armailum” subset tend to tolerate and prefer more arid environments. However, most isopods tend to thrive in about 70%-80% humidity. They also prefer mild, warmer temperatures ranging from 70-85 degrees and being housed in a small, dark environment. If there is any concern in the temperature dipping or rising above that, we recommend keeping a digital thermometer in their enclosure.
While keeping your pill bug’s enclosure humid isn’t the most time intensive activity, it does require a certain level of awareness to your pet’s needs, and can be difficult to keep on top of in dryer climates. To keep your isopod enclosure at the proper level of humidity, make sure you have a moderate level of leaf litter and substrate lining the bottom. Mosses will also be a big help in keeping the moisture up. Make sure that you don’t have too much ventilation, as that can cause the enclosure to dry out faster. From there, simply spray with water as needed.
Final Thoughts on Various Types of Isopod
As always, we advocate for the responsible keeping of pets. This includes those looking at isopods for sale. We would never advise that you release these animals into your local area. That is, unless your isopods are native to your location. Releasing any invasive species into an area can cause unnecessary damage. If your colony is growing to be unsustainable or you wish to dispose of certain organisms, humanely put them down in your freezer.
We know that choosing your first isopod species can be a fun, involved process that starts you off on an exciting bug keeping journey. The world of these insects is strange, fascinating, and worth observing for anyone with a passing interest in bug keeping. Depending on what you’re looking for, they can be anything from decoration to companionship to investments.
Regardless of the role you’re trying to fill with them, pill bugs can and do make a great addition to nearly every home. As said before, you don’t necessarily need another pet to buy and enjoy them. You might just find yourself not being able to stop at one or two! You can get more isopod information in our article section dedicated to these awesome crustaceans.