Isopods Q&A

I usually use Facebook or E-Mails to reply to your questions. But since I’m getting more of the same questions over and over again I thought I’d answer the most frequently asked questions in form of a blog post. I hope it holds the answers you need but if it doesn’t, please don’t hesitate to keep asking me. Just post a comment with your question and I’ll incorporate it into the article.

I’m looking for Isopods to put in a terrarium along with my snails. Is there a special kind you can recommend?

Snails should be held in a terrarium with a high humidity, therefore you can use pretty much every kind of isopods you like. The following kinds are already in use and it works perfectly.

What kinds of Isopods are the best to keep my terrarium ground clean?

In this case you’ll need a kind that’s really frugal, here are some that breed quick and do their job perfectly.

What Isopods are the best to begin with?

I try to avoid classifying my animals. Often, beginners have a better sense for their animals because they’re really focusing on them, so sometimes they use their new skills better than some of the “oldies” among us. What I can say though is that there are some kinds of isopods that will forgive you a few mistakes. For example:

Can I use Isopods as food for other animals?

In our nature, Isopods are popular food for different caudates, anurans or pangulins. They’re often used for feeding because of the high amount of calcium in their shells. The breeding also has quite some advantages compared to other feeding-animals. There won’t be an unpleasant smell, isopods that escaped from their tanks will dry out in every flat and they don’t make any noise. If you want to use Isopods for food, you should use a kind that’s reproducing itself quickly, for example:


We will find the right type of isopod for your requirements. Click your way through a few questions and finally choose from the isopod species that are suitable for you.




Is it possible to keep different kinds of Isopods together?

Personally, I don’t mix any kinds unless I try to interbreed them. It is possible to keep them together, though! But it is important that there’s an even amount of both kinds because otherwise one kind could be suppressing the other ones. So basically, you should regularly check your isopods and separate them if it’s needed. How often you’ll have to separate them depends on how big your tank is. I’d use a bigger one than usual if I tried to mix two kinds.


How big should my tank be if I begin with 12 Isopods?

I’d go for a minimum of 1,3L. This won’t last you for long, though. But if you think about how Isopods naturally live – underneath rocks or dead wood with only a minimum of space – you should avoid thinking the bigger the better. So usually it’s best to start off with a small tank so the isopods will find each other and their food better.


 Does it have to be a terrarium or can I just use an aquarium or a plastic box?

Since an aquarium has silicon-edges, it gives the isopods a way to escape. That means, you’d need a lid – not a usual aquarium lid though because it doesn’t have any holes to let in the air. You either change up the lid so that enough air gets through it or you just build a new frame of wood with enough air conditioning. The best thing to use for that is gaze material because it gives any other insects a hard time getting into the tank.
A terrarium with two airing spaces, on the front and at the top, will allow the perfect air circulation. Fresh air gets in at the front, the warm and used air gets out at the top. Especially Porcellio kinds need an air conditioning system like that. The disadvantages of many terrariums are the already existent slits in those sliding doors. So, in case you have the choice, a trap door is the way to go because it can be closed tightly.
In my opinion, you can work best with a plastic box, they’re cheap, you can adjust them how you like.



Can I leave my tank open?

It is quite risky to leave your tank without a lid because it can easily dry out. If you’re worried about the air condition I’d switch to a terrarium. Another aspect to why I wouldn’t leave the tank without a lid is because other insects like drosophila will probably breed really quickly.

What ground should I use?

The best thing would probably be a mix of 1/3 humus and 2/3 forest humus. I like to add some dry leaves and dead wood which is for food and it keeps the humidity higher.

How much of the ground substrate should I put into my enclosure?

It depends on your box and the possible height. I recommend about 5cm. That guarantees a solid ambient humidity inside the soil and the box. A lower amount of substrate would lead to desiccation really quick.

Do springtails really have to keep my isopods company?

I wouldn’t put them in the vivarium on purpose because they usually appear after time anyways. They get in through the brought in logs or leaves. If it’s an isopod tank only you won’t need them because the slaters will keep it clean themselves.

 Is my room temperature enough or should I put on an extra heat?

Room temperature is enough for almost all kinds of known isopods. That’s why you usually don’t need an extra source of heat but there are some exceptions like Cubaris spec. „Rubber Ducky“, in this case you should make sure to put the heat source on the sides of the box. You should never heat a box from beneath because it will make the soil dry out and kill the isopods.

