Can I Release My Isopods Outside?
A conundrum that will eventually come up is that isopods are simply too prolific, and now there are too many! You can’t keep putting them in bigger and bigger setups, there is only so much space in the world. What is to be done with all these little buggers?!
The first option that comes to mind is to release them outside, because somewhere along the line, that’s where they came from, right? Well, releasing animals into the environment brings up a host of issues. Most isopods in the hobby are exotic non-native species that have been imported, so once released would die a slow, (or, sometimes quick in bad weather) painful death. First examples that come to mind are the Cubaris species. While other isopods aren’t quite this exotic, they still won’t readily adapt to any environment. Many species of isopods need specific conditions or dietary sources to thrive, so while releasing them may seem like a kindness, it’s just like flopping a fish on dry land and saying, “be free!”. Difference here is, we don’t see them die.
In the case that the isopods can and do survive in the environment released, this raises more ethical questions. Adding any animal to the environment affects the local ecosystem. The released isopods will compete with native isopods, to the point of pushing them out of the system if they are too successful. Think of it this way: you have a bowl of small blue balls. You dump in some large red balls. The red balls are bigger and cover the blue balls completely, so they don’t get any light and shrink up and are forgotten. In this example, the nonnative animals are the red, native the blue. Florida is a prime example of releasing pets gone wrong; because of people releasing their animals they now have a whole host of environmental problems. Most roaches are illegal to own in Florida because the environment is so welcoming that many roach species pose an invasive threat. A few years ago, someone release a pair of giant African land snails, who then procreated recklessly and then started eating stucco houses. Now NOBODY can own giant land snails in the US :’( . Releasing animals is a dream crusher for the rest of us.
“Okay, I understand not releasing exotic isopods. But my isopods were collected from outside! Can’t I just put them back where I found them?” The interesting part about this question, especially if the keeper lives in the US, is that most isopod species readily collected in the US are not native species. Isopods found in America like pruinosus, scaber, laevis, vulgare, and nasatum were all introduced a couple hundred years ago when the Americas were being colonized and are classified as naturalized species. The theory is that plants and soil were brought over to create farmland, and isopods were clinging to roots and dirt and just spread out from there. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but this may have caused many native isopod species in America to be pushed out or even extinct, we’ll never exactly know. There are some native species of isopod that can still be found, most seem to be small dwarf species, prime examples being Atlantoscia floridana and Rhyscotus texensis. Further releasing naturalized species to the environment will just cause a massive boost in population making life more difficult for animals that are native. The USDA has classified isopods as a plant pest so releasing them outside is considered a crime.
All right, now let’s say you’re not in America, you’re somewhere in Europe. Say, Britain. Isopods like scaber, vulgare, nasatum, and laevis are native here. They were collected from outside! They can totally just be dumped in the backyard, right? The answer, unfortunately, is still no. While there are captive breeding programs for animals (especially endangered ones) these programs are closely monitored under specific conditions. Animals are tested to make sure that they are healthy prior to their release outside. Captive animals, being kept in small, close quarters present a risk of developing illness or disease that can then be spread to native populations. While this isn’t illegal in Europe, (there aren’t any laws surrounding the release of invertebrates) it is strongly frowned upon and considered highly unethical.
So, what CAN be done with all these damn things? The first option is that they can be given away or resold, but this is a bit complicated with Facebook’s newly enforced terms of no animal exchanges. Any group encouraging the sale (or even rehome) of animals is at risk of being shut down, so other websites need to be utilized. Local buy and sell pages typically allow the sale of animals, such as Kijiji and Craigslist, I’m sure Europe has something but I’m not familiar with what is used. If you’re willing to ship, global websites allow sale of animals such as eBay, FaunaClassifieds, Arachnoboards, MorphMarket, and many others. Another option is to even contact local pet stores directly to unload animals.
Don’t want to deal with selling isopods and people? No problem! Isopods are a nutritious food source for many animals. Got a gecko? Fill that bowl up with isopods, watch their pupils dilate and the tiny dinosaur go to town. Isopods don’t even need to be dusted in calcium since they are already filled with calcium. Rodents like mice, rats, and even hedgehogs are partially insectivorous and will love a crustacean snack (watching them eat isopods is kind of gross though). Throw a handful of isopods in front of chickens and realize how closely related to dinosaurs they really are!
Don’t want to sentence your isopods to death by predator? That’s ok, we get it, we have a weird affection for these little land crabs too. Isopods can be killed by deep freezing them for 24 hours. This is considered a gentle death by most. There is some debate as to whether animals feel pain from freezing (mammals certainly do), so isopods can be placed in an airtight container for 1-3 days for death by carbon dioxide. The substrate should still be either frozen or microwaved to kill any potential pathogens before it is disposed of in the backyard or trash, per USDA recommendations.
Hopefully, this article explains the necessity of properly disposing of isopods. There are many ramifications to release that don’t immediately come to mind, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any options.