Help Your Children Build a Roly-Poly Terrarium

As a parent, your child’s fascination with creepy crawlies will boggle your mind. Before you give in to their pleas for an ant farm, consider helping them build a roly-poly terrarium as an alternative.

A roly-poly terrarium has several advantages over an ant farm. The first is that a roly-poly terrarium is easier to maintain than an ant farm. Unlike an ant farm for which you have to drop in food every day, everything your roly-poly colony needs to eat is already growing inside.

The main reason to make a roly-poly terrarium instead of an ant farm for your children is that your roly-polies are less likely to escape. One good tumble from an ant farm means that you’re checking between your sheets before you crawl into bed at night. A roly-poly terrarium not only contains bugs too large to squeeze through the air holes, but the lid will fit tightly enough to prevent spills in case of a spill. Should your roly-polies somehow get out, they are much easier than ants to scoop up and put back where they belong. Besides, no one has ever called an exterminator to get rid of a roly-poly infestation!

The first step to building a roly-poly terrarium is to find the right container. I recommend the plastic hamster traveling cages you can buy at any pet store. They can adequately hold enough soil for plants and space under rocks. The lids are detachable but secured firmly, and already have built-in air holes and handles for easy carrying. The best part is that they are perfectly see-through, so you can watch your roly-polies without removing the lid.

Once you have your container, you need to put about 2 inches of dirt on the bottom. Plants go in next, as roly-polies eat dead plant matter and often live plants in moist conditions. I recommend the broad-leafed plantain. They grow everywhere, including compacted soil and are nearly impossible to kill. Plus, roly-polies seem to love eating the leaves. (See picture.) Dig up the weeds and plant them in your terrarium dirt like you’d plant anything else.

The rest of the terrarium aesthetics are up to you and your child. A roly-poly colony needs lots of places to hide under, so consider using rocks from your garden, pieces of wood, or decorative brick chips.

To complete your roly-poly terrarium, you need roly-polies. There are five different species of woodlouse (the technical term for “roly-poly”), so you want to make sure the bugs you collect are all the same species. (See picture.)

To care for your roly-poly terrarium, you’ll need to keep it very moist by watering the soil or using a spray bottle to mist inside. Should a plant die or be eaten completely, you’ll need to replace it. Other than that, your roly-poly terrarium is completely self sufficient.

You might want to know what to expect from your roly-poly terrarium. One thing to be aware of is that roly-polies shed their shells, half at a time. If you see these empty whitish shells in your roly-poly terrarium, don’t panic. Your roly-polies are not killing and eating each other, but rather growing big and healthy under your minimal care. Another thing to be aware of is that your roly-polies will reproduce. The mother roly-poly carries the eggs in a sac on her lower belly, and when the eggs hatch, it looks like the roly-poly is giving birth! Don’t be alarmed-it’s actually pretty cool. And your kids will love it.

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