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Some of the hardest working animals are often overlooked due to their size, but we're here to show them the proper appreciation! Please join us in learning all about our amazing detritivores!

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Hello and welcome back to Animal Wonders! I’m Jessi and today we’re going to take a deep dive into some of the hardest working animals at Animal Wonders. The animals I’m talking about don’t get much attention and are rarely in the limelight, but today it’s all about our littlest of friends that live down in the soil, the detritivores! [CHEERY INTRO MUSIC] Detritivores are animals that eat decaying organic matter, like rotten fruit or fallen leaves.

Some will also eat mold and fungus, or other animals that have died. Detritivores are also sometimes called decomposers, but decomposers also include organisms that aren’t animals, like bacteria and fungi. My favorite way to describe detritivores is calling them the clean up crew!

The clean up crew at Animal Wonders includes a variety of species from groups including: Millipedes. Isopods Beetles. Worms And Springtails.

These little animals are often thought of as pests because some species can cause havoc to certain agricultural crops, contaminate animal feed, and potentially spread disease. However, they are also essential for life on our planet due to the important role they play in the energy, or nitrogen, cycle! We’re happy to have them in our bioactive enclosures because they help us do our daily cleaning.

And this is why they’re called the clean up crew! Let’s take a closer look at our first group of detritivores, the millipedes! We’ve had a few species of millipedes over the last decade, but my favorite is the species we have right now, Orthoporus ornatus also called the Texas gold or Giant Gold millipede.

These large and docile critters are native to the Americas and are one of the few species that can thrive in hot and dry environments. They can’t be completely dry though, they do need access to moisture to eat. So in the wild they will often burrow down into the soil or crevices that retain higher humidity.

I love how their tiny legs look and feel. I can understand how that might seem creepy to someone, but if you watch them for a bit you can see their legs moving in waves. They’re very gentle and when they crawl on you, they do grip on, but it doesn’t hurt.

And even though they are called millipedes, or thousand leggers, they don’t actually have 1000 legs. Most average about 70-100 legs. They have two legs per side on each of their body segments, and as they grow older and molt, they increase in size by one body segment.

So the longer a millipede is, the older they are. Giant Gold millipedes fill an important role in their arid environments because they eat decaying organic matter. In dry places like the Sonoran Desert, it can take a long time for dead plants and animals to break down because there’s few decomposers that do well without higher humidity.

Without Giant Gold millipedes and the other desert clean up crew critters, the ecosystems would have an overabundance of decaying things that didn’t get broken down and recycled into the soil for plants to use. Our little group of millipedes enjoy and thrive on eating bites of carrot, squash, and lettuce, as well as dry leaves and feces. Yes, they do eat poop.

And that’s what makes them so helpful! They live with a few of our snake species, like Carlos our Sinaloan milk snake. They don’t mind living in the same space because Carlos won’t eat them, he only eats rodents, and the millipedes are happy to clean up what Carlos leaves behind.

And when the millipedes digest their meals and poop themselves, their poop has nutrients that are more readily accessible to the plants growing in the soil! Thank you millipedes for being so helpful and keeping Carlos happy. Our next clean up crew helpers I want to share are our isopods!

Isopoda is a huge group of invertebrates that include land, marine, and freshwater species. The isopods I’m talking about are land dwelling and are most widely referred to as woodlice, due to their preference for living on decaying wood. But these little critters are found all over the world and go by so many names.

I grew up knowing them as roly polies. There’s a variety of species that are used in bioactive habitats, and they are just wonderful little helpers. They eat old wood, leaves, fungus, and yes poop too.

They don’t harm reptiles or amphibians so they’re perfect for co-habitating with any of our residents. They live with Jabba the African bullfrog, Loki the water dragon, Smaug the red eyed crocodile skink, Jade the savannah monitor, and many others. I like how quickly their population grows, how tolerant they are of a variety of environments, and how you can pretty much introduce them to an enclosure and leave them to their work.

