Isopods, more commonly known as sowbugs, pillbugs or potato bugs, are a valuable but largely neglected food source for pet amphibians and reptiles. The over 10,000 described species are common in most habitats worldwide, and are therefore an important in the diets many creatures. Ranging in size from .02 to 20 inches, there is an isopod to fit every feeding need (public aquariums pay $600 or more each for giant, deep-sea forms, so don’t plan on feeding these to your monitor lizards!).
Nutritious, Interesting Scavengers
Isopods are crustaceans, and as such provide a variety of nutrients not to be found in insects. Another thing I like about using them has to do with their appetites – they will eat anything, so by feeding them a rich and varied diet you are improving their value as food items for your pets. Furthermore, native sowbugs and pillbugs will live in most terrariums and are valuable scavengers, relishing dead earthworms, crickets and feces. I always include a group in naturalistic habitats that I design for zoos and museums. Finally, they are very interesting to observe in their own right. They do contain quite a bit of chitin, so are not suitable as the sole item in a diet.
Temperate isopods prefer cool, moist environments, and so are most easily found in spring and fall. You can collect them below rocks and leaf litter. They will also flock to cover such as boards placed on the ground, especially if the area is kept moist and baited with coffee grounds or ripe fruit. Biological supply houses also sell starter cultures.
Keeping and Breeding Isopods
Keep your colony in a vented plastic container with 3-4 inches of R-Zilla Coconut Husk as a substrate. Plastic terrariums by Lee, Tom Aquarium, Hagen and PLA House make ideal isopod homes. Be sure to keep the bedding moist but not wet. A covering of Zoo Med Terrarium Moss will help retain moisture and offer shelter to the isopods, making collection easier.
A mix of R-Zilla Alfalfa Meal Bedding and Tetra Min Flake Fish Food is an excellent basic diet, to which can be added grass clippings, leaf litter, coffee grounds and almost any fruit or vegetable. A cool basement makes an ideal location for the colony, but average room temperatures are fine. Be sure to keep an eye on moisture levels during hot, dry periods. A breeding colony will supply huge numbers of isopods of all sizes.
I have always kept an isopod colony for my collection, and have used them in zoos as well. They are easy to maintain, breed readily and are, I think, one of the best-kept secrets (no more!) in herptoculture. Very few insectivorous herps refuse them, and they are readily taken by many fishes and birds as well. Be sure to try a group in your naturalistic terrariums also, as they make fine scavengers and, unlike crickets, they will not attack debilitated pets.
The University of Arizona’s Center for Insect Science Education offers a wealth of information on native invertebrates in the wild and captivity. Read more about isopods at:
Have you any experience with aquatic amphipods(Hyallela), aquatic sowbugs, or terrestrial amphipods? I’ve always wondered if “land shrimp” would be a good feeder for small tarantulas and terrestrial newts/frogs…but have yet to get my hands on some to try.
Thanks for your question and interest in our blog.
I’ve long used marine and aquatic amphipods (a/k/a scuds, side-swimmers, sand hoppers) as food for salamanders and fishes, and find them very interesting to observe in their own right.
The freshwater species I was able to collect most easily via seining quiet ponds in NY was Grammarus locusta, which reaches ¼ inch in length. I kept a colony going for some tim. They do best at 70-75 F, but tolerate 50-80 F, and feed upon fish flakes, algae tabs, greens pre-soaked in hot water and bits of fish. In common with most other amphipods (there are over 3,000 species described), females carry the eggs in a brood pouch, and may bear 6 or more clutches per year. Grammarus definitely does better in a well- planted aquarium stocked with water from a pond or well-aged tank. G. fasciatus is said to be very common on fish farms, if that option is open to you.
I’ve collected marine amphipods by seining through beds of marine algae; semi-terrestrial species often abound under tidal debris. A type I collected among eelgrass resembled that plant to an amazing degree; they did well in one of my marine aquariums, but any young produced were snapped up by the resident dwarf seahorses. Their culture should parallel that of freshwater species to some degree.
I have not specifically tried to breed terrestrial amphipods, but have collected them over the years along with other leaf-litter invertebrates. They were readily consumed by poison frogs, dusky salamanders, red-backed salamanders and other small amphibians. Talitrus saltator is commonly encountered in the northeastern USA; 90-100 other species, some of which reach ¾ inch in length, occur throughout North America. The culture of most is similar to that of springtails; please write in if you would like further information.
Fairy shrimp (Anastrocea) and seed shrimp (Ostracods) also abound in many small ponds and similar bodies of water, and are readily accepted by a variety of fishes and aquatic salamanders. Tadpole shrimp (Triops spp.) may also turn up, but many species are in decline (apparently due to the loss of ephemeral woodland pools, their primary habitat). One species is commercially available through large biological supply houses.
Please let me know of your experimentation with amphipods, of if there are other food animals you would like to see covered in future articles.
Thanks and good luck. Regards, Frank
Your experience with freshwater amphipods closely parallels mine…the only experience I’ve had with marine ones is the ones we play with in biology lab during field trips and call “shrimp” 😉 . I also locally collected a small species that newts etc. appreciate which I assume is either gammarus or Hyalella. H. azteca seems to be commonly referred to as an easily cultured species while larger gammarus(people tell me some reach the size of pillbugs!) are supposed to be harder to keep going. Anyway, the species I had was almost indestructable and bred quite well. I found on accident by using the same net to harvest them and brine shrimp that they could survive in salt water for at least a few days. I’ll need to set up a culture of them again shortly so will definetly be using some of your advice! Also thinking of getting some RCS to use as supplementary feeders for my newts since they sem like they will also be able to survive and reproduce in the tank.
