Dairy Cow Isopods (Porcellio laevis) – Bioactive Pet Guide

Dairy Cow Isopods are arguably the go-to species for beginners and experienced keepers alike.

Long favored for their mottled black and white coloration and incredible bioactive potential – they’re a perfect blend of isopod aesthetics and functionality.

Honestly, there’s nothing like a tiny herd of Dairy Cow Isopods to lift your moo-d (sorry).

Find out how to care for this popular species and how to use them effectively in a bioactive setup.

Let’s dig in!

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Dairy Cow Isopods – An Overview

Porcellio laevis ‘Dairy Cow’ have a lot in common with their bovine namesakes.

They’re large, black and white all over, and they have quite the appetite! Which of course, we can put to great use as a cleanup crew in a terrarium or vivarium.

It’s no surprise that this versatile species has become one of the most common isopods in the industry. 

Though its distinctive coloration is just one expression of the “dalmation gene” which is the source of many colored isopod varieties.

This gene also gives rise to the popular “Dalmatian Isopod” which is essentially a Dairy Cow with much smaller spots. But, it’s also present in other isopod species, producing the likes of the yellow spotted Japanese Magic Potion Isopod (Armadillidium vulgare).

But, today we’re deep diving on the Dairy Cow Isopods, which are Porcellio laevis.

I mean, Porcellio laevis alone is so widespread across the world it’s known as a “cosmopolitan species” (which is a designation that I find hilarious).

This jet-setting isopod has traveled the world, and your home could be next on the itinerary!

Benefits of Dairy Cow Isopods

  • Size – Okay, so bigger isn’t always better, but sometimes you just need a big and strong isopod to do the job. Growing up to almost 2cm, it’s no wonder they take some feeding. 
  • Bioactivity – Dairy Cow Isopods are absolute machines when it comes to processing organic waste material and enriching soil. They’re fantastic substrate aerators too, so they have huge positive impact on the overall health of a terrarium or vivarium.
  • Activity – These energetic critters are not shy, and it’s easy to see them trawling their space for food throughout the day. Making them great as both an isopod pet and diligent custodian.
  • Easy & quick breeding – Exactly this… Make sure you definitely want a large herd of dairy cows, because that’s exactly what you’re going to get in a very short time.
  • Affordability and availability – Being such a foundational isopod species, Dairy Cow Isopods are widely available and remain very affordable.

Dairy Cow Isopods Care

Container

Dairy Cow Isopods are one of the larger species on the market, so you’re going to need a reasonably sized container to culture them.

A large Tupperware box with some is a common and affordable option to get started with. You’ll need to create some holes for ventilation if it doesn’t have any already. Just note, it’s always better to punch the holes in the sides rather than the lid to get some proper airflow going. 

To be able to achieve a minimum substrate depth and  have ventilation holes on the side that are out of reach from the isopods, you’ll need a box of about shoebox size or more.

Or, for a dedicated solution, there are some great acrylic invertebrate enclosures for sale on Etsy.

Large Flat Acrylic Invertebrate Enclosure
Large Flat Acrylic Invertebrate Enclosure with Magnetic Locking Top. (Image Credit: EZBotanicals on Etsy).

I like these because they have lots of tiny holes all around the top of the container for great airflow (without the risk of escapees).

Naturally, a dedicated vivarium ecosystem or large plant terrarium setup should have everything a Dairy Cow Isopod population needs to thrive – especially larger containers where they lots of space and nutrition to enjoy.

Substrate 

In a bioactive setup, I always run with a variation of the tried-and-tested ABG mix.

Being a well-balanced tropical blend with plenty of moisture retention, aeration and drainage. It has everything you need to support a healthy plant biome and all your microfauna custodians. 

Sphagnum moss and orchid bark help to keep your crustacean critters moist (they’ll die if they dry out!) and keeps the humidity high.

Also, I like to always include the addition of earthworm castings as organic nutrients for plants and microfauna.

When culturing in isolation, you can simplify the mix quite a lot. I like to use just coco coir, sphagnum moss and worm castings as the base (with plenty of leaf litter of course).

Temperature and Humidity 

Dairy Cow Isopods like a warm and humid environment, which is what makes them such a great fit for terrariums.

That being said, they’re actually a pretty hardy species.

Many keepers report culturing them at room temperature with no issues, but anything in the region of 70-85°F (21-30°C) works a treat.

Humidity is much more important, as isopods need a consistent level of moisture to survive.

Aim for as much humidity as possible, 80%+ if you can.

That being said, there’s to need to fret. If you have everything set up right in a suitably moist closed environment, using a moisture retentive substrate, and with enough warmth – you’ll be absolutely fine.

Food

These guys love to eat.

Seriously, the second you add any food to an enclosure, any Dairy Cow Isopods in the area will tumble over each other in an attempt to reach it first.

To be honest, they’re actually pretty bullish about it! 

As one of the more aggressive isopod species, they would almost certainly out-compete any smaller species if they were to share a tank (so it’s not recommended).

Due to the voracious appetite of the Dairy Cow Isopods, you’ll need to supply plenty of detritus (decaying organic material) ingredients and supplementary foods.

Mixed Oak Leaf Litter
Mixed Oak Leaf Litter like this is a great choice. (Image Credit: EZBotanicals on Etsy)

Also, extra protein supplementation is advised, as Dairy Cow Isopods can reportedly turn to cannibalism if their protein needs aren’t met! 

Food Requirements (+ Examples)

  • Detritus – A consistent supply of leaf litter and decaying softwoods is essential to keep the isopod population ticking over. Cork bark is an excellent and affordable choice that isopods seem to love.
  • Vegetable – Pretty much any vegetable scraps seem to be well received, though sweet potato and mushrooms are reported to be their favorites.
  • Protein – Fish flakes/pellets are a convenient choice for extra protein. Though the natural size of the Dairy Cow Isopods means you can actually feed them larger protein sources like dried shrimp.
  • Calcium – Isopods like the Dairy Cows need extra calcium to support the development of their carapace. Crushed eggshells or cuttlefish bones are both great sources that you can add in small amounts.
  • Dedicated isopod food – These proprietary blends are optimized for isopod health, and are by far the most convinient way to address your feeding needs. Check out this Isopod Super-Food Blend from the team at Rubber Ducky Isopods.

Just take care not to add too much food at once. Little and often is best, or you risk an overgrowth of mold and an unwelcome fungus gnat party.

> See my Guide to Isopod Foods for more help with nutrition.

How to Breed Dairy Cow Isopods

To be honest, breeding Dairy Cow Isopods isn’t much different to normal isopod care.

The more humidity, moisture and warmth you can provide (within the safe range of course), the more likely they are to breed.

That being said, they are prolific breeders.

You really don’t have to worry much about helping this process along. After just a few weeks of starting a new isopod colony, you can expect to see some babies!

Where to Find Dairy Cow Isopods for Sale?

As one of the most popular isopod species on the market, Dairy Cow Isopods are readily available online.

Personally, I recommend the team over at Rubber Ducky Isopods.

Image Credit: Rubberduckyisopods.com

Along with your isopod starter culture in peat moss, you’ll get some sprinkled oak leaf and isopod superfood to get you and your new friends started!

> See the Dairy Cow Isopods here.

Over to You

Do you keep Dairy Cow Isopods and have some care secrets to share?

Let me know in the comments.

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