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Optimal Isopod Breeding

I am currently breeding wild caught isopods, pillbugs and sowbugs living together in a fairly large sterilite bin. They have mostly ecoearth as a substrate and also some forest moss and pieces of wood and misc. organic material. I mist them every other day, though I think I should everyday. Most of them are young white ones, mostly from manual sorting through a tall industrial sieve, which works quite well but gets tedious and starts hurting my eyes and neck over time. Sieving them helps to prevent other soil-dwelling arthropods (especially mites) from invading their culture. My bin remains at around 90% humidity with a tiny bit of ventilation, but I focus more on moistening the soil, so sometimes I pour water into the soil. Regarding the environmental conditions, I think the soil being light and fluffy is important for these arthropods, and coconut fiber also gives a plentiful source of food for the pillbugs, so that's why I did ecoearth. I added moss as an extra addition and to retain some moisture. I tried using dirt breeding pillbugs and camel crickets, and it of course was very packed and dried out easily, though I never poured water into the soil and instead misted it occasionally. That operation was finally scrapped once a black field cricket ate literally everything remaining there, it eventually died from pesticides or some virus, though I am more likely to think it was pesticides from the potatoes I fed it. I digress.

So I have some questions about the optimum environment for breeding isopods, including sowbugs, pillbugs, and common striped woodlice. More important questions will have emboldened numbers.

1. Should I contain the different species all in one big bin? Should I keep pillbugs and sowbugs in the same bin?

  1. What should I do if mites arise? I tried adding a cheap predatory mite when the bin was smaller, but I don't know if it helped much; those were meant to eat thrips and specific mites. I hear springtails like well with isopods, but somewhere else I heard springtails could eat mites. Are there passive beneficial insects that could live with the isopods but eat mites?

  2. Can isopods handle dense populations? I see they like living in small 'families' in the wild, so it would make some sense to me.

  3. Is it a problem some isopods will be under the fluffy coconut fiber soil? Will they be able to resurface? It would be a pain to have to manually keep them all above the substrate.

5. In general, are pillbugs practical to scale up to larger sized cultures? I hear they can take 3-5 months to achieve breeding age (that would be as long if not longer than Madagascan hissers); are there any differences between age development for pillbugs vs sowbugs vs common striped woodlice, or which one would be more practical and fast to reproduce and farm? I assume pillbugs take longer.

  1. Should I bother breeding common striped woodlice? These ones are rarer (only in some forested areas where they will be common) and mostly found in forests, while sowbugs and pillbugs are found all over but generally seem mutually exclusive. They appear much softer, with longer legs and are more active and climb up things more than standard sowbugs.

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  • Hi richard22, - Just to address wood lice .... maybe you’d like to try rearing them on soy protein, cornstarch, alpha cellulose , vegetable oil and some vitamins. Lardies, Carter and Bozinovic in (2003) reported using these in “DIetary effects on life history traits in a terrestrial isopod ....”

    On high protein (50% soy protein) the offspring were shorter and they were incubated inside their mother for an average of 23.7 days. On high carbohydrate (50% cornstarch) the offspring were bigger and they were incubated inside their mother for an average of 21 days. When fed equal ratios (27.5% each) of soy protein and cornstarch the offspring were a tiny bit longer than on high carbohydrate diet and they were incubated inside their mother 23.4 days.

    The high protein diet resulted in more offspring & the high carbohydrate diet resulted in the relatively least amount of offspring. In terms of growth although mothers fed high protein had smaller offspring their rate of growth was greater; whereas progeny from equal protein & carbohydrate fed mothers were less (& larger after incubation) their rate of growth was slower

  • So would that be possible with tofu drizzled with vegetable oil instead of carrots? Could I just put some pieces on the substrate and let it sit there, I think the spider/white mites would infest it like they sometimes do the carrots and lesser for the potatoes. What could I do to make the mites stay away from the food but the pillbugs still okay with it? I guess I should buy predatory mites for that issue, they have to have high humidity so I can’t desiccate to kill the mites. Would adding springtails be a beneficial move? I have some white ones and some big wild caught black ones about the size of a grain weevil. I don’t think they would eat the mites though, they tend to just eat mold and fungi.

    Would there be any real reason to have oil in their diet other than for fat? Finally, how could I implement vitamins, some sort of powder on the tofu or wood, or something else? So many questions I admit it is quite a lot to process, mainly the tofu and mite related questions are higher in priority for me.

  • If you can’t pull up the cited wood lice report with your search engine let me know.

    They made a undercoat of plaster of Paris to put the food on. Report also gives their light:dark cycle (14 hrs. of light , then 10 hrs. dark) + temperature (which you’d obviously not as tightly control for economic scale).

    Forget tofu drizzled wiith oil concept & figure that cited artificial diet(s) was expressly about ingredients, not pieces of food.

    I believe team mixed their ingredients together & added a few powdered vitamins (probably the B group; quite important for artificial bug diets).

    Without the wood lice food itself being vegetative maybe you won’t get mites attracted to the habitat. My guess is the same diet may (?) work somewhat for your other kinds of isopods & resolve some issues you originally posted about.

    Yes, the oil is a nutritional ingredient to include (also help bind the ingredients).

    Available moisture would be from water since would poorly mix with the oil ingredient.

    Alpha cellullose is kind of the ingredient binder that also keeps blend from being caked together in clumps (the fancier processed version is in a lot of human foods & capsules).

    I think the diet might be realistically cheaper than a store bought vegetation diet. Soy & oil in USA anyway are inexpensive & cellulose is mostly commercialized as a byproduct of the paper (wood) industry.