I’d love info on the culture of land amphipods…T. sylvestris supposedly occurs in Socal also. Do you think they have any particular difference from isopods palatability/suitability for culture?
On feeder animals you should cover, I think an article on small food items for small amphibians and the like would be most interesting, since this seems to be an area many people have trouble with. Also, have you done any experiments with animals like wodlice that can be left to proliferate in the display tank?(natural style vivariums/terrariums and hazards/benefits associated)
Frank Indiviglio here.
Thanks for yet another interesting comment – I’m especially pleased to learn that certain fresh water amphipods can survive some time in salt water. This may turn out to be of particular value to those keeping seahorses and pipefishes, which are notoriously hard to provide for in captivity.
I believe that terrestrial amphipods, being crustaceans, would provide valuable nutrients to animals maintained on an insect-based diet. Concerning their husbandry, I’ve not kept close track, but one species I collected here in NY seemed to thrive and reproduce (like most amphipods, females utilized a brood pouch) in a bin of leaf mold in which I maintained a number of leaf-litter invertebrates (sow bugs, millipedes, slugs, springtails, etc.). I kept the substrate moist and mixed in well-decayed wood and lawn clippings. I provided Tetramin Fish Food Flakes (always a safe bet!), corn meal and banana skins as additional food sources. The amphipods were quite mobile, so be sure to use a fine-screened cover.
I did not identify the amphipod I had collected, but judging from its habitat I would hazard a guess that Talitrus sylvestris, which you mention, might do well under the same conditions. I imagine that T. saltator and other maritime species have specific substrate pH/salinity requirements, and so would keep them in beach sand and decaying marine algae.
Thanks again, best regards, Frank
Frank Indiviglio here.
Thanks for your suggestion. I agree…the diets of small captive amphibians do indeed pose great challenges. I am planning to write articles on the proper feeding of commercially available insects, such as springtails, as well as on the use of light traps, leaf-litter invertebrates, aphids, etc.
The following articles currently posted on the blog address insects suitable for use with small amphibians, and might be of interest:
Building a Termite Trap
Concerning wood lice (sow bugs, pill bugs), I have kept 2 species free-ranging in several exhibits at the Bronx Zoo (poison frogs, native NYS amphibians, timber rattlesnakes) and the Staten Island Zoo (tiger salamanders, European edible frogs, fire skinks). I currently have colonies established in 3 exhibits at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum (gray treefrogs, spotted salamanders and southern toads, corn snake and Eastern box turtle). I also use them in my own collection, currently with barking treefrogs and fire, marbled and red salamanders.
In some cases, i.e. the timber rattlesnake exhibit, the wood lice serve only as scavengers, while in others they fill that role and are a supplementary food source. Being of an odd bend, I also enjoy observing the little crustaceans as they go about their lives! Breeders of terrestrial salamanders favor wood lice as scavengers in holding and breeding containers, and report that they avidly consume dead earthworms and salamander feces.
Thanks again for your interest, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.
Man you’ve got some incredible information all over here. I couldn’t find a better place to field these two questions so I thought I’d put them here.
1.) Are SW amphipods as good as FW amphipods for culture? Have you attempted culturing SW amphipods too?
2.) Have you any experience with brine shrimp raising? I’m currently trying to see if I can find a method practical for the marine lab here to raise some adult brine shrimp(they are currently buying adult brine, and also going through one can of eggs a month!). They did try before(using huge cylinders of SW) but thought the returns weren’t worth the effort. I’ve had success with raising brine shrimp by simply dumping the wastewater from hatching them into 5 gallon buckets outside, and then adding greenwater. The nauplii(you can never remove all of them! would survive and grow, but in quite low densities(maybe 50-100 adults in a 5 gallon bucket at best). Any experience or suggestions?
Frank Indiviglio here…thanks for the kind words!
I’ve kept marine amphipods at large in aquariums with native (Mid-Atlantic) fishes and invertebrates without specifically trying to breed them. I did notice females carrying eggs from time to time, but hatchlings were quickly consumed.
Public aquariums sometimes maintain them in live rock sumps, large filter overflows and similar situations, where they need little if any additional food. They will breed in aquariums…most native species favor water on the cool side…60-75 F. Green water is best – in my experience the addition of hardy marine algae such as sea lettuce and Codium encourages the growth of amphipods and other small marine invertebrates. These macro-algae are themselves the source of smaller species, which the invertebrates graze upon. Sea lettuce floats and Codium is most commonly found attached to small rocks, so neither need “planting”. Marine amphipods will consume nearly any type of marine fish pellet or flake, and prefer a pH of 8.0-8.4 and a specific gravity of 1.025.
Brine shrimp are, as your experience suggests, a bit tedious to raise. The standard had long been green water (they are filter feeders) and yeast. Theoretically, they should attain adulthood within 8-10 days at 78-82 F, but it doesn’t always seem to work out that way. I’ve raised them as you have tried, in jars and outdoors, using Spirulina tablets (i.e. Osi Spirulina Wafers) that have been crushed and rendered into a syrupy solution as an additional food source. Cod liver oil is often suggested as a means of enriching the shrimp …apparently they filter it from the water as well.
