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care sheet, isopods -

Care Sheet: Terrestrial Isopods (slaters, pillbugs and woodlice)

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Species Profile
Behaviour and Biology

Species Profile Back to Top

Order: Isopoda
Common name: Pillbug, slater, woodlouse, roly-poly.
Group: Crustacean
Size: Varied, most are 1-3cm
Lifespan: 2-3 years approx
Diet: Detritivore; vegetable scraps, leaf litter, dead plant matter. 
Appearance: Dark/grey black. Can be selectively bred for speckling and orange colouration depending on species. 
Use in hobby: Ornamental. Clean-up crew & composting. 

Housing Back to Top

An example of a typical isopod enclosure, with a well fitting ventilated lid, moist moss on one end, cork bark for hiding and leaf litter. 

Our recommended size: 5L - 1gal or more tub with screened/covered ventilation holes.
Humidity: Keep one end of the enclosure more moist and another end dry to maintain a moisture gradient. A clump of sphagnum moss on the moist end is recommended. 
Temperature: Room temperature, do not keep in direct sunlight. 
Substrate: 5cm deep mix of leaf litter, organic compost, coco-coir and flake soil.
Decor: Bark or cardboard for hides. A small layer of leaf litter on the surface. Isopods will eat these over time. 

Maintenance: Generally no cleaning needs to be done, except for the removal of uneaten moldy food. If much of the substrate has been composted into a fine mix of frass (isopod poop), it is time to replace at least 50% of the substrate with new materials. Replace bark and leaf litter as it is slowly eaten away. 

Tank Mates: Isopods are mostly peaceful and are able to be used in bio-active vivariums alongside millipedes and springtails. They may be predated on by reptiles, amphibians and predatory arthropods; ensure that you have a back up colony separate from these animals to avoid losing all your isopods. Avoid placing larger or voracious species of isopods with animals that may be vulnerable while molting on the ground, such as tarantulas and scorpions. 

Do not keep different species of isopods in the same enclosure. If you do, expect one species to out compete the other for resources!

Feeding Back to Top

Typical sources of food for isopod from left to right: leaf litter as a staple, small amounts of fish food, occasional vegetable and fruit scraps.

Isopods feed mainly on dead vegetative matter. Things such as vegetable scraps and peels are an effective free food. Other foods hobbyists feed can include dry kibble, fish flakes and other meat based foods on occasion for extra protein.

Feed about twice a week or more as your colony grows. Isopods don't eat a large amount and have plenty of extra plant material to feed on within the substrate. 

Make sure to rinse your vegetables well and use leaves/vegetation from sources without pesticides that may hurt your isopods. Food should be removed if it starts to mold.

Behaviour and Biology Back to Top

Terrestrial isopods are interesting, as they contain fully terrestrial crustacean species that don't have an aquatic life stage. In the wild and in captivity they serve as nature's clean up crew, living on the ground among leaf litter and fallen logs. 

Isopods grow by molting their exoskeletons. Their method of molting is unique, as they shed their back half first and the front half a few days later. The left over exuviae (old exoskeleton) is often consumed by the isopods to regain important building blocks for their exoskeletons. During, near and after molting the individual isopod may not eat and hide more as molting leaves them with soft, vulnerable exoskeletons for a short time.

As the name 'roly-poly' suggests, some species can roll up into a ball as a defense mechanism. Not all isopod species are capable of this, and otherwise may only be able to partially curl, play dead or simply run as defense. 

Handling Back to Top

Isopods like to hide under bark and rock, they will scatter when exposed like they have in this photo! 

Isopods are small, delicate creatures. They can be gently picked up and allowed to crawl on hands. Do not force the isopods to roll with your fingers, as this may harm them. Species of isopods that are not capable of rolling up tend to be much more active and faster moving, care must be taken to not let them escape during handling. 
Avoid handling them for too long in a dry environment. The moisture gradient of their enclosures allow them to breathe and survive!

Reproduction Back to Top

Sexing isopods can be difficult at a glance, as they don't appear to be sexually dimorphic from the top. On the underside, the male isopod will have visible sex glands that are absent on females; this may be difficult to see if your isopods roll up. 

  • After mating with a male, the female isopod lays her eggs into a pouch on her belly called the marsupium. There could be a dozen to a hundred or so eggs depending on the species. 
  • Eggs are carried for approximately a month, and hatch into small white young called manca. These young are born with 6 pairs of legs and stay in the marsupium.
  • After their first molt, juvenile isopods gain their 7th pair of legs and leave the marsupium. 
  • Sexual maturity is reached at around 1 year of age for most species. Typically, females will breed up to 3 times a year. 
  • Isopods molt over time to grow into adults, but will continue to molt throughout their lifetime.