Soil Habitats Organism Care

Soil Habitats

Earthworms, pill bugs, and sow bugs are an essential part of this unit. Careful planning and scheduling is the best way to ensure success and avoid the extra expense and disappointment of a die-off.
Download a complete guide to caring for these living organisms, including information on ordering the organisms.

Tips for Success

  • Order the organisms 4 weeks before students begin to work with them.
  • Plan to teach the unit when temperatures are above freezing and below 90°F. Organisms cannot be shipped during extreme temperatures.
  • Alert the office staff at your school that the organisms should be delivered to your classroom as soon as they arrive.
  • Begin care as soon as the organisms arrive. Mist organisms with water and store container in a cool, dark place. Do not let them sit in the shipping containers unattended.
  • Alert custodians at your school to the presence of live organisms in your classroom, and ask them to avoid using insecticides and cleaning agents that may be harmful to the organisms.
  • Keep terrariums out of direct sunlight.
  • Keep earthworms and their surroundings moist at all times. Keep isopods (pill bugs and sow bugs) on moist paper or leaves at all times.
  • Do not overwater terrariums or overfeed organisms.
  • Do not use potting soil in terrariums. It contains salts and other toxins that can harm the organisms.
  • Make a plan for holidays or vacations longer than several days. This is especially important in severe climates where a school’s heat or air conditioning may be turned off during extended breaks. If this is the case, take the organisms and terrariums home during the break.
  • Make a plan for what to do with the organisms after you finish the unit. Do not release any organism into your local environment or wild ecosystems. For suggestions, see page C42 of the Care of Living Materials section
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Organism Care

Earthworms

Arrival

Open the package and store the container in a cool place until ready for use. Worms may be kept in shipping container for a short period. Upon arrival, mist with water to moisten, but do not make soil wet. Worms can also be kept in the refrigerator for short periods of time.

Food and Shelter

To maintain worms for a longer period of time, keep at room temperature in diffused light, feeding crushed dead leaves or cornmeal sprinkled over the surface of the soil. Add rich soil (preferably humus) as needed, and remove any mold as it appears. Keep the worms in a very cool place in the room, or in the warmer part of a refrigerator, for up to a week.
It is very important to check on the worms to make sure they and their surroundings are moist.

Isopods (Sow Bugs and Pill Bugs)

Arrival

Open the package and store the container in a cool place until ready for use. The shipping container contains damp paper to provide moisture. Upon arrival, mist paper slightly. Food should be removed if it shows any sign of mold and replaced with sliced carrot, potato, or apple. Pill bugs and sow bugs can be kept in the shipping container for a few days until ready to use in class. Moisten the paper towels as necessary.

Food and Shelter

If you are keeping the isopopds for a longer period of time, place them in a terrarium with rich, moist soil. Place moist paper towels in the container to provide humidity. Continue to add vegetables, replacing them as necessary to control mold. Keep container at room temperature in low light. The most important thing to remember is that the soil must be kept moist at all times—not wet, but moist—so that the isopods don’t dry out. A chunk of raw potato in the container with the isopods serves as a source of both food and moisture.
It is very important to keep the isopods on moist paper or leaves at all times.

Seeds and Plants

Maintain a temperature of 15°C-35°C (59°F-95°F) for seeds.

Terrarium Care

A terrarium kept in the classroom will do best when kept damp, cool, and in indirect sunlight. Here are some suggestions if problems do arise:

Too much mold: If mold covers more than 1/8 of the surface of the terrarium, remove the rotting material or leave the lid of the terrarium open to help dry it out. Some mold is fine;it is another interesting decomposer breaking down the organic material.

Too much moisture: Wipe the inside of the lid and sides of the terrarium with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Leave the lid of the terrarium open to help dry it out.

Too many small fly and gnats: If there are small flying insects in a terrarium it might be too wet, or there might be too much rotting food. These insects are not necessarily a problem, and can provide another organism for your students to observe and discuss.
However, if you want to get rid of them, change the habitat so it no longer attracts the insects by making it less moist and removing the moist food they are eating and breeding on.

No plants or sprouts: If your terrarium animals eat most of the foliage in a terrarium,add more seeds, plant more plants, add alternate food items, and/or reduce the number of animals in the terrarium.

A dead-looking terrarium: If you have tried all of the above suggestions, then perhaps your terrarium is too hot due to leaving it in direct sunlight or near a heater. Constant temperatures of over 90°F will kill the animals. At cold temperatures (below 60°F) animals will slow down and burrow in the soil.

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