Name: _______________________________________

Isopod Behavior, or The RollyPolly Lab


Isopod Handling and Rearing

Raise isopods in a clear shoebox or similar, the bottom should be covered with soil or sand and kept moist (use a mister). An old piece of bark, and leaf litter covering the soil. Isopods can be fed carrots, raw pototoes or apples (alternately fish flakes can be used as food). Moldy food or soil should be removed. Females can carry up to 200 eggs in a brood pouch underneath her abdomen and will remain in the pouch for about three weeks - they look the same as adults, only smaller.

Larger isopods can be handled and observed easily with your hand, by picking them up with your fingers or gently scooping them up with a spoon. They are fast walkers and can withstand short drops. Immature isopods are more fragile than adults.

**Isopods are also called sowbugs and pillbugs.

Background Information

Terrestrial ispods are land dwelling crustaceans, commonly known as sowbugs or pillbugs (or rollypollys). They are related to lobsters, crabs, and shrimp and terrestrial isopods breath with gills. While they look similar, sow bugs are different from pill bugs. Pill bugs will curl into a ball when threatened whereas sow bugs will attempt to flee. Since your isopods are caught from the wild, make sure you are using the same type for your experiments.

Ethology is the study of animal behavior. Many behaviors involve movement of the animal within its environment. In this exercise, you will investigate some innate (instincts) behaviors of isopods.

Orientation is a process by which animals position themselves with respect to spatial features of their environments. Taxis involves the turning of an animal's body relative to a stimulus - either toward or away. Kinesis is a random movement of an animal in relation to a stimulus, like cockroaches scattering when the light is turned on.

Consider the following example: A researcher places a dead rotting mouse in the center of a test area and adds a carrion beetle (an insect that eats dead animals) somewhere on the surface. The beetle crawls forward for three seconds, turns and crawls in a different direction for three seconds, and so on. The researcher concludes that the beeetle is moving randomly in relation to the dead mouse. Continued observation reveals that the beetle crawls faster (and covers more ground) when it happens to turn in the direction of the dead mouse. In addition, the beetle crawls more slowly (and covers less ground) when it happens to crawl away from the mouse. In this way, the beetle's random movements will eventually bring it to the dead mouse. It is important to take in details such as time spent crawling in one direction or another when observing the movements of the animals.

Isopod Observations

In the first part of this exercise, you will observe pillbugs and record what you see.

Analysis (include in lab report)

Scientific Sketching

When you make a sketch of a pillbug, don't just draw an oval with a few squiggly legs - you are expected to do a scientific illustration similar to the sketch of an earthworm below.

Here are some tips for making an accurate sketch (include in your lab report)

The Behavior Chamber

For the experiments you design, you will need to create a chamber to test the isopods reactions. Each basic chamber will consist of two sides, each side having a different environment, plus a tube that connects the chambers so that the isopods can move from one place to the other. You will be given the following materials, but the design of your chamber is up to you.

Materials - plastic cups, straws, plastic bowls (or other things your teacher might provide for you). The same chamber can be used for multiple experiments.



Part A - Orientation of Isopods in Response to Moisture

Procedure: Set up your behavior chamber so that you have one side moist and one side dry (using paper towels). Transfer 5 isopods to each side of the chamber (total of 10). Count and record the number of animals on each side of the chamber every 30 seconds for ten minutes, using a table like the one below.

Time # in Wet # in Dry Other Notes

Part B - Student Designed Experiment

Select TWO of the following factors to investigate and design an experiment to test it. (Use the procedure above as a guideline.) You may also propose your own test, check with your instructor.

Factor Possible Materials
Temperature Cold pack, warm pack, ice, warm water
Light Lamps, flashlights, dark construction paper, aluminum foil
pH HCL, NaOH, vinegar, baking soda
Subtrate (surface) Soil, sand, bark, cedar, gravel
Odor Ammonia, perfume, lemon juice
Food Potato, fish flakes
Other organisms Crickets, earthworms

Begin with a hypothesis, often written as an IF-THEN statement (include in your lab report)

Poor: I think pillbugs will move toward the wet side of a choice chamber.
Better: If pillbugs prefer a moist environment, then when they are placed in a wet/dry choice chamber and allowed to move about freely for 10 minutes, most will be found on the wet side.

Analysis (included in lab report)

1. Based on your observations, do isopods prefer a moist or dry environment. Use your data to support your analysis.
2.  What other preferences do the isopods exhibit? Support or reject your experimental hypothesis here.
3. Suggest advantages this behavior might have for the isopod?
3. How could  your experiment be improved?  

Lab Report

*Take all your notes and answers to analysis questions, clean them up and turn in a lab report Lab report should be typed (except drawings unless you want to scan them).

1. Background and Purpose (describe the purpose of the experiment, include any relevant information about pillbugs)
2. Isopod Observation (answers to questions, scentific sketch)
3. Orientation in Reponse to Moisture (include data table, analysis questions)
4. Student Designed Experiment (Detailed description of your experiment, your hypothesis, data and conclusions, analysis questions answered)

  Excellent (4) Good
Needs Work (1) Not Attempted (0)

Background - purpose of experiment is clear

Sketch - includes all major details and measurements          
Data Tables labeled and clear          
Student Designed Experiment
- methods specific, repeatable
- answers all questions
- summarizes data
- indicates hypothesis (support or reject)
- suggests improvements
- no major grammar or spelling errors
- typed
- clear headings or sections
Lab Procedures
- protocols followed
- station cleaned
- demonstrates respect for life