I haven’t had to clean up Smaug’s poop in the 5 years he’s been with us. So thank you little roly poly and your extensive family. Next up are our beetles!

We have an assortment of beetles at Animal Wonders, and all of them are darkling beetles, or Family Tenebrionidae, which includes over 20,000 species. We have 4 species, and first up is the mealworm beetle. This is the adult stage of a common feeder insect called a mealworm.

What you know of as a mealworm is the larval stage, and once they pupate they look like this! Second is a closely related species called the Morio beetle, which is the adult form of another common feeder insect, the superworm. Which looks like a giant mealworm.

Third is the little Buffalo Beetle, which is the adult form of the lesser mealworm. Their larvae look like tiny versions of mealworm larvae. All three of these beetle species are a great addition to our isopod clean up crew.

Though, they can sometimes be problematic and chew into foam backgrounds or produce too quickly and overwhelm an ecosystem. So we keep their populations in check by making sure we only introduce them to habitats that have larger animals that will readily snack on them. Like Jade the savannah monitor and Pearl the tegu.

And our Fourth darkling beetle species is the charismatic blue death feigning beetle! We have a trio of these awesome guys in our leopard gecko enclosures and they are so fun to watch go about their business. What I like about this species is that they thrive in dry environments and defend themselves against our leopard geckos by tasting terrible.

They’re super easy keepers because they dine on mostly dry leaves and an occasional bit of fresh vegetable, but will also eat leftover invertebrate molts and again, feces. We also have a few mealworm beetles hanging out in here and everyone gets along great. In my opinion, blue death feigning beetles are the perfect clean up crew and companions for leopard geckos.

Next up are worms, because worms are amazing at helping to turn leftovers into food for plants! They aerate the soil by crawling around making little tunnels, and they turn decaying matter and feces from the other organisms into smaller bits so bateria can make a readily available energy source for plants! We have worms in with Slick the tiger salamander, Pearl the tegu, Jabba the frog, and Trevor the toad.

Anywhere that has deep damp soil is great for worms. Slick, the salamander, will also burrow down in his soil and snack on any worms that come too close to his huge mouth. And last up are our springtails!

They are tiny hexapods, but unlike insects they have internal mouthparts and make up the subclass Collembola. They are the smallest of our detritivores and are too little to see clearly without magnification. If you’re looking closely at soil, they mostly just look like white or gray specs moving around.

But up close we can see them much better. Springtails are one of the most numerous animals on earth! They’re found anywhere that there’s damp soil and decaying organic matter like leaves.

These littles are essential to include in all of our habitats because they specialise in eating mold and fungus, which is perfect for maintaining a healthy environment for our reptiles and amphibians. Many of the bioactive enclosures we have have high humidity and without springtails as part of our clean up crew, the habitats would be overrun with mold in a few days. So a big thank you to our tiniest of friends!

And there you have it, the detritivores are the hardest working animals at Animal Wonders. If seeing all these bioactive enclosures makes you think about what you could grow inside your house, then you should check out this Skillshare class about growing edible plants indoors. Sunny Green’s class shows you how to grow microgreens right on your kitchen counter.

She takes you through the equipment you need all the way to how and when to harvest your home grown salad! This is a really neat project and in the end you can eat your results. Skillshare is an online learning community that offers membership with meaning.

With so much to explore, real projects to create, and the support of fellow-creatives, Skillshare empowers you to accomplish real growth. And it makes it easy with short classes that will fit into your daily routine. A Premium Membership will give you unlimited access, so you can join the classes and communities that are just right for you.

And an annual subscription to Skillshare is less than $10 a month, and if you’re one of the first 1,000 people to click the link in the description, you can get a free trial of Skillshare’s Premium Membership. Thanks for watching! I hope you enjoyed meeting our little friends, if you’d like to continue going on animal adventures with us, be sure to subscribe and we’ll see you next week for our next episode!

Bye! [BOLD OUTRO MUSIC]