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Bugs that Clean Your Terrarium for You

If you have a tropical species that can handle a bit of humidity there are a few bugs that can help with your cleaning tasks from day to day. Here are some different species that can serve as your cleanup crew.

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Things To Consider

If you are going to house bugs with your geckos you need to prepare your cage a certain way to keep the bugs successfully. For these three species I recommend using a drainage layer of feather lite or something similar. Then, I usually lay down a layer of window screen to keep soil from seeping through. Finally I use a mixture of coco bedding and cypress mulch. On top of the soil I usually lay down dried organic leaf litter. This holds humidity and gives bugs a place to hide.

All of these concepts are the basic building blocks of terrariums. If you need a starter course in terrarium design consider reading How to Build a Naturalistic Terrarium.

Remember that all insects should be captive bred. Do research before considering harvesting wild insects. Many of these may carry pesticides, fertilizers, and other contaminants they encounter in the wild, in addition to possible parasites. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but know what you’re getting into. Starter generations of all of these insects were wild at some time.

Millipedes

Before 2008 we commonly saw giant African millepedes on the market for $10-$15 each. These massive arthropods were recommended as a cage cleaning companion for many Rhacodactylus species. They never bothered the gecko, and even ate leftover crested gecko meal replacement when given the chance.

Now that African millepedes are banned from importation, due to a mite they carried that threatened cotton crops, there are a few alternatives. It is pretty easy to find millipedes native to the United States for sale on the reptile market. I house Florida Ivory Millipedes (Chicobolus spinigerus) with my Rhacodactylus.

The only downside to keeping these with your gecko is they will dig and disrupt smaller features of a terrarium. They dig, burrow, leave tunnels, lay poop “balls”, and are the largest insect species I am recommending you keep with your gecko.

Isopods

There are many different isopods on the market. Many people culture these small calciu- rich insects for the amphibian hobby. I was originally introduced to them when I started keeping poison dart frogs.

I currently keep orange isopods as well as dwarf gray isopods. My cat geckos love to snack on these when they are out and about, so for geckos that eat these you may need to replenish the supply inside the tank from time to time.

All isopods require humidity to breath through their gill-like structures. Without humidity these won’t make it very far.

My isopod colonies also house temperate springtails. These consist of a plastic shoe box with coco bedding and damp cardboard covering the surface layer. They are fed leftover crested gecko diet and vegetable matter. Culturing these guys has been pretty enjoyable!

Springtails

There are two varieties of springtails I am familiar with, also through the dart frog hobby. I keep tropical springtails and temperate springtails.

If you’re looking for a good place to learn the basics I highly recommend Josh’s Frog care sheet MICROFAUNA, PART I.

These are the only insects I’ve had an issue with. Sometimes in humid terrariums they “bloom”, or produce in large numbers. Unlike millipedes you cannot remove them by hand, and unlike isopods, most geckos don’t pay attention to them. They may be eaten by micro geckos, if you keep any that require a temperate environment.

I imagine over time as food becomes more scarce you’ll see springtails die off. There is no harm in this. To remove some to start a new culture you may place a piece of fruit in the cage and collect them around and on the fruit.

General Maintenance

For cages where I do not feed crested gecko diet I often drop in a piece of vegetable matter every two weeks or so. This provides the insect life something to eat besides decaying leaf matter and gecko poop.

Otherwise most of these are species you “set and forget”. That’s the beauty of them. Be careful though, I’ve gained as much interest in my insect colonies as some of my geckos. We live in a hobby fueled by addiction; insects can often become part of that mix.

What insects do you keep with your geckos to help make your job easier?

What do you think?

Written by Matthew

I've been keeping odd pets since I was 14, keeping and breeding a variety of species from viper geckos to poison dart frogs. Now living in Georgia, working in online advertising.

22 Comments

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  1. @Tamara: Great question. This works well for any gecko that has a humid vivarium with a few inches of bedding for the microfauna to thrive.

  2. Have you ever had anything ever try to eat the Florida Ivory Millipedes? How did it turn out? Also do they breed in the cage or do you have a seperate container just for that? Do the mites hard the animals, and how do you get rid of them? Lastly do they give live birth or lay eggs?

  3. Is a planted Viv required for springtails/Isopods? If I provide maybe some coffe grounds and vegetables for them to eat in addition to my cresties waste, can I have a clean up crew in my terrarium with artificial plants?

  4. I tried putting some isopods to help clean up my leopard gecko’s terrarium but as soon as I put them in she hunted them down and ate them.

  5. Isopods are difficult for a leopard gecko (besides their becoming prey) because the isopods require moist substrate and humidity isn’t good for leopard geckos. I use dermastid beetles and their larvae in the leopard gecko tank that has bioactive substrate. This works well and the leos don’t seem to want to eat them.

  6. What about worms for cresties will they work?
    Also how do u make sure they don’t over populate??

  7. I imagine you mean worms to use as terrarium cleaners. I don’t know what kind of worms you mean, but I would think any type would be OK. If they overpopulate, there won’t be enough food for them and some will die off. Go for it!

  8. the worm poop will fertilize the plants, if you have them. Otherwise, it’s just like dirt and if you have a dirt substrate (which you’ll need for the worms) it just becomes part of that.

  9. hey guys, I was wondering if there was any bug or critters that clean a terrium pond. I have creasted gecko in bio active setups. isopods in he soil. the pond is pretty small and was wondering I I could put something in there

  10. I was wondering if anyone has thoughts on housing a blue death feigning beetle with a leopard gecko? As they’re scavengers, he’d eat the dead crickets the gecko didn’t catch. They use the same habitat requirements. And I think he’s much too big for the gecko to attempt to eat. Thoughts?

  11. It depends on what your substrate is. My leopard geckos are on tile, so that probably wouldn’t be appropriate for the beetle. I had some leopard geckos on coco fiber and I was considering it. You may have to provide some additional veggie scraps for the beetles. If you have a naturalistic viv that could be a good possibility. I also use dermastid beetles as scavengers in the more arid enclosures.

  12. I’ve had my tank planted for a little over a month. Overtime I started seeing these little black flies that behave like fruit flies. After doing some research, I have come to a conclusion that these are Fungus Gnats. I will take out the substrate (eco earth and leaf litter). What could I do to prevent them from coming back?

  13. I don’t think there is much you can do. You could try putting a shallow bowl of vinegar either in the enclosure (it shouldn’t harm the gecko) or right outside if you want to reduce them in your home. I don’t think it’s the end of the world to have various creatures in the viv. I don’t think they’ll hurt anything, but I have no experience with them.

  14. I’m just wondering if you can use earthworms as cleaners, or is that bad for your crested gecko habitat

  15. I would guess that if you could supply enough vegetable matter for them to eat as well it might work, though you should check to be sure that earthworms eat feces and not just vegetable matter.

  16. Can springtails be used for a blue tongue skink? Skinks eat vegetables and fruit (so I don’t know how I’d feed them without my lizard eating it). They are also burrowing ground dwellers, would springtails irritate them? Thanks!

  17. I’m pretty sure springtails are way too small for the skink to even notice them. I don’t feed the springtails in my enclosures any fruits or veggies. They seem to do fine with the gecko droppings. Also, if you just put a few small bits of veggies on the substrate the skink will probably not notice them but they will be a good size for the springtails.

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