Keeping pets satisfies human’s need to take care of the living. Pets range from domestic animals like cats and dogs, to some of the more exotic pet choices such as amphibians and arachnids – which might not be everyone’s favorite.
Among the list of exotic pets is a type of arthropod called isopods also called pillbugs or woodlice, depending on where you live. These creatures belong to the crustacean family, and to date, keeping them as pets is not a widely known hobby.
However, keeping arthropods is getting more and more popular, and are considered pets by more and more owners around the world.
Even so, isopods remain misunderstood creatures. This is why it is completely normal to be apprehensive about getting your very own isopods to take care of.
To silence your doubts about whether or not isopods make good pets read along to understand these interesting species more.
Can Isopods be Pets?
Isopods can be great pets as their care usually doesn’t require a lot of space and their care is straightforward. However, this only applies to a few of them as mainly the terrestrial species are kept as pets. The isopod hobby is getting more and more popular and across the globe.
Like any other pet (or even people), the best way to take care of isopods is to understand them, their needs, wants, and natural tendencies. But let’s first start and have a look at what isopods actually are. They are not insects, which most people tend to believe.
What are Isopods?
Around 10,000 isopod species have been discovered and about half of them reside in blue waters.
The rest are distributed in many regions worldwide – from mountains, deserts to your very own backyard.
Isopods are a morphologically diverse type of crustaceans. This means that they are distant relatives of crabs, lobsters, and shrimps, which humans will often associate with dining rather than petting.
Can they be eaten? Yes, if you have access to the right species and they are prepared properly you could.
You see, people try all sorts of things. However, when not in the wild, isopods are more suitable to be pets than something to fill your empty stomach.
Although isopods differ in their shapes and sizes, they are bound with their common features.
For instance, all of them have two antennae pairs, compound eyes, and jaws amounting to four sets.
Their body (pereon) has seven segments while their abdominal section (pleon) has six.
Each of these pleon has pleopods or a set of limbs that helps in their respiration and swimming.
Isopods in the Wild
Isopods in the wild are often feared. News reports occasionally feature them as suspects for vicious attacks against humans.
These cases are naturally be worsened by how they look. However, different isopod species differ from each other not only by how they look but also in their feeding behavior.
As an example there are smaller parasitic species that leech off fishes.
While certain species of isopods like the Bathynomus giganteus can grow to a frightening size of more than a foot, their tendency to stay in the depths of the ocean makes it unlikely for them to actually threaten humans.
In fact, isopods in the wild have a crucial environmental role.
Their species is a good indicator of environmental health, and as detritus feeders, they help in cleaning dead organic matters in the ocean.
Big and small species also keep the ecological balance in check as they play a role either as prey or predators.
Isopods as Pets
Pillbugs, sowbugs, roly-polies, and woodlouse, are different names used for terrestrial isopods.
They can be found around the house, in spaces that are dark and moist. They are commonly what people would get as a pet.
Let’s now have a closer look at the different needs when keeping isopods as pets.
Terrestrial isopods still have pleopods for respiration, although this does not necessarily mean that you will have to get a water-filled aquarium for them. Their pleopods have air sacs that help them settle in moist areas.
A nice terrarium or plastic aquarium with a lid is a suitable home for your isopod pet, provided that you place it somewhere dim to resemble their natural habitat.
Place about 3 cm of moist potting soil in it to allow the isopod to move further down. On top, put a layer of about 5cm of compost or leaf litter.
Remember to punch air holes in the lid to allow circulation of air and mist the container with room temperature water from time to time.
Isopods don’t have a waxy cuticle, making them vulnerable to drying out easily – which is bad for their health.
As mentioned previously, some isopods are detritivores which means they feed off the organic waste of dead animals and plants. Such is the case for terrestrial isopods that you would most likely pet. The leaf litter or any chemically untreated matter will be good enough food for them.
As secondary inhabitants, pet owners keep isopods in their tanks to maintain their cleanliness and help the environment thrive.
You can see owners keeping isopods along with arachnids or reptiles in one container.
However, as their popularity increases over time, they are growing to be an enclosure’s main attraction.
If you plan to get an isopod as a secondary inhabitant, feeding them will not be a problem since animal waste from their co-habitants will naturally be available for them.
You can feed your isopods once a week with additional food items like raw pieces of food and vegetables and more leaf litter. Careful not to feed them with any material that has molded.
Make sure that their container is always moist and humid. As isopods stay away from light, it is best to place their shelter in indirect sunlight.
Isopods are generally low maintenance, so it is perfect for people without much time to spare or would love the sense of taking care of something living but not necessarily a house plant.
However, it is still crucial to look after them from time to time to keep them alive and kicking – or crawling, whichever you prefer.
While isopods may not give pet owners the same attention and love one can get from the more patronized domestic pets, they can be interesting animals to observe and take care of.
Aside from being extremely low maintenance, having isopods as pets will mark you as an unusual pet owner who can see the beauty even in the most mysterious, misunderstood creatures.
If this article caught your interest and attention you can head over to some of the specific isopod care articles we have written.