The Clean Up Crew

The “clean-up crew” in a terrarium consists of various small invertebrates and microorganisms that play a crucial role in maintaining the health and cleanliness of the ecosystem. These organisms help decompose organic matter, break down waste, and prevent the buildup of harmful substances, thus contributing to a balanced and self-sustaining environment.

Key Members of the Clean-Up Crew

Isopods (Woodlice or Pill Bugs). Isopods are detritivores, meaning they feed on dead organic material, including decaying leaves, wood, and animal waste. This help break down and recycle organic matter, enriching the substrate with nutrients that promote plant growth.

Springtails these tiny, wingless insects are also detritivores, consuming fungal spores, mold, and decaying plant matter. They help control mold and fungal growth, keeping the terrarium substrate clean and healthy.

Earthworms consume decaying organic matter and help aerate the soil by tunnelling through it. They improve soil structure and nutrient cycling, which supports healthy plant growth.

Nematodes these microscopic worms feed on organic matter, bacteria, and fungi. Nematodes help break down organic material and control pest populations by preying on harmful insect larvae.

Microfauna (Bacteria and Fungi). Microorganisms like bacteria and fungi decompose organic material, breaking it down into simpler compounds.

Benefit: They are essential for nutrient cycling and maintaining soil health.

Benefits of a Clean-Up Crew

Waste Decomposition Clean-up crew organisms break down animal waste, dead plant material, and uneaten food, converting it into nutrient-rich soil. This process helps keep the terrarium clean and reduces the risk of harmful bacteria buildup.

Nutrient Cycling. By decomposing organic matter, the clean-up crew recycles nutrients, making them available for plants. This supports healthy plant growth and helps maintain a balanced ecosystem.

Pest Control Some members of the clean-up crew, like springtails, help control mold and fungal growth, while others, like nematodes, can reduce pest populations by feeding on harmful insect larvae.

Soil Aeration Organisms such as earthworms and isopods help aerate the soil by moving through it, improving water infiltration and root growth.

Maintenance Reduction with a functional clean-up crew, the need for manual cleaning and maintenance is significantly reduced. This makes the terrarium more self-sustaining and less labour-intensive to care for.

When Setting Up a Clean-Up Crew in Your Terrarium choose the right substrate. Use a substrate that supports the needs of the clean-up crew, such as a mix of organic soil, coconut coir, leaf litter, and decomposed wood.

Introduce the Clean-Up Crew add a variety of clean-up crew organisms to your terrarium. You can purchase these from specialty pet stores or online suppliers.

Ensure there is enough organic matter (like leaf litter and decaying wood) in the terrarium to provide food for the clean-up crew.

Maintain Proper Conditions keep the substrate moist but not waterlogged to support the clean-up crew’s activities. Ensure the terrarium has the appropriate temperature and humidity levels for both the primary inhabitants and the clean-up crew.

Monitor and Adjust regularly check the health and activity of the clean-up crew. If necessary, add more organisms to maintain a balanced ecosystem.


The clean-up crew is an essential component of a healthy terrarium ecosystem. By decomposing organic matter, recycling nutrients, and controlling pests, these small but vital organisms help maintain a clean and balanced environment. Incorporating a diverse clean-up crew into your terrarium setup reduces the need for manual maintenance and supports the well-being of both plants and animals.