Over the last few years here has been a revival of natural planted terraria – I say revival as the keeping of planted terraria has been very popular in the past too. Some people keep the terraria reptile or amphibian free and aim to just create a slice of natural terrain with plants and mosses only. However, that would just go against the grain for us, and of course we would add some nice frogs or light climbing lizards to complete the picture! Once there are animals added it becomes a true eco-system, that of course needs balancing – we need a clean up crew to deal with the mess the animals make. This is where we can take advantage of mother nature as there are already natural feeders of decaying matter, one of the best is the group of crustaceans known as woodlice and pillbugs. These ancient creatures have been naturally recycling for millions of years.
Nearly all terrestrial woodlice and pillbugs (collectively referred to as woodlice in this article) naturally occur in damp, shady, dark areas, such as under stones and logs. There are also a few aquatic species too. They are there for one purpose only and that is to deal with decaying matter, which they do very effectively. They are a fascinating group of insects, they have their lungs in the rear legs for example. A female carries her young under her body in a marsupium until they hatch. Unlike many insects they shed their skin it two pieces, front and rear, a couple of days apart. Related to crabs and lobsters, and they are said to taste of strong urine. They really are a unique and incredibly interesting group of crustaceans. For us as hobbyists the deal is twofold, they are interesting to keep but also do a great job of keeping our messy reptiles and amphibians clean and tidy.
What do they demand from us? So that we can keep them safely and successfully in our terraria? Very little to be honest – we provide much of their requirements for many of the species of reptiles and amphibians we commonly keep in naturally planted terraria. A damp planting medium suitable for plants is ideal, and a form of hide such as a log or stone – and that’s about it. The nature of natural terraria with plant leaves dying and falling to the ground, faecal matter from the animals etc will provide the food they love. So, a very undemanding and useful inhabitant in a natural terrarium – an essential aid when setting up and maintaining an eco-terrarium. Some may be eaten by our primary care inhabitants, but many reptiles and amphibians do not like the taste of woodlice, They generally breed rapidly and any eaten will soon be replaced. On a final note, there are now literally hundreds of species, colour morphs and varieties of woodlice and pillbugs now commercially available – some are quite spectacular. Check them out, you may find yourself as interested in the clean up crew as the reptiles and amphibians they help you to look after.