Isopod Caresheet

Isopod care sheet

Photo: Porcellio scaber "Party Mix"

What are they?

So, what are isopods? You may know them under a different name, such as; rolie-polie, potato bug, pillbug, woodlouse, or sow bug! They aren't actually insects, though. They belong to the family Isopoda, which comprises over 10,000 different species of isopods. They are found world-wide on both land and in the water, with only around 40% of those species being terrestrial. 

Why keep isopods?

A lot of people keep isopods as a hobby, as desk pets, or they add them to bioactive enclosures. These animals are often referred to as “Nature's Janitors”, because they help break down fallen leaves, wood, and other decaying matter. They also can help remove heavy metals in the soil. Some species are very active and fun to watch, which makes them a great critter to keep on a desktop to watch during your workday, or even as an observational class pet. 

General care:

Of course, each species is from a different area and can certainly benefit from specialized care, but at its core they will need a lot of the same care and set-up as any other species. The general care of these animals is at its basics, the same. More specific care will be listed in our species descriptions. You will need the following:

  • Appropriately sized container
  • Soil (either organic topsoil, or an animal specific substrate)
  • Additives, such as leaf litter and bark
  • Food


For most starting colonies, a shoebox sized bin works well. You don’t want to go much bigger with a small colony, as to encourage breeding and ensure they will find their food. You will need to drill plenty of ventilation to the sides of the tubs to allow for cross-ventilation. This will help keep the chances of mold to a minimum. If your colony begins to produce, and the pods seem like they are crowding on top of each other and all surfaces, then is the time to move up in size to a larger bin. 

Substrate Options:

There are many options for substrate on the market these days, there are several companies that sell a mix tailored to isopods and millipedes that work well. Other people use commercial ABG mixes that you can find in most greenhouses. Others still prefer to mix their own substrates with various organic materials using a topsoil or similar base. If you choose to use your own mixture, be sure the base you use is 100% organic and free of chemical fertilizers, or is marketed for animal use. You can mix additional ingredients to make a well-rounded soil for your isopods, such as: earthworm castings, chopped dry leaves, peat moss, rotting wood, horticultural charcoal, bat guano, and others. Just remember, isopods are detrivores! This means they will eat and break down things in their substrate, so their substrate needs to have some sources of nutrition in it. They are also moisture dependent regardless of the species, and their substrate will need to have some water retention. In regards to providing water, they do not need a bowl of water, and can drown in it if provided. Instead, provide a water gradient by choosing a dry and a damp side of the bin. You will simply mist one end of the bin as needed (depending on your home’s temperature, it could be one to 3x a week!) and leave the other end dry so they can choose where they want to be. We recommend spraying at least half the bin, if you have a more tropical species (or more dry!) you can change this accordingly. 

Hides and Decor:

So now, you should have a fancy box of dirt! The next step is to add in items the isopods can climb on, in, and under. Cork bark is a staple, we recommend having at least 2 pieces per bin, one at either end so they can choose what end of the moisture gradient they want to be on. Another basic need is dried leaves. You can purchase a wide variety from different vendors that have been pre-cleaned and are ready for use. Another option is raking up leaves from your yard and baking them at a low temperature to remove any pests. Be mindful of where you take leaves from, avoid public areas and areas you are unfamiliar with, as they could be treated with pesticides that will decimate your colony. Other popular items are moss corners, limestone, and various pods like magnolia and lotus, that the isopods can both eat and hide in. If you want to get creative, you can add in aesthetic items such as bones, fairy garden pieces, stones, and other similar items. Be sure to clean each item before adding it, and make sure they are water safe. Avoid adding decorative “crystals” to your enclosures, as many are very toxic when dampened or wet. 

What do they eat?

While they will munch on their leaves and substrate, you will still need to offer additional food to your pods. The most popular thing offered is fish flakes. Aside from that, you can offer dried minnows and river shrimp, freeze dried peas, bee pollen, dog chow, as well as dried insects. You can even find pre-made commercial isopod diets available online and in stores. You will find that some species enjoy one diet more than another, for example, Porcellio laevis are huge fans of meaty protein! They will devour a handful of dry peas and whole dried minnows in a matter of hours. Other species are less interested in the fish and prefer fish flakes and bee pollen. As you continue keeping different species, you’ll find what each one likes (or doesn't!). Aside from the previously mentioned food items, it is recommended to always keep a calcium source available, such as a calcium block, cuttlebone, or oyster shell. A small bottlecap of calcium powder can also work well. They will also eat fresh vegetable bits, but remember to remove uneaten pieces the next day to prevent mold. 

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