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Microfauna: Isopods

The term ‘microfauna’ literally translates to “small animals”, and refers to small arthropods, such as springtails and isopods (aka rollie-pollies, pill bugs, woodlice). These invertebrates serve several important functions in the home vivaria: they act as tank janitors, helping to break down dead plant matter and uneaten food and they also provide the vivarium inhabitants with an extra in-house snack, and aid in nutrient cycling. This week, we will focus on isopods. Isopods may be found most places in the world, but for the purposes of vivaria, mainly tropical species are used.

Types of ISOPODS

There are thousands of species of isopods, but we currently work with 11 different species: dwarf whites (Trichorhina tomentosa), dwarf purples (species unknown), Porcellionides pruinosus, little sea pillbugs (Cubaris murina), Punta canas (Armadillidium sordidum), Porcellio laevis, zebras (Armadillidium maculatum), Porcellio scaber, Porcellio ornatus, giant canyon isopods (Porcellio dilatatus), and peach isopods (Armadillidium nasatum). We also have multiple varieties of several of these species leaving us with 15 distinct Isopod morphs in total.

Dwarf White Isopods

These isopods are very small and softer bodied (less calcium?) than the other species we work with, making them an excellent prey animal. They also tend to reproduce fairly quickly, making them one of the easiest isopods to culture. These are considered to be the ‘original’ isopods in the trade, as they have been cultured the longest.

Dwarf Purple Isopods

Dwarf purple isopods really are not all that purple – they are more of a light grayish- purple at the best. They are a smaller species, being about three quarters the size of the dwarf white isopods. These are fairly quick to culture, and no one seems to know exactly what species they belong to although their other common names would suggest that they originate from the jungles of Costa Rica. #undescribed?

Porcellionides pruinosus: purple and orange varieties

This species is commonly kept either to serve as a cleaning crew or to supplement another animal’s diet. They are tolerant of a wider range of conditions than some other isopods, are soft bodied, and are prolific breeders. We currently maintain colonies of both a purple (closer to grey actually) and orange form.

Little Sea Pill Bugs

Little sea pill bugs reproduce slowly and should be given time to establish a healthy population before they are subjected to predation by another terrarium occupant. Due to their size (~½”) adults will not be eaten by any except the largest dart frogs.

Punta Canas

Punta cana isopods are more variable in color and patterning than most other species available. This may make them of particular interest to persons interested in breeding their own unique strains of Isopod.

Porcellio laevis

These are large (up to ¾”) fast breeding nocturnal isopods. In contrast to many other isopods the genus to which these belong are not able to assume the defensive “pill” posture for which pillbugs are named. Be sure to provide objects in your terrarium for this species to seek shelter under.

Zebra Isopods

Named for their characteristic black and white striped carapace these Isopods are a relatively easy species to rear. Just keep them fed and their terrarium not too damp and they will be snug as a pillbug in a rug.

Porcellio scaber: giant orange, dalmatian, giant purple, and calico varieties

This European species of Isopod is our most phenotypically diverse species. We have four distinct color forms currently being cultured. They grow up to ¾” of an inch and are considered to be very easy to rear due to their wide range of adaptability to different temperatures. They are also among the most well researches isopods and even have an algorithm named after them, the PSA (Porcellio scaber algorithm, I know, not the most original).

Porcellio ornatus

These isopods like things warmer and drier than most other isopods but do make sure to provide them with a damp area also for them to retreat to should they feel a little dehydrated. They originate from Spain and sport some brilliant yellow and brown mottling over their carapace.

Giant Canyon Isopods

Hailing from Southern California and reaching up to 1” as adults, these are currently the largest Isopod species we are culturing. They are better than others most isopods at tolerating dry hot conditions which makes them a favorite for reptile vivariums.

Peach Isopod

These nosy little isopods from the UK have been meticulously bred from their natural grayish hue to a very appealing peach coloration. Their natural form is very difficult to distinguish from Armadillidium vulgare.

Housing Isopods

We keep our isopods in plastic Sterilite 32 Quart Gasket Boxes. A hole saw is used to create a hole in the center of the lid over which is hot glued a piece of fine mesh. This will allow for a bit of air flow.The box is filled with 3” of Josh’s Frogs Isopod Substrate. The mix is wet beforehand, so that it is moist, but not dripping excess water. On top of the substrate, multiple layers of cork bark may be rested. This allows the isopods extra shelter. Most species seem to be more productive when kept in the mid to high 70s F, and slightly moist.You will want to keep your isopods somewhat moist. We mist all our Isopod terrariums once a week and keep the room they are held in at at least 60% humidity. The only exception to this are our dwarf white isopods which receive two mistings a week spaced three days apart.

Feeding Isopods

Isopods will feed upon a wide variety of foods. We feed ours a half dollar size piece of Repashy Bug Burger once a week and a comparably sized slice of zucchini three days after. Occasionally, we offer high quality dog food kibble, mushroom, and dried fish food flakes. Be careful when offering grain-based foods – these can and will attract mites, which can reduce the productivity of the culture, if not cause it to crash outright. We've also had a lot of luck with Josh's Frogs Clean Up Crew Cuisine.

Adding Isopods to the Vivarium

Isopods will spend the majority of their time burrowed in the substrate of their culture, making it difficult to add them to a vivarium. Fortunately, they have a habit of seeking shelter under the cork bark pieces provided in the culture. Simply pick up the cork bark and shake it over a container, expelling any resident isopods. These can then be added to the vivarium, or used to start an additional isopod culture.Isopods will benefit from targeted feeding in the vivarium. A bit of Josh’s Frogs Clean Up Crew Cuisine, fed every couple of weeks, will help ensure a steady population of isopods are present in the vivarium.

Conclusion

Isopods, although not necessary to successfully keeping dart frogs or other amphibians and reptiles, certainly make proper husbandry easier. They play an important function in the home vivaria – mainly as nutrient cyclers and an additional food source, and also function as an excellent secondary source of calcium. They are simple to keep and to culture at home. The term 'microfauna' literally translates to “small animals”, and refers to small arthropods, such as springtails and isopods (aka rollie-pollies, pill bugs, wood louse). These invertebrates serve several important functions in the home vivaria: they act as tank janitors, helping to break down dead plant matter and uneaten food. They also provide the vivarium inhabitants with an extra in-house snack, and aid in nutrient cycling. This week, we will focus on isopods, also known as rollie-pollies, potato bugs, pill bugs, and wood louse. Isopods inhabit most anywhere in the world, but for the purposes of the vivaria, mainly tropical species are used.

Products in this Care Sheet

Cubaris murina Isopods (10 count)

Cubaris murina Isopods (10 count)

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