AJCs Virtual Frogroom: Articles: Woodlice
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Woodlice

(=sowbugs/pillbugs)

 

Like other soil arthropods, woodlice (order Isopoda) have a calcium rich exoskeleton. This makes them a valuable source of nutrition for amphibians and many other animals (Bure S, Weidinger K. Sources and timing of calcium intake during reproduction in flycatchers. Oecologia, 137: 634-641, 2003). In addition to their calcium content, they can often live in an amphibian enclosure for some time until being eaten without harming the animal (unlike crickets), and are useful scavengers, eating decaying organic material. There are dozens of species of woodlice in the UK but by far the most common are:

  • Armadillidium vulgare: The common pillbug has quite a hard exoskeleton and is only accepted by larger amphibians.
  • Oniscus asellus: Has a moderately hard exoskeleton.
  • Porcellio scaber: Smaller and softer than the above, highly acceptable for medium size amphibians and Phyllobates species.

Woodlice

I make my woodlice cultures on potting soil in ventilated plastic containers. These are kept damp but not wet. I feed them on ReadyBrek and vegetable peelings, apple cores, etc. A stack of pieces of brown corrugated cardboard (no print) provide shelter and an additional food source for the woodlice, reducing cannibalism and increasing the density of the culture and also allow the woodlice to regulate their water balance by finding an area where they are comfortable. Only add water to one end of the culture so the woodlice can osmoregulate by finding an area where the humidity is most comfortable for them.

Woodlouse culture

In addition to native woodlice, tropical white woodlice such as Trichorhina tomentosa (above) can be cultured in the same way but have several advantages: they are smaller, softer and reproduce more quickly under ideal conditions (25-30oC). They are eagerly eaten by small amphibians such as newts, Mantellas and dartfrogs. Although they are commonly called "tropical" woodlice, they now have a cosmopolitan distribution (Olsen KM. 1995. Cordioniscus stebbingi (Patience, 1907) and Trichorhina tomentosa (Budde-Lund, 1893), two greenhouse woodlice (Isopoda, Oniscidea) new to Norway. Fauna Norvegica Ser B 42: 67).

coverBreeding Food Animals: Live Food for Vivarium Animals
Ursula Friederich, Werner Volland, Hinrich Kaiser

Without doubt the most comprehensive and useful book on this subject. Think how much money you'll save breeding your own! (Amazon.co.UK)

P. hoffmannseggi

I have also experimented with culturing other species of white woodlice native to the UK such as Platyarthrus hoffmannseggi.

This species is commonly found in ant nests but also eats decaying vegetation and can be cultured in the same way as other species. However, it reproduces much more slowly than the above species and to date I have not been able to find culture conditions which make it a viable food organism.

 

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