  • Could the soy just be soy protein powder/isolate? That could be bought locally or cheaply off Amazon, and should I bother buying a-cellulose when I can get a pound of cellulose (dietary fiber or microcrystalline) for 14$? Alpha-cellulose seems rarer. Would a full B complex vitamin suffice, or would it be overkill (90 capsules for ~15$: https://www.amazon.com/Super-Complex-Vitamins-Supplement-Vegetarian/dp/B07414752B)

    The article you refer to requires a subscription on springer to access, and that is the only one I can see. I’d prefer not having to sign up for a website and pay a subscription to download one article for just a little bit of extra reference, so do you know the approximate ratios of the ingredients? I’d assume it would be mostly soy protein, a little cellulose or alpha-cellulose, and some vegetable oil until it becomes a paste I could smear on paper or the rotting material they eat already. At the moment there are probably hundreds of babies and most were manually sorted, some older ones are slowly dying off, and the common striped woodlice aren’t doing very well and probably number 1-3 or so. I’d rather dabble with pillbugs and standard woodlice anyway, more calcium and maybe more standard to breed.

  • I pulled up a free full text of the article using Bing search engine. 3rd entry down leading off witty “(PDF) Dietary .....” opens a link. Scroll down a bit and the full text is given.

    My thinking is: yes a soy protein powder + a cheap (not lab supply or super refined human product) of cellulose would be fine.

    I don’t have time now to parse the vitamins & think cited report was not specific., yet It shouldn’t be a megadose load of every vitamin/mineral known.. A lot of old lab reared bugs did better when niacin B3 was supplemented, which is why I highlighted B vitamin supplementation.

  • edited August 1

    Search Forum’s “Locust with diarrhea” for Aug 2016 comment to get a 1961(?) bug lab feed supplement formula. The source used biotin, choline, niacin (“nicotinic acid”), riboflavin, thiamine, folic acid, calcium pantothenate, inositol, pyridoxine & p-aminobenzoic acid. You can see some minerals that would be included: like potassium, calcium, magnesium & some trace minerals (ex: iron, copper, etc).

  • How could I incorporate multiple distinct vitamins and minerals like that? Are you saying to make my own formula to supplement in the soy paste, or something else (is there any formula brand that would work, is that what you’re referring to), it’s too much for me to buy raw powder form of all that or more than maybe 3. I don’t know where to look for those sorts of vitamins and minerals, in multivitamin form, without overdoing it with a super complex vitamin either. Are there any important vitamins worth supplementing that would make growth and breeding better other than specifically niacin, because all that is getting a bit too much. I wonder how I would proportion the amount of niacin (etc.) within the soy paste, how much should be in a ‘serving’ of paste for the pillbugs, seems pretty convoluted at this point, does it matter how much of the vitamins I’d put in the paste?

  • Look for a human multi-vitamin with as many of the vitamins explicitly named; any common B vitamin mix will have B3 (niacin/nicotinic acid). Then make it a powdered ingredient & use that powdered vitamin mixed into everything. Only put in the small percentage of your vitamin as part of total ingredients at the % which the cited researchers charted out in their ingredients break down for the different diets they tested. Bugs don’t need megavitamin doses & formulating exact ratios of different vitamins shouldn’t matter to you. In laboratory bug rearing they get into micro measurements & probably a lot of different proportions were concocted by now.

  • I briefly tried the soy protein paste with vegetable oil in the enclosure, and I can say it became disgusting AND attracted grain mites more than the carrots or potatoes. The smell was absolutely foul, something along the lines of briny diarrhea. The texture was like moist rotting cheese, and it stunk up the entire enclosure to a smell worse than any dead insect. I could always try a formulated isopod supplement powder so it isn’t disgusting but still will give good protein. Or maybe I could just try the dry powder possibly mixed in with the cellulose and vitamin B supplement, but it still probably would attract grain mites.

    I am thinking about breeding the larger Spanish sowbugs (P. Sevilla, P. Hoffmenseggi, P. Laevis, P. Dilatatus, etc.) in smaller containers in the same way, but I hear they need good ventilation AND high humidity and good moisture. I don’t know how to do that since if I provide good ventilation the moisture escapes. Currently I have a few small holes in my sterilite bin and they’re doing fine, I don’t know why they would need good ventilation if tiny ventilation would still provide them air.

  • @Richard22 one option would be to set your paste with a hydrocolloid like agar or carageenan into a block to contain it and perhaps stabilize somewhat. However if you do try this route you'll need to add a preservative to slow mold grown and make sure the enclosure is screened because flies love to lay eggs / grow maggots in these sort of food blocks. If there is other moisture available, a dry feed blend may work just fine

  • I’ll try that, without carrageenan since it is a possible carcinogen and it might be bad to feed your livestock. I could use a mold inhibitor oil and maybe some other preservatives or I just feed them dry food. I’ll mix wheat germ, Good Bug Diet powder, fish flakes, and/or with the soy protein into a powder and see if the mites don’t infest it.

  • The fish flakes worked well and were eaten pretty fast, the soy protein powder clumped up with moisture and stuck around. Wheat germ is vulnerable to the mites, and I don’t know about the Good Bug Diet since it has no ingredient list, possibly a good supplement with the fish flakes. I feel like fish flakes or the custom formula block will work for all my isopod endeavors, I’ll see how well it works with some more commonly desired isopods, like Porcellio Sevilla or P. Laevis, some need drier environments with wet hides and high ventilation, sounds easy enough. If there are any other considerations or things I should know regarding the breeding of isopods, including large Spanish Isopods, do elaborate.

    I feel like I know enough at this point to breed all sorts or isopods some for eating and some possibly for selling (P. Hoffmenseggi comes to mind, 7$ each), the Spanish ones will need less humid and wet substrate with a large netting in the lid and a moisture gradient. Vulgare pillbugs might be better for eating since they’re about 4x more mass over my typical sowbugs, but I bet the larger ones are around that weight but you’d be better off selling them.

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