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Caring for Roly Polys – Confessions Of An Isopod Farmer

Armadillidium vulgare isopod

Whether you call them sowbugs, pillbugs, rolly pollys, rolly pollies, roly polys, or rolly polys we love them, and today I am going to show you how to properly care for your roly polys, so you can show your love for them. And hopefully by the end of this article you’ll have your very own properly maintained roly poly farm/colony, whether it’s for educational purposes, for fun, or as feeders. Now let’s get down to the basics of caring for your roly polys.

First off a friendly warning about rolly pollys –

We never recommend feeding animals wild insects, but in this case especially for isopods. Isopods have shown in studies to pick up heavy metals as they eat, and while this is amazing for the environment, and just another great feature that they have to offer, it’s why we suggest only starting a colony off from a reputable dealer. You do not want your animals to feed on a wild isopod as they contain large amounts of heavy metals, and a colony started from wild isopods will always have the starting amount of heavy metals, for generations. Make sure your dealer of roly polys is organic to minimize any risk to you, them, or your animals.

Well, What Are They? –

Roly polys can be called any of the names I stated in the first paragraph, and all are proper, but it’s easy to see where they got their most commonly called name rolly polly because of how they roll into a ball to protect themselves when confronted by danger. But I’m getting off track, roly polys are not actually insects, they are interestingly enough crustaceans, and are more so related to a shrimp than any insect in your garden, Armadillidium vulgare, the common pill bug, also known as the most widely kept species, is friendly, and gets along with any other isopod species. These fun guys roll into a ball when they feel threatened. Another fun fact about roly polys is that they breathe through gills and need moisture to survive – this will be important later and is a main part of their care.

Roly Poly Care –

Roly polys are easy to care for only requiring shelter, moisture, and food. Reaching less than an inch long these little guys don’t require much space, a plastic aquarium, plastic bin, or any container 5-10 gallons big will work, cover the floor of the container with organic soil, organic wood mulch, or organic shredded paper, then add wood, rocks, or cardboard/paper or really anything that will give them places to explore and shelter, now here comes the most important step – mist the air around the cage and the floor substrate you used daily, roly polys need moisture to breathe through their gills, although they can not survive completely underwater so don’t overwater either. Change the bedding periodically (monthly) or if mold appears. As for food, roly polys eat almost anything organic (leaves, decaying greens, most table scraps), give them 1-2 oz of food two or three times a week, and make sure to switch up the food you give them to prevent any vitamin deficiencies. Roly polys obtain their moisture from the food they eat, so they do not need a water bowl. Light is also not a requirement. The last thing to mention is temperature – although roly polys are resilient they prefer room temperature and can overheat or freeze, and should be kept inside if possible with a lid to keep out predators or pets.  With good care – your roly poly friends can live up to 3 years!

What do rolly pollies eat? – Isopods, also known as rolly pollies are beneficial decomposers that tend to stick to rotting materials such as leaf litter, and compost. Isopods can be fed a mixed diet of leaf litter, organic veggies, and the occasional ground down bonemeal treat. Isopods do best with a mixed diet, find out about our specialty isopod food for an easier feeding time.

If you have any questions about roly polys or any critters for that matter, don’t forget to use the contact us page, we have an on-staff biologist 24/7, and are happy to answer any questions you have. Also feel free to contact us to share your experiences, to show our family farm support, or just to say hello, we love hearing from our visitors.

That’s really all it takes to have your very own roly poly pets! Yep, that’s it who knew it would be that easy! So what are you waiting for, go get your colony started today, whether it’s to teach your kids about the decomposition process, for pets, or for a feeder colony, it’s fun and easy, just remember to start off with a reputable organic dealer.

Visit our separate more in-depth article on roly-poly isopod care by clicking here. Follow us and subscribe to our newsletter for more!

If you’re looking for isopods for sale of various species, Ficarro Farms grows, raises, and breeds them, we’re actually adding different species of isopoda often so check back for more! At the moment we offer Armadillidium vulgare, Porcellio scaber isopods, we’ll be adding “powdery blue” isopods and “powdery orange” isopods soon, check out our store for more details.

22 thoughts on “Caring for Roly Polys – Confessions Of An Isopod Farmer”

    1. Yes, they are an excellent clean-up crew for vivariums and reptile cages. Provide lots of places to hide and sufficient moisture, and they will keep your cage nice and clean.