The most successful growers tend to raise the shrimp outdoors, in warm climates and with green water. I believe that the addition of live sea lettuce and Codium would also be of value. As for raising large numbers in a lab, the collection and yield problems you mention will, I think, always be a factor. Two public aquariums with which I have been associated keep large holding tanks with growing shrimp, but need to purchase adults on a regular basis as well.
One rather dedicated friend swears that adding dried cow manure to the water (I’m assuming it’s dried, and in an outdoor pond, but am but quite sure – he’s pretty intense!) enhances the shrimps’ growth rate and the eventual yield. That was standard protocol for raising Daphnia in years past, so I’m sure it has merit. Actually, Daphnia are much easier to raise than brine shrimp. Marine fish accept them readily, but they do not survive for long in salt water. I’m not sure of their overall nutritional value when used as the basis of the diet for marine fish or invertebrates, however.
A promising product is Ocean Star International Artemia Food. It is easier to use than crushed Spirulina tablets, which precipitates out of solution eventually and becomes unavailable as food. I would still utilize green water as a medium. Ideal conditions would be a temperature of 78-82 F, pH of 8 and specific gravity of 1.022-1.035.
Thanks again and good luck. Please keep me apprised of your progress.
Best regards, Frank
Well, the latest is that I’ve borrowed a 3 gallon or so bucket from the marine lab to try and duplicate previous results. I added wastewater from one day of BS collection(after removing most of the artemia that made it through!). I filled the remainder of the bucket with some of the saltwater from one of the fishtanks. Also been adding water squeezed from the algae scrubber. Currently a good number of shrimp have made it to the point where they are soon to stop swimming with that jerky motion. But the interesting part is due to using the scrubee water/marine water to start off that a bunch of copepods have now taken over. Originally only 3, but now 100’s all over the sides. I was actually trying to keep such buggers out but I’ve heard some people have tried to culture them. At least this species did quite well.
The main problem with these bucket cultures is with no water movement not as much O2…which I guess limits stocking density. Also, pinkish mulm which I guess is dead BS, brine shrimp sheds, etc. forms on the bottom and if you add new water too rapidly gets into the water column(and drags many shrimp down to the bottom that get stuck in it).
We go through alot of ulva in the lab(feeding sea hares, black tegula and whatnot), and helped collect some from the boat docks after a plankton tow. Lots of scuds, weird copepod things, and even small scallops were present. They’ve gotten too much cool stuff from these sea lettuce collections to mention. Wonder if I could convince the staff to let me use some dinky rubbermaid or something out back for some experiments…
Frank Indiviglio here.
Thanks for the interesting note and update. It would be well worthwhile to try feeding the copepods to some of the animals you are working with. If you could keep the culture going, you just might have a successful new food animal on your hands. You never know…super mealworms were largely introduced to the trade through the efforts of 1 man, Burt Langerworth, who, unfortunately, passed recently.
As you’ve observed, plankton nets always reveal an astonishing array of odd beasts, both visible and microscopic. Again, would be very interesting to try to raise some of the creatures that turn up. Most are important food items for other animals…I’ve found plankton tows invaluable in raising baby seahorses. When plankton was unavailable, their survival rate always plummeted.
Please keep me informed of your results.
Best, regards, Frank Indiviglio.
Interesting stuff Frank on feeding stuff from plankton to seahorses! Gas must have gotten expensive after a while of that though! The above mentioned animals were actually from ulva harvested from the docks. Plankton tow appeared to be mostly copepods and various other nauplii sized critters. It seems to me that organisms that live in ulva/seaweed would be easier to rear than pelagic ones.
Well, all the brine shrimp have keeled over. Probably due to the relative lack of nutrients/food added compared to the number of BS(water would clear up after a day of being fed). The crazy amount of copepods probably helped that somewhat! Probably need to get some yeast or a more reliable source of food if I’m going to raise BS with this not so pure source of saltwater…haha
However, I did save a few SW amphipods(gammarus like) and some mysis shrimp from being fed to the fish after they came in amongst ulva/sandcastle worms. I understand mysis shrimp are very hard to raise(requiring frequent splitting, sorting, and restarting of cultures) due mainly to cannibalistic tendencies. I suppose they will feed on the copepods while I decide whether to give raising them a go, or add more brine shrimp to try again.
Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks very much for your note.
You are correct concerning the pelagic animals (and gas costs!)…these were fed to the seahorses shortly after being collected.
I’ve recently spoken with the curator of a public aquarium concerning brine shrimp…even with constant attention, he finds it impossible to raise them in sufficient numbers to justify the staff time involved, and must purchase a portion of what is needed.
Mysids or opossum shrimp (actually not true shrimp, classified in their own order, Mycidacea) breed readily but are very difficult to rear. They hunt each other with amazing diligence, and the provision of heavy cover makes little difference in the overall survival rate. As you suggest, splitting them frequently is the only effective method of obtaining adults in any numbers. A set up at the Dallas Aquarium utilized 20 tanks in order to rear Mysids as food for leafy sea dragons, but they needed to purchase quite a few as well. Mysids are one of the few food items that, standing alone, provide nearly complete nutrition for seahorses, and they are the standard sea dragon diet in most institutions. I forget the Mysid costs per sea dragon per day, but recall that it was astronomically high. Mysids are used for certain tests at water treatment facilities, and associated breeding programs were the original source of those now reared in the aquarium trade.
Best regards, Frank Indiviglio
Hope this isn’t too many questions for you, but as you can likely tell I’m lovin it!
Aren’t BS that are purchased farmed also? Our lab purchases all the adult brine, and based on them being shipped Express and being maybe a 5 gallon bag of RED, they must cost a small fortune!
