Along with plants and the correct soil mixture and forest floor litter, an important and integral part of any successful eco-terrarium are the custodians (sometimes called clean up crew). These are the various critters that forage and eat various moulds, algae, spores, excrement and decaying matter. Not only do they clean up the terrarium they also help with the fertilisation process, which in turn helps the plants flourish. It really is the perfect balance. The three commonly used clean up crew are springtails, isopods (woodlice) and earthworms.
Springtails are tiny white arthropods that live up to their name – they can jump! They are a harmless critter that will only thrive in damp conditions with the correct food – they will quickly die should they find themselves out of their terrarium into the average home. You will not have these infesting your home (unless of course you have soil, decaying matter, leaf litter and mould in your home). Considering their tiny size, a couple of millimetres, they are critical to be included in any bio-active terrarium. They have a huge appetite for all the things you don’t want in your terrarium such as mould, spores, excrement and decaying material. The activities of your animals and the existence of plants will always provide food for your springtails – there is always something for them to clean up. Once you have introduced a small amount into your terrarium they will quickly establish themselves and thrive. They must have decaying matter, by using any of the Frog Hut natural range of leaves, pods and forest floor litter you will provide what they require. All this natural litter will provide the conditions they require – the litter will mould and decay, and also provide damp conditions. There are also commercially available Springtail foods, just to be sure, such as ProRep Springtail food.
Isopods (Woodlice and Pill bugs) are another popular clean up crew choice in the terrarium. They are much bigger than Springtails, and being honest, they come is so many ‘varieties’ they can become a hobby themselves! For many people keeping a bio-active terrarium is merely a good way of displaying and keeping their Woodlouse and Pill Bug pals. There are loads of choices of these fascinating critters in so many differing colours and patterns which naturally occur from all around the world. It can become an obsession – you have been warned! They eat a wide variety of decaying material, but are not as good for controlling mould and fungi as springtails. They need a hight level of humidity, but unlike Springtails (that will happily hop around on the surface of water) they will drown quickly in water. Provide a deep layer of forest litter, Frog Hut range includes leaves, pods and other suitable bits and bobs, and perhaps some rotting wood. They will then thrive and get on with their work. One word of warning, some varieties do eat plants too – although most just eat decaying plant material.
Earthworms, for the purpose of this blog covers many species such as Redworm, Whiteworm and Lob worms. They do a slightly different job to the surface dwellers such as Springtails and Isopods, they do their good mainly below ground. Their purpose is to provide soil aeration and good overall soil condition – although alongside this many will help with decaying matter too. The three commoner ones (Whiteworm, Redworm and Lob worm) mainly differ in size – Whiteworm being the smallest up to Lob worms. Whiteworm also tend not to burrow as much, preferring to live underneath something such as a log, or perhaps a water bowl. One big word of warning though; worms are the most difficult to get to survive and thrive in a terrarium. Each species is quite specific in their needs, and will not tolerate conditions away from this. Use the wrong soil or get it too wet the worms will all die and soon become a stinking mess.
We hope this helps as a brief introduction, if you want to know more please contact us or better still pop into the store for a chat. Don’t forget our new range of forest floor litter from Frog Hut – lots of choice of natural leaves, pods and other nice looking décor that will provide the conditions and food that clean up crew custodians require. Does the job of providing a balanced eco-terrarium and looks great in the terrarium too!