  1. Do isopods eat and damage live vegetable garden plants? I’d never thought about this possibility until this year when I’ve had more than usual numbers of them in my newly planted vegetable garden. I’ve often seen them gathering around the stems of my young green beans, some of which have developed damage at the base, enough to fell the plant even. Is it possible the isopods are doing this? There is a lot of compost in the surface soil, so I would think they have lots of food choices, but I’d really appreciate your opinion on this. Thanks!

    1. The literature typically makes a note of the potential for isopods to damage live plant material, but I have never seen any evidence of this in all the years I’ve worked with them professionally. I have seen situations where disease or damage has occurred and hungry (usually thirsty) isopods quickly move in. But, I’ve only witnessed them eating decaying material. Freshly decaying plant or vegetable material still has quite a lot of water content, and isopods are usually looking for moisture. I hope this helps.

  2. I was thinking about raising dairy cow isopods as pets and for fun but I realized I don’t know what to do if they have to many babies and don’t know where to put the extra ones, I live in an apartment and won’t be able to just get another terrarium for them. Not many people buy them around here and I was wondering what you would reccomend.

    1. Tropical plants will give your isopoda places to hide, leaf litter to eat, and a more natural habitat, and should work great, just be sure to not overwater the isopoda as some species prefer dryer climates. Let me know if you have any other questions!

  3. These are so much fun to keep and watch, unlike worms they’re a lot more visible. They like space to hide and love nooks in bark but still are active on the surface. I just think it’s so neat how they’re crustaceans, how they carry their babies, how they shed, and their seemingly endless appetite. I keep mine in a bed of coco coir and give them some big chunks of bark. Give them a good spray of water and they’ll climb up when it’s time to change out the substrate, which I add to my compost pile. I believe they provide copper to the soil with their droppings. If they get too wet they seem to arch their butt up possibly to squeeze excess water out? That’s my sign they’re too wet. They do multiply quick and if they get too crowded they go into feeding frenzy mode sort of like locusts do and can eat A LOT, possibly even each other. Make sure there’s enough bark or space for the colony to get up and hide under, if not the tanks too small or you need more bark. It only smells if you have too much food or leave the bedding too long. These guys are easy to care for, easy to clean, fun, educational, and quiet. Perfect pets lol!

    1. Regular dirt (which I’m assuming you mean from outdoors) is perfect for isopods as long as food is provided since they can’t get many nutrients out of already eaten stuff (which is what dirt is), but be aware that larvaes, insects, and other bugs can harbor in any dirt collected from the outdoors, which can cause issues later, there are a few ways to sanatize outdoor dirt safely, but the easier method to fix this is too start off with organic gardening soil from the store, just make sure it doesn’t contain pesticides, fungacides, or anything other than natural ingredients or straight soil. Mulch can also be used keeping the same ideas in mind. Hopefully that helps! If you have any other questions or concerns, feel free to reply or use the contact us form. Have a great day!

    1. They can pretty much eat anything, but I wouldn’t suggest anything too acidic, such as limes, lemons, or oranges, they also have preferences, so some fruit may go bad, but can be pulled out as they rot, the downside to that – is that rotting fruit can attract gnats easily, and gnats although relatively harmless to an Isopod, are extremely annoying inside and hard to exterminate once inside.

  4. Is it prefereable to keep them in company or they pretty much do well alone? Asking for taking care of an Armadillo Officinalis, as they are very common here

    1. We’ve found that every species of isopoda needs some companionship to thrive, Armadillidium vulgare is extremely similar to Armadillio officinalis, and with these type of live isopods we’ve seen them die living in captivity alone, although usually a lone isopod in our experience will just be unhappy and slow moving, but won’t usually die. I would suggest starting with more than one. Hopefully that answers your question but feel free to ask if you have any other concerns, thanks for visiting our small family farm! – Luke Ficarro

    1. Hi! Most of the time holes actually create more problems then they solve (think lack of moisture) since Isopods breath through modified gills they do fine in closed containers, just be sure to check every other day for food, and moisture levels, opening the container occasionally, gives them a refresh in air, and lets out excess moisture. Thanks for visiting Ficarro Farms! Let us know if you have any other questions!

    2. Yes it does it not it will die

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