I’ve seen some very detailed care manuals on brine shrimp. I wonder if instead of investing more time…if it would be more effective to simply invest more more space, and less time(thus, overall lower production).
It is somewhat unfortunate the current difficulty of raising mysis etc. in captivity in large numbers. I think we may be missing something vital that occurs in the wild. Sea lettuce collected from the marina is literally dripping with scads of these and other buggers(skeleton shrimp seem quite abundant in the lettuce we get here). I think having that little bit of extra water volume helps, but that is not very practical to do in captivity. 😉
So it seems(at least of all the marine organisms I’ve experimented with), that amphipods may be the best suited to closed culture.
Frank Indiviglio here. Your questions and observations are a pleasure to receive…they always have me thinking along new lines, thanks.
Brine shrimp are farmed, as far as I know. I’ve always wanted to visit a large operation…also cricket farms, etc., but something has always gotten in the way. Crickets are so effective at locating and consuming eggs – I’d like to see how its managed on a large scale (I’m assuming fine screening over moist soil, which worked for me, but I’ve not looked into it).
I think space is, as you mention, the key to brine shrimp…once the right formula is worked out – heat, feeding schedule, stocking rates etc., it just be easier than we think. Brine shrimp eggs do need quite a lot of aeration, and I’m sure there are disease concerns – well, a trip someday will hopefully provide some answers.
If you ever come across old issues of Drum and Croaker – the Highly Irregular Journal for the Public Aquarist, pick them up – full of all sorts of unusual, very practical articles that I’m sure you would enjoy. Please see page 35 of the issue that this link will take you to: http://www.colszoo.org/internal/drum_croaker/pdf/2001.pdf
The article provides plans for Shedd Aquarium’s brine shrimp holding tank. Quite involved, and this just to keep alive, not to breed.
As far as I can tell, predation seems to be the problem with Mysids, as they feed and breed readily. Perhaps it’s a matter of finding the right type/density of shelter. I’ve been able to breed and raise cherry shrimp in a tank holding guppies, loaches and a small species of aquatic frog (Xenopus tropicalis) only because the live aquatic grass in the tank is so dense (the fish “push” along more than they swim – I may be forcing the evolution of legs!). In a more open tank, the newly hatched shrimp would not have a chance.
I agree that amphipods are the best choice …but I’m guessing you may change that in the future!
Keep thinking, thanks and good luck, Frank Indiviglio.
Hello there! I have collected quite a bit of pill bugs or rolly pollys(I’m trying to get them to breed).They are a loved food source for my hatchling turtles.Well lately I have been looking for information on their nutritional values.I ended up finding your website here and was curious if anyone knows what the calcium content or any of the other nutritional values are for these little guys.Thanks for the help I appreciate it!
Does anyone know what the nutritional value of pillbugs are?Calcium etc. I have a couple hundred of them.My hatchling turtles like them so I am trying to get the pillbugs to breed.
Thanks for your help!
Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your interest in our blog and thought-stimulating question.
I originally began using pillbugs as a food source on the theory that, being Crustaceans, they were likely to provide a different nutrient profile than insects. Articles at the time also raised the possibility that their exoskeletons, although chitenous as in insects, were likely high in calcium (as are the carapaces of better-studied relatives such as crabs). Most of the information available is, unfortunately, still anecdotal in nature (I tried, but failed, to interest the Bronx Zoo’s nutritionist in doing an analysis some years ago).
I have a few notes on hand that seem to indicate that pillbugs may have, or at least seek to acquire, calcium reserves. For example, it is known that just prior to molting, all species studied build up visible calcium carbonate deposits between the epidermis and old cuticle. Also, an article in the Journal of Crustacean Biology and an entry in Terrestrial Isopod Biology (Alikhan) document high levels of circulating calcium in the blood of certain species, and note that many species are limited in distribution by soil/leaf litter calcium levels.
I have observed that pillbugs will consume Repto-Cal reptile vitamin-mineral powder if it is mixed into their normal diet of ; Tetramin Fish Food Flakes (itself a calcium source), coffee grounds and leaf litter. Jurassi-Diet Gutload Cricket Food would be worth a try as well. I have not done so previously, but prompted by your note (thanks!) I’ll now provide a cuttlebone to my pillbug colony…snails nibble on these readily, perhaps the isopods will as well.
Sorry that I could not come up with anything more on point, please let me know if you learn anything further. When you have a moment, I’d be interested to know what types of turtles are consuming the pillbugs.
Best regards, Frank Indiviglio
Hi there Frank,
Thank you for responding so quickly to my post!I have tried to research this suject(pill bug nutritional value)quite a bit on the web and I still have not seemed to find anything.That would have been great to have that Bronx Zoos nutritionists’report.Although it is good to know now what I had suspected as far as their high calcium content.Basically in the Pillbug set up I have I feed them romaine lettuce and carrots.I do have some vitamin powder for the turtles and am tempted to separate some of them and dust their food just to check their mortality rate. I would prefer this approach before dusting the rest of the colonys food.The reason being that I vitamin dusted some cricket food for crickets I purchased and they died within a couple days maybe as a result of too much powder I’m not sure.The cuttle bone idea you have is good too.Oh and by the way the turtles are hatchling Blandings they have been in my care since the first week of September.I will let you know if I come up with anything as far as the nutritional values of the little isopods.
Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks very much for the interesting post.
The Bronx Zoo did not wind up doing the analysis…there wasn’t enough interest in pillbugs as a food item at the time. As you noticed, there is not much on point elsewhere.
