Isopod, Pillbug, Sow Bug, Woodlouse Rearing 

Breeding Instructions Click images to enlarge

Difficulty level - Easy

Time Table - 2 months from birth to adult crustacean depending on temperature

Food - They eat the leaf litter and fish food

Water - Water needs are met from moisture in the soil.

Temperature - 60 - 70F works best. Lower temperatures slow down the cycle.

Life Span - Average 2 years but can be up to 5 years

Rearing Habitat Supplies

Plastic container with lid. I used a Sterlite 20 quart container.

Small piece of insect screen to provide minimal air circulation. You may choose instead to drill some small holes in the lid.

Leaf litter from the collection site.

Enough humus to cover the bottom of your colony at least 1 inch thick.

A piece of wood or bark.

Spray bottle.

Fish food.

Rearing Habitat Assembly

Drill holes in the lid or cut a small section of the lid out and glue a piece of screen in its place. I drilled holes in the lid because they need to stay damp. If the colony becomes over crowded, gasses can build up and kill the isopods.

Add the Substrate

First add at least one inch of humus from the area you collected the isopods.  

Top that with 1/2 to 1 inch of leaf  litter, old bark, and other debris from the collection site.

Lay a large piece of bark or wood on top of that and you have a colony

Add Food

Sprinkle some fish food flakes on the leaf litter and you have a meal fit for a roly-poly. They will eat the leaf litter and the fish food. 


Spray With Water Bottle

The soil needs to be moist, but not soggy. Periodic (maybe daily) misting of  the colony will help increase humidity. Do not allow the soil to dry out or the isopods will die. Too much spraying can lead to mold problems.


Add Pillbugs

Add the pillbugs/sowbugs and let them grow.


The Cycle

If you have both sexes, isopods will reproduce quickly. Eggs and embryos are stored in the female's brood pouch. The immature isopods are small and may be buried in the soil underneath the bark or leaf litter.



If you have many isopods in the container, waste gases may become strong and deadly to the isopods. The soil will need to be replaced. Immature isopods are small and may be difficult to separate from the soil. Most of the little isopods will be on the piece of bark or wood. Remove uneaten food and mold as soon as possible.



The larger species of isopods can be handled and observed easily in one's hand. Gently pick them up between your thumb and forefinger, or scoop with a spoon to separate them from the soil. They are fast walkers and can withstand short drops. Like all arthropods, handling while the animal is molting is discouraged. Immature stages may be more fragile than adults.

To prevent mold in the enclosure remove and replace moldy food or pieces of bark, reduce misting, and increase ventilation in lid. If problem persists, create a new clean set-up and follow previous precautions from the beginning.


Special Considerations
Do not mix different species of isopods (i.e. rolly pollies or sowbugs) in the same container.


Facts and Info

Nutritional Content

For more see  Nutritional Values


 Isopods are crustaceans, and as such provide a variety of nutrients not found in insects.

They will eat anything, so by feeding them a rich and varied diet you are improving their value as food items for your pets. They can be "gut loaded" with additives in the substrate to enhance their nutritional value.

They do contain quite a bit of chitin, so are not suitable as the sole item in a diet.

Stage Time (affected by temperature, humidity and food)
Egg 3 - 7 weeks eggs hatch in pouch 
Hatchling Young leave pouch in another 6-8 weeks. 
Adult Adults live 2-5 years
Although their common names contain the word “bug,” sowbugs and pillbugs are not really bugs. They’re crustaceans, mostly aquatic invertebrates, such as the crab, lobster, crayfish and barnacle. Crustaceans breathe through gills so they are restricted to areas with high humidity. They have a hard exoskeleton and jointed appendages. Sowbugs and pillbugs are in the order Isopoda. They are technically termed isopods, which means “the legs are alike.” Sowbugs and pillbugs are found in most regions of the world, and are widespread throughout North America.



Both sowbugs and pillbugs mate throughout the year, with most activity in the spring.

They are easy to breed.

On the underside between the second and fifth pair of legs, females have leaf-like growths at the base of some legs known as a marsupium or brood pouch. These brood pouches hold up to 100 developing eggs and embryos.

Two to three broods consisting of 30-40 young are incubated in the brood pouch. Eggs hatch in three to seven weeks and the young are white-colored. They remain in the brood pouch for six to eight weeks until they are able to take care of themselves. There may be one to two generations per year, with individuals living up to three years depending on weather conditions.


The first two appendages on the male abdomen are modified as elongated copulatory organs.



Interesting Behaviors

Some species roll up into a ball when disturbed. Juveniles look like adults and are soon liberated from the brood pouch. Molting is in two stages. First the back half molts, then two to three days later, the front half molts. Coloration of both halves may be different at this time.


Sowbugs and pillbugs, are cold-blooded. Their body temperature is regulated by the temperature of their environment.


Each family has a chemical "badge" which distinguishes it from the rest of the population (Linsenmair 1984).


Females often carry sperm from more than one male. Therefore broods of one female can be multi-paternal (Sassaman 1978).


Some species reproduce parthenogenically. Eggs develop without the benefit of fertilization  (Scarab Crawford)



Sowbugs and pillbugs are oval or slightly elongated with a flattened body and up to 3/4 inch long. They are wingless, brownish or slate gray, and possess well-developed eyes, seven pairs of legs and overlapping "armored" plates that make them look like little armadillos. Sowbugs have two tail-like structures on the rear end. Pillbugs are similar, except they lack the tail-like appendages and can roll up into a tight ball.


Myths, Legends, and Folklore

In some parts of the world, it is believed that eating pillbugs can help ease upset stomachs.  Although not proven, this might be true because pillbug shells are high in calcium carbonate.

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