Which Isopods Are Right For You?
Isopods are a core component of bioactive vivariums. They are used alongside live plants and springtails to create self-sustaining environments in reptile enclosures. Isopods are small invertebrates tasked with breaking down animal waste and dead plant matter, as well as aerating the soil and keeping the plants healthy. But, with so many different isopods, how do you pick which species is right for you?
You use this guide!
There are three factors to look at when choosing your isopod species;
What kind of environment does it live in? (Arid, temperate, tropical?)
How quickly do they reproduce, and can they keep up with my reptile’s waste production?
Will they cohabitate nicely with my reptile?
The first factor is simple - match your reptile’s environment with an isopod species!
There are many different isopod species, and they all have different environmental ranges.
The second factor is their ability to keep up with your reptile.
This one is more complex. Some isopod species reproduce faster than others, which means their population numbers vary by species over time. If your reptile has a fast metabolism, eats a lot, and poops a lot, a less prolific isopod species will struggle to keep up with the waste production of your reptile and you will end up with a dirty vivarium. An animal like a monitor lizard will need a more prolific isopod than a bearded dragon, because monitor lizards produce more waste more often.
The third factor is figuring out the fine-tune details.
Isopods have different food preferences like any other animal. Some isopod species simply are not compatible with your reptile because of your reptile’s diet. For example, a very protein hungry isopod species would not work in an environment with a vegetarian reptile.
Another thing you need to consider is that a very protein-driven isopod may bite and injure smaller reptiles if they cannot find enough food to sustain themselves.
On the contrary, some isopods are bright colored and slow moving, making them easy targets for insectivorous lizards. This means your lizard may eat them to the point of their population not keeping up with their janitorial duties. They are safe for your lizard to eat, but a small population of isopods won't cut it!
The Environment Spectrum
Below you will find a spectrum of environmental conditions and which isopods are appropriate for those conditions.
Now, here are some important fine details:
Porcellio species are protein hungry and will not work well with a vegetarian
Armadillidium species have slower reproductive rates than Porcellio species
Cubaris species are generally slow reproducers compared to other isopods and require more complicated care
Porcellio laevis (Dairy Cow) are so protein driven that they have been known to bite reptiles - avoid Dairy Cows with fragile/small lizards and snakes (like leopard geckos)
Dwarf white isopods spend most of their time burrowed and you will probably never see them unless you dig for them
Need some Clean-Up Crew members? The rescue sells cultures of isopods and springtails that are ready to clean up your bioactive enclosures!
The Closest Thing to a Jack of all Trades
There isn't an isopod that will work in any environment with any reptile, but there's one that comes pretty close - Powder isopods (Porcellionides pruinosus.) These isopods thrive in a wide variety of environments, they are extremely prolific, they eat a wide variety of food/waste sources and aren't picky about it, they're peaceful and won't disturb your reptile, and they're fast enough to escape hungry insectivores. It's very hard to go wrong with powder isopods unless your reptile is on the far end of the arid spectrum, or the very very extreme end of the tropical spectrum. Powder isopods are easy to recommend and care for, and are a great option in almost all cases.
Dwarf white isopods are another easy recommendation for tropical environments. They reproduce via parthenogenesis (asexual reproduction) and spend most of their time underground. They are a very popular option for dart frog keepers because they are small enough to be safe for the frogs to eat if they get caught above ground.
They also offer a unique option; they can be a backup isopod! One of my favorite strategies with setting up bioactive enclosures is adding dwarf white isopods alongside another isopod species. They generally do not outcompete each other for resources and instead work together to be an effective clean up crew.
Common Reptile Species and Our Isopod Recommendations
Bearded dragons are a fairly arid species with a reasonably high waste production. Bearded dragons will eat isopods, which coupled with their waste production requires a prolific isopod species.
We recommend the Porcellio scaber species such as Orange Koi and Spanish Orange for bearded dragons.
Leopard geckos are a small, arid insectivore with mild waste production. They require an isopod with flexible environment requirements that is speedy enough to escape their insectivore appetites.
We recommend the Porcellionides pruinosis species such as Powder Blue and Powder Orange for leopard geckos.
Crested geckos are a small tropical species with mild waste production. They require a tropical isopod with reasonable reproductive rates.
For crested geckos, we recommend a combination of either a Cubaris sp. such as Panda Kings or Porcellionides pruinosis species such as Powder Blue and Powder Orange, combined with Trichorhina tomentosa such as Dwarf Whites.
Ball pythons produce waste infrequently, but when they do, they produce a lot of it. They are a sub-tropical to tropical species, so they need an isopod with flexible environment requirements and a big enough appetite to consume their large waste productions.
We recommend the Porcellionides pruinosis species such as Powder Blue and Powder Orange for ball pythons.
Corn snakes are a temperate to sub-tropical environment species which have infrequent but large bowel movements. They need an isopod that can withstand slightly lower humidity, but still keep up with their waste production.
We recommend Armadillidium maculatum species such as Zebra/Spot for corn snakes.
Monitor lizards as a whole are fast, intelligent animals with high amounts of waste production. Many monitors consume invertebrates as part of their diet. Monitor lizards require a very prolific, fast-acting isopod to keep up with the lizards' metabolisms.
We recommend Porcellio laevis species like Dairy Cows for monitor lizards.
Dart frogs are small amphibians that live in very tropical environments. Dart frogs are relatively fragile and need an isopod that is no threat to them, and they can digest on occassion.
We recommend Trichorhina tomentosa species like Dwarf Whites for dart frogs.