I’m not sure that vitamin/mineral powder was behind the cricket deaths you mentioned…I powder all cricket food fairly heavily (Reptocal) and at the Bronx Zoo we used a 1:4 ratio by weight of Reptocal to cricket pellets…but perhaps results with other brands would have differed.
I’m not sure of your background with turtles, and so apologize if this is something of which you are aware: the turtles will need a higher calcium intake than will likely be supplied by pillbugs. Small whole fish (do not use goldfish solely…alternate with guppies, minnows and shiners) are ideal in this regard. Freeze dried prawn, earthworms and Tetra Reptomin are also useful.
Please keep me posted, good luck with all,
Best regards, Frank Indiviglio
Hello there Frank! Scott here, I do know of the importance of giving turtles (hatchlings in particular)a high calcium diet. I feed them canned crickets that have a T-rex 2.0 calcium supplement that I added to them (I dumped the powder into the actual can).I have tried fish they seem to just kill them but not eat them. Also they feed on Zoo med aquatic hatchling turtle food. They get some gammarus shrimp which supposedly are in their diet if they were in the wild. They do waxworms rarely (too much fat I guess)along with pill bugs. Also I give them Krill very rarely. I have tried over and over to get them to eat the Reptomin but they spit it out if they even try it at all. The turtle pellets they do eat are very small so maybe that helps them get some down. I have a method were I’ll put a mix of 3/4 mix of pellets with a 1/4 of shrimp. They like the crickets they get but I don’t want them to overdose on the vitamins that are in it. They do get a varied diet which is good from what I understand. It is a little maddening how many different opinions that are out there about how frequent and the amount of food they need. So they have been getting somewhere in the middle of what I’ve read, not too much not to little. Hopefully they will thrive and survive! That is really cool that you work at the Bonx Zoo! Sounds like it would be an awesome job.
Talk to you later Frank…
Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for the update.
The Zoo Med hatchling food is a good choice. You might want to try Zoo Med Canned Shrimp – a fresh water shrimp is used, so the concerns re marine animals (krill) are eliminated. Actually, a reptile curator of my acquaintance raised Blanding’s and bog turtles on a diet heavy with krill with great results, but I have not done so myself.
Zoo Med Canned Snails should be accepted as well…the snails are shell-less; small aquatic snails or crayfish are also great food items, if you have a source…I’ve never run into problems with parasite transmission, but a methylene blue bath beforehand could be used if you are concerned.
The canned shrimp are usually a favorite – perhaps immerse Repto-min in the can for a several minutes, or fast the turtles for a few days.
Strange that they do not take fish…perhaps try other another species if available. Minnows and shiners preferable to goldfish in any event; guppies fine as well.
There are, as you say, many ways to approach hatchling rearing. The most natural situation would be for them to eat most every day when young, with occasional 1-2 day fasts, or larger meals every other day. A cooler winter period – not enough to cause dormancy but just a bit of a slowdown, i.e. water of 68F, basking of 75, accompanied by reduced feeding, is beneficial but not necessary.
When raising large numbers of turtle hatchlings I’ve let most species feed ad lib for 15 minutes or so on most days; with single pets I usually give what can be consumed in 5-10 minutes…but there is a great deal of leeway here, and all must be fine-tuned to the species, individual and even food type…ad lib best with pelleted foods or canned shrimp. Hatchling aquatic turtles generally do not easily become obese or develop shell deformities if the diet is appropriate (there are concerns with tortoises) but when feeding heavily it is important that calcium levels are adequate, and that hot basking sites are available.
Yes, I was quite lucky to have worked at the Bronx and Staten Island Zoos for so long, no way to sum that up…now working freelance, but still consult for Staten Island and at other zoos and aquariums.
Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.
Winter break is drawing near and soon I’ll be headed back to home in Central CA, and bringing some SW amphipods home to experiment with.
Have you heard of anyone being successful with skeleton shrimp(Caprella sp.?). I bet they’d be an interesting public aquarium exhibit under a powerful magnifying lens. It looks like the also produce miniatures of themselves like other amphipods…the only way it looks like they might differ from normal amphipods is the need for a holdfast.(bryozoans, algae, or maybe “spawning grass” or some similar plastic plant might do the trick).
Hello Joseph, Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your thoughts.
Interesting idea…they though I was crazy at 1 museum when I suggested putting a sliding magnifying glass along the front of an aquatic insect exhibit, but it turned out to be quite a hit – a host of interesting little creatures colonized the live plants and rocks…something similar in a marine setup would likely reveal some skeleton shrimp at some point, but I’m not aware of any – I working on some new exhibits for the Maritime Aquarium in CT…they focus on the Long Island Sound ecosystem…may be worth a try. Please let me know how all goes with the amphipods.
Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.
Did a small collection yesterday with a powerade bottle to see how hardy the buggers of interest were. Everything(small clump of bryozoans, gammaridean amphipods, and skeleton shrimp) made it home ok, but only the gammaridean amphipods were alive the next morning. Apparently skeleton shrimp need higher DO than other amphipods which makes sense as they always hang on the outer fringes of the bryozoans.
Do you think a battery operated airpump might be needed to get them home alive? I will be leaving for home in a week which will be a 5 hour drive.
All the Best
Hello Joseph, Frank Indiviglio here.
Thanks for your note and question.
I’ve always used a battery operated air pump when transporting fish and aquatic invertebrates, and keep a few on hand for use at home during power outages. A good model for use on the road is:
For longer term use on large or several aquariums, check out:
Please let me know how they fare on the trip.
Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.
How long does one set of batteries keep a pump like that going?
The latest group is still alive at one day with air pump+ 1 gallon of extra seawater brought back to do water changes with. Interestingly their seems to be at least a few species of skeleton shrimp plus the other assorted amphipods. The smaller ones that are less freaky looking frequently have eggs on their bellies or babies hitching a ride all over them.
Thanks for the information…interesting that some amphipods carry young as well as eggs.
The Air Pod Backup Air Pump is designed to run for 150 hours on one set of batteries. Please order this item well in advance of your needs, as demand is high right now and the manufacturer may take some time in catching up.
The Elite Battery Operated Air Pump will run for 10 to 12 hours on one set of batteries.
Best regards, Frank
Got them back successfully and did some preliminary experiments. It turns out the shrimp are highly sexually dimorphic with the males being larger than the females. They will feed on small particles in the water, seems like they even ate fishfood. They also ate the other amphipods they were with, as well as each other occasionally(it is hard to tell if they actually killed one another or if they were merely taking advantage of a weak/dead fellow). They took ok to plastic plants, though it is difficult to force them from one substrate to another.
I think they might work for culturing in small numbers for a hobbyist who needs something special and isn’t satisfied with normal amphipods. They are very clumsy swimmers and I’ve heard their jerky motions are irresistible to fish.
Perhaps more to be added later!
Hello Joseph, Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for the update…great work! Please keep the info coming, it would be wonderful to have another food source established…efforts such as yours are how new developments get started.
Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.
Isopods are nearly a requirement for keeping cuban tree frogs, they will eat a ton of them if allowed.
I breed local isopods year round in 16oz deli cups 3/4 filled with moist cocofiber.
In spring and summer I feed them a mixture of ground mixed beans, soy flour, and fruit baby food, moistened with water to form a paste.
In fall and winter I add fallen oak leaves to the diet.
Their waste makes a good soil addative in the garden when I plant in the spring.
Hello Maurice, Frank Indiviglio here.
Thanks for your interest in our blog and for the most useful post.
I agree concerning Cuban treefrogs. They seem to have particularly high calcium requirements…I wouldn’t be surprised if their extra-thick, boney skulls had something to do with that. Isopods are an ideal calcium source for these and similarly-sized frogs.
Using coconut fiber as a rearing substrate is a fine idea, and your diet seems a good mix of healthful ingredients.
Cuban treefrogs are well-established in southern Florida and elsewhere in the American southeast. Some years ago, a friend suggested to me that the Miami population be dubbed “Telephone Booth Tree Frogs”, as he found them in booths more often than elsewhere (this before the advent of cell phones, and the demise of public phone booths). Sure enough, on a quick trip to downtown Miami, I found Cuban treefrogs in the majority of the booths I checked…a convenient source of trapped insects, higher humidity?
Thanks very much for passing along your observations.
Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.
from my experience i have tested using pillbugs or sowbugs to feed to my puffer fish.
but i notice my fish seemed to enjoyed them.thefore i would catch them than breed them until they were mature enough to be given to my puffer so ,ever since my puffer have been living for 2years. also to carryout the nutrients of my feeding of pillbugs and sowbugs would feed them chopped up pieces of fresh fruit every other week. but be sure to put wood and keep the soil moist.
Hello Keion, Frank Indiviglio here.
Thanks for your interest in our blog and the observations. Interesting that you hit on sowbugs as a puffer-food; sowbugs are crustaceans, and puffers have unique teeth that adapt them for a largely crab/shrimp diet…so I’m sure they relist the sowbugs (maybe sowbugs left the sea and evolved into land animals due to puffer predation – wouldn’t that be ironic!).
Good luck and please keep me posted.
Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.
How long can a spotted salamander live without food
Thanks for your interest. How often the animal needs to eat depends upon its age (youngsters need more frequent meals than adults), condition and weight and, most importantly, temperature. In winter, they fast for 4-5 months, depending upon location; and in cool weather they may feed only once each 10-14 days. Please send some details and I’ll be able to provide more specific info.
Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.
i have captive monarch geckos(gekko monarchus), i was wondering of feeding them pillbugs or sowbugs….
they are in a great number at our backyard….
i tried to feed them to my geckos
and my geckos grab them…
now i started to culture them as feeders to mine…
i need some guide as to how feeding be done….
to insure the safety of geckos here…..
Thanks for your interest. Isopods are a good, calcium rich food source for those species that will accept them. We don’t really have any studies indicating how often they should be used for any herp. Experience seems to indicate that they can be used on at least a weekly basis, and more often for those species that would seem to encounter them regularly in the wild (terrestrial N American amphibians, in my experience).
Be sure to collect from a pesticide free area. If you have concerns about this, please let me know and I;ll refer you to sources of captive bred colonies.
Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.
Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.
Would you recommend offering pill bugs to a juvenile leopard gecko? I’m trying to keep its diet more varied than just crickets and meal worms
Sowbugs are a great addition to leopard gecko diets. Best to offer in a bowl, or on a bare surface, as geckos often take in a good deal of substrate when capturing them.
I’m glad to see that you are increasing dietary variety; mealworms and crickets alone, even if powdered with supplements, are not sufficient. Mealworms are best avoided, or used only when newly-molted (white in color); If you start a colony, you’ll be assured of a regular supply of white larvae; beetles and pupae can also be used.
Please see the following articles on leopard gecko diets, mealworn rearing, and live food care, and let me know if you have any questions.
