A closed terrarium is essentially an attempt at a tiny, self-sustaining ecosystem.
And just like every functioning ecosystem in nature, it needs microfauna and microflora to recycle and renew the environment.
A terrarium without isopods and springtails is an incomplete ecosystem and simply won’t last very long.
Isopods and springtails are often referred to as the clean-up crew. They are the essential bioactive element that will keep your terrarium healthy, clean, and free from mold in the long run.
Here’s exactly what they do and how you can start using them as a clean-up crew, visual element, and mold police.
Why You MUST Have Them In Your Terrarium
If you’ve ever had a terrarium get moldy you know what a headache it is to remove it. And most of the time a moldy terrarium is done for.
Isopods and springtails serve one major purpose in a terrarium, and that is keeping it free from mold by decomposing dead plant matter.
After eating decaying matter isopods and springtails decompose it and poop it, creating fertile soil for the plants.
Fun fact: their poop is also called frass. Frass is a superfood for your plants.
So not only do these little guys protect your terrarium from mold and create natural fertilizer, they also keep the soil soft because of their tunneling habits.
In vivariums, isopods in particular, are a tasty and healthy snack for your lizards, amphibians, and other animals.
The other, minor purpose isopods, and even springtails serve is to add aesthetic variety. There are hundreds of thousands of species of isopods and springtails, each with a distinct look, colors, patterns, etc. Many people, including myself, put a huge emphasis on the types of isopods and springtails we use solely based on their appearance.
Isopods, often confused as pill bugs, are small crustaceans (¼ to ½ inches in size) that feed on organic detritus such as rotting wood, decaying plant matter, and fungi.
They come in many different colors, shapes, sizes, and patterns. and are very popular as standalone pets nowadays. Which is also the reason they have been bred for visual diversity.
Their natural habitat is very moist and humid, just like a closed terrarium. In one, Isopods will keep it clean by eating away the unwanted materials, fertilize the soil by creating frass, and make it soft by tunneling.
While all isopod species are fundamentally similar in their behaviour and feeding habits, they are still very diverse and adaptable as they evolved to live in a wide variety of conditions.
For terrariums, you want to look at isopod species that are native to warm and humid enviroments, and also eat a lot!
Here are the most popular isopod species for terrariums:
- Dwarf White Isopods
- Dalmatian Isopods
- Powder Orange Isopods
- Dairy Cow Isopods
- Panda King Isopods
- High Yellow Isopods
- Zebra Isopods
While Isopods take care of decaying matter and fertilization, springtails are responsible for keeping mold at bay.
Mold is one of the biggest issues for terrariums as it loves to erupt in hot and humid conditions. It can quickly take over a terrarium unless taken care of.
Springtails will devour any kind of mold, spores, fungus, before it gets out of hand and causes serious problems.
One of the main reasons why isopods and springtails work so well together is because the ideal enviroment for isopods is also prone to mold growth.
Not only because of the warmth and humidity, but also because of the inate survival needs for isopods which are decaying matter and supplementary foods like a chunks of fruit or veggies (which are a mold magnet).
By having springtails in your terrarium you prevent mold from ever arising in the first place. They are especially important by themselves, but even more so with isopods in your terrarium.
Another neat part of a springtail’s diet is mites, gnats, and frass. So they take the fertilization one step further.
Fun fact: In terrariums, there is no means of sperm and spore transfer between plants and moss, as there is no flowing water or air. Springtails play a huge role in pollination as they are attracted to female moss pheromones and aid in sperm transfer. Making them perfect for mossariums or terrariums with moss.
Unlike Isopods which have been commercially bred, springtails are not as popular as a pet. Mainly because they’re incredibly tiny.
This makes things a bit easier, as you don’t have to overthink which species to get (there are over 100,000).
For a terrarium your two main choices are:
- Tropical White Springtails
- Temperate White Springtails
The difference between the two variants is very small and comes down to reproduction rate and temperature preference. Tropical White Springtails reproduce faster and prefer a hotter environment – which is why they’re more.
But really, you can’t go wrong with either.
You can also use colored springtails that come in black, pink, and silver, but quite frankly the white ones look better and are more reliable as they’ve been extensively used. So results may differ.
How to Get Started
Getting started with isopods and springtails is very simple. Once your terrarium is ready, and you’ve ordered and received a batch of isopods and springtails it just comes down to adding them to the terrarium by hand.
A small bit of supplementary isopod food (leaf litter, decaying wood, a small piece of fruit) can greatly benefit the rate at which they get accustomed to their new environment.
It’s as simple as introducing them to the terrarium and giving them some time to settle in.
I’ve been building terrariums for the past 7 years, and I can say with confidence that I owe my most successful builds to these little guys.
If you’re in doubt about getting a batch of springtails and isopods, think about the size of your terrarium.
If you have a small terrarium with only moss, or small plants, then you probably don’t need isopods, but springtails are a must.
If you have a closed terrarium with a few plants, or a big plant, then get both.
Good luck! And may your terrariums thrive!