Does our clean-up crew need an extra light source?

Usually not. Many put up a light to observe them better, though. I’d recommend LED stripes since they don’t get warm and only use a tiny bit of energy.


Should you heat the forest soil before putting it in the tank?

If you don’t want any uninvited guests to infest your box you should heat it, it’s not a must though. You could also put it into a freezer for 2-3 days. That will kill all mites but keep the useful components.


Why can’t I use softwood or softwood flooring?

Coniferous wood repels various resins, which are mostly lethal for our isopods. The needles may also have come into contact with the resin and are just as dangerous. Therefore it is best to leave your fingers completely off and go to a deciduous forest.


What is essential for an isopod tank?

Substrate, cuttlebone powder or cuttlebone as calcium donor, some leaves, white rotten (dead) wood mixed in the soil and a nice big piece of bark as hiding place on top, optionally cork can be added. Since isopods often live in limestone areas, one can also bring in one or the other limestone. Even small pieces of charcoal or charcoal dust are excellent in the substrate to avoid mold. To this question I recommend you my YouTube video about the setup of an isopod starter set.


Does it have to be cuttlebone or is a calcium supplement enough?

A preparation is also possible but usually much more expensive. It is important that the calcium content is high, as isopods have to cover their calcium requirements. If this is not offered in such a way, it goes also times fast to the living Artgenossen. That assels eat their deceased conspecifics, however, is completely normal.


How often should I moisture my isopod tank?

This is due to the overall nature of the breeding tank. Size, substrate height, ventilation area and location. Therefore this question cannot be answered in general and requires some practice and sure instinct. As a rule, 1-2 times a week should be sufficient. I look sideways into the container corner which I keep damp, if there is still condensation water, I do not wet.


Zebra pillbugs no longer reproduce if the population density is too high. Does this also happen with other species?

This is not necessarily only due to the population density, but also to uncovered needs or a wrong substrate or missing components. The higher the population density in the isopod container, the more proteins have to be added, otherwise the large isopods will use the small young isopods.

How can I tell that the density of occupation is too high?

If you find a lot of dead animals in the box, but have actually done everything right. Due to a high density of the population, often not all basic needs can be fulfilled permanently and therefore an unusually large number of animals die away. You develop a sure instinct yourself and notice when there are too many animals in the box. If this is the case and you don’t know where to go with the animals, you are welcome to contact me.

Are there any viviparous species of isopods?

I don’t know any species and I can’t imagine that there are live-bearing isopods, because they are closely related to crustaceans and all of them lay eggs. Our known isopods hatch their eggs in a sack under the shell until they hatch.


How do I tell the difference between male and female isopods?

The easiest way is via the brood sack with the females. With the Porcellio types one recognizes the sex still additionally by the length of the “tails”. You have to compare isopods of the same size and those with a longer tail end are males.

How old does an isopod get?

It’s hard to say because it has not really been discovered yet. I would say they become up to about 2 or maybe even 3 years old.


What food does best for isopods?

The best food comes right from outside. Leaves and dead wood are two of the most things that isopods eat.

I also offer:

  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet potato
  • Potato
  • Zucchini
  • Fish food
  • Crab futter
  • Axolotl food
  • Chicken food


How often do I have to offer proteins?

I constantly offer my pets proteins. That way they get more offsprings and grow faster.

How often should I feed them?

It’s important that there’s always something to eat in the tank. The easiest things to offer are leaves and dead wood. You should put about as much in there as they can eat within two or three days because it won’t get dirty or moldy.


Help my isopod tank is getting moldy! Is that bad?

Woodlise can cope quite well with a certain amount of mould, but the ratio has to be right. I myself go through all the containers once a week and look for mould and remove it. If the mould infestation is so high that it can no longer be easily removed, I would immediately remove the isopods.


An isopee died, I’m worried!

One or two animals are not bad and represent a “natural selection”, but if several animals die every day or during the week, one should change the conditions.

You should think about following aspects:

  • It went well and I changed something and then I got problems. Then you should think about the change again and maybe put it back again.
  • It’s been bad from the start. Then check the ventilation again and improve it if necessary. Check the food and switch to organic food. If there is still no improvement, I would recommend a new substrate with more minerals.

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