Enjoy, best, Frank
Thank you for the reply. I specifically have access to wild caught pilk bugs (rolly pollies) that curl into a ball. I believe they are distinct from sow bugs. I’ve read that they have too much chitin in their exoskeletons, hence my question.
What about wild caught beetles?
My gecko still seems to be a bit off target when snatching prey, the slower the better. If it misses, it seems dazed for a moment before trying again. I estimate that it is 2-5 months old. Is this normal?
Common names vary but all are related; those that roll into a ball generally have thicker exoskeletons than other species. All invert exoskeletons are comprised of chitin; sowbugs, being crustaceans, differ a bit in makeup and may have higher calcium levels than most insects. Geckos are well adapted to diets high in chitin; diets composed largely of inverts known to have very high chitin levels, such as mealworms and waxworms, have been implicated in blockages, especially in animals that are not properly hydrated. I’ve not read any studies indicating problems with sowbugs (none likely done) but even terrestrial salamanders, adapted to “softer” foods such as earthworms and beetle grubs, do fine a diets containing sowbugs. Some opinions re this may be based on appearance, which is not a good guide – i.e. mealworms have higher chitin levels than suoer mealworms, and so on. Introduce all new foods slowly, and vary the diet to include moths, “smooth” caterpillars (wild or silkworms) and others that may have thinner exoskeletons. Given the lep gecko’s native range, I imagine they take a good many beetles and other hard-bodied creatures. Orange spotted roaches are another soft-bodied option, anfd a great food in general.
Beetles can be very useful; avoid pest species that are specifically targeted with insecticides, such as Japanese beetles, as well as ladybugs, fireflies and brightly colored species; You may enjoy this article on insect collecting.
Missing is common, esp in young animals. A progressively worsening ability to capture food may indicate a Calcium or Vit A deficinency, or other concerns. Please let me know if you need more info, and pl keep me posted, Best, Frank
Hello – It turns out that Goji ate 3 sow bugs, 1 one day and 2 the next. Overall, Goji doesn’t seem to be a big fan of them, particularly since the larger ones tend to ball up when bitten, which pinches the gecko’s nose, causing it (don’t know if Goji is male or female yet) to release the sow bug.
This past Friday night, I noticed that Goji’s skin had become greyish and started peeling at the neck – indicating that it was shedding. The next morning, I discovered a whole mess of shed skin bits all over one side of the tank, while the shallow water basin on the other side was completely dry!
I’ve shown Goji the moistened hide (small tupperware container with a hole in the top), but it doesn’t seem to use it much at all. I’m guessing it sat in/soaked up, splashed out the entire water dish while I was asleep. Does that make any sense? Would a moist hide with a hole in the side at floor level be better?
Thanks for the feedback. Most leopard geckos prefer moist caves, but yours used the water bowl, as you suggest. No harm in that, as long as the substrate around the bowl does not remain damp.
Enjoy, Best, Frank
Thanks for confirming my theory! I have noticed, much to my concern, that Goji hasn’t had a bowel movement since Friday evening, though it has eaten as normal. Should I be worried?
Glad the info was useful. Bowel movements can fluctuate a great deal, esp after birth or other trauma/change. If a blockage is present, the animal will usually stop feeding within a few days, although some continue for a time. An x-ray is used to access whether a blockage or related problem is suspected.
Hope all goes well, best, Frank
Over a year ago I took your advice on your other post about lizards from the cordylus family and fed sow bugs to them. Since then our collection has grown including some bearded dragons. I was hesitant to feed them sow bugs until i could ask an expert. I value your opinion very highly because the information you have given me in the past has led to a very healthy and happy community of mixed spieces of the cordylus family. In the future we may also add a blue tongue skink or Sudan plated lizard. Would either of these spieces be ok to feed sow bugs to as well?
Thank you so much once again for sharing your knowledge.
Thanks for the kind words. Sowbugs would be a good food for either; as with any new food, introduce slowly, after which you can feed regularly.
Good luck, enjoy and pl keep me posted, best, Frank
Today, I went to the beach with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to
my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear
and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally off topic but I had to
I’ve been collecting and caring for animals in zoos and at home for 50+ years, but that’s a first for me!!! Thank you! Best, Frank
Thank you for your kind response. I too have been using isopods in all my successful set ups for 10 years now, I have carried out a few (unfortunately expensive) experiments in the last decade and it seems environments without them are …mostly fatal in the long run, the ones with: breeding successes and MUCH healthier cleaner environments. I am going to try and root some plants in the new scorp, enclosure and see if I can keep the feeder roaches fed enough that they won’t eat the decor… Have you ever found a plant that Hissing cockroaches won’t eat that I can grow in their habitats?
Nice to see you here, thanks for posting. I’ve not experimented much with plants and hissers…the various snake plants come to mind, might be worth a try; also earth stars, Cryptanthus are tough; I need to check into the Latin name of the plant I mentioned earlier as cast iron plant…species I’m seeing under that common name is not the one I had in mind. Best, Frank
Hello, Mr. Indiviglio,
I’ve been thinking about starting a culture of isopods to add more variety to the diet of my Leopard Gecko. Not being very familiar with the types of isopods, I’m at a loss as far as what species to use. I’ve found a local source that produces orange isopods, Porcellio isopods, and Armadillidium roly-polys. Is there one of these that would be more suitable for a Leopard Gecko?
Thanks in advance for any advice,
I’ve used Armadillidium sps.; Re others, check into sizes etc, as breeders sometimes switch names, create trade names etc. The others you list are fairly well-accepted in usage, I believe, so you should be able to get an idea of size, temperature needs etc.
I need some advice on what to feed my tree frogs I have a few cope grey tree frogs… and want to know what kind of food to give it … some say crikets, earth worms, moths, and rolly pollies ect…… not sure what to give and I dont want to give them the wrong kind and make them sick…. can someone pls help….. thank you
Focus on small soft-bodied insects and provide as much variety as possible….houseflies (but cultures online) are ideal; the comments in the red-eyed treefrog article below apply to Grays. Use small crickets only, and do not rely on them entirely. Earthworms are great, but many treefrogs refuse them…try offering via tongs. Please see the articles below for more ideas and let me know if you have any questions. Best, Frank
I have one more question I have found out that one of the tree frogs are a boreal chorus tree frog … so was wondering if he/she likes all the same things as the cope grays do if not what should I give he/she andshould I separate them or will they tolerate on another…..
Thanks again soooo much…. 🙂
My pleasure , Sam.
Care is basically the same, but the boreal is more sensitive to warm temps than the other, keep as cool as possible. Use small food items…this article may be helpful in Identifying some useful insects . Pl keep me posted, best, Frank
Thanks so much frank….. if there is any other sites that u can think of pls let me know….. and the only thing the frogs r eating right now r the crickets but ill keep trying to give them more of a variety of other food….
thanks again very much…. 🙂
My pleasure Sam, let me know if you need anything, best, Frank
I have a question …. I have done a bunch of research and was wondering how many times a day or week should I feed my tree frogs…. so many people have given diff answers so I was hoping I could get some idea from you…. ty and thanks in advance…..
Trying to negotiate opinions is tough!..I’ve been a herpetologist for my entire adult life, but would also be confused if I tried to follow certain forums!!! Frogs in generally are very adaptable, within reason, to food availability…most can adjust their metabolism/growth rate quite a bit. But many factors influence this…species of frog, age, temperature, type of food offered. please send me some details and I’ll get back to you with specific info, best, Frank
I have copes gray tree frogs ive had them for about a week and half now ive feed them some crickets about 2 days agao ….. thats the only thing they would eat for me they reall didn’t like the earth worms ..im still looking into more options online for food . Temp is aboit 60 to 70 I hope thats not to bad if so pls let me know if I have to change it….iv triied to catch flys but no luck for me… the age not sure ….. if need anymore info ill be happy to try my best to let u know….. thanks again…
Stay with small crickets rather than adults. temperatures good. You can feed 2-3 small crickets or similar food items app. 3x weekly…or smaller meals more frequently; occasional longer fasts are fine…ie. feeding 1-2 x weekly; they will adapt; they use little energy in captivity and very effective at storing food. Flies can be lured into a jar baited with a piece of fish, but lab reared cultures of flightless houseflies, avail online, preferable. Moths great..collect near outdoor lights if possible. Earthworms often rejected by treefrogs. Can order silkworms also online (choose smaller sizes. Feed crickets well before use..pl let me know if you need more info, best, frank.
Thanks so much I have feed them small crickets ….. my friend has bull frogs and she feeds them wax worms is that good also for the tree frogs…..
Waxworms hard to digest..lots of chitin in exo-skeleton; small ones ok but not often; they may take them from a cup suspended from branch or a feeding tong, best, Frank
Thanks ill keep that in mind…. is there some kind of proper food list I could find that will help me out in what to feed them and when at sertant times of the year…..
and what Temp should I put it at when winter comes?
Thanks so much for helping me out in all these questions I’m asking now and in future….. so thankful……
No real way to feed in tune with seasons etc…they will take most of the foods mentioned in the frog diet article, I believe I sent link? Use as much variety as possible.
Normal room temps gen fine in winter, they will remain active at 58 F, sometimes below. Wild caught individuals may slow down, go off feed even if kept at active temps (internal clock of sorts) but they weather this well. best, Frank
Do you know of any places that sell sow bugs?
I’ve seen on some forums where people say that pill bugs and sow bugs are different. Pill bugs roll up into a ball and sow bugs don’t?
Also, sow bugs have a softer exterior than pill bugs?
The names are used interchangeably, and have no real significance (there are hundreds of species)…some roll, others do not. Larger species have a thicker carapace but unless you’re feeding very small animals there’s no need to be concerned. You can buy 1-2 species here.
If you have specific needs re size, etc. , send an email to Mike Shrom at firstname.lastname@example.org. He breeds quite a few types and could suggest specific sizes, etc. Best, Frank
Do you know if the ones that commonly live in the Northeast woods can be bred without special cycles? Some of the tropical species are quite small so I was considering just collecting some locally and trying to breed those, My basement stays pretty cool all summer (windowless).
That’s a good question, Kevin. I’m not sure, as it’s been hard for me to track what’s going on in large exhibits and terrariums…a;ways seems to be young ones, but that’s just an impression. But even in most basements there’s a degree of temperature change – about 20 F in my case, although it does have windows. Many are quite adaptable..moving outdoors even on mild winter days; I suspect they may not need much of a change. I’ll write a contact who may have more info; please keep me posted on your situation also, best, frank
Hopefully the link below to a short article on isopod cuticula will shed some light on calcium content. I also wonder if the specific compounds in the exoskeleton are beneficial to herps. I use them for small Uroplatus species and they do help breeding females with the demands of egg production.
Much appreciated, Neil…I’ve been looking for an article of this type, best regards, Frank