Hobbyist spends nearly $20K on pet isopods

By Quynh Tran, Ngoc Ngan   May 3, 2024 | 03:13 am PT
Nguyen Kim Phu, a 31-year-old resident of Ho Chi Minh City, has developed an unusual hobby: he raises thousands of isopods as pets, with prices ranging from VND100,000 to VND3 million (approximately $4 to $118) each.
Hobbyist spends nearly $20K on pet isopods

Phu said isopod collecting is most popular in Europe.

But Vietnam, the pastime has also attracted enthusiasts over the last three years.

There are now so many so active Vietnamese crustacean connoisseurs that passionate collectors have gathered into several thousand-member groups.

Isopods belong to the order Isopoda, an order of Crustacean, look more like insects than anything else. But they’re actually distant relatives of shrimp and crabs. Over 10,000 species have been identified across the globe.

These remarkable creatures are considered “sanitation workers” because they survive by eating decaying plant and animal matter, thereby removing impurities and harmful microorganisms from soil, which supports plant health.

Hobbyist spends nearly $20K on pet isopods

In his room, Phu has set up shelves to hold dozens of plastic box cages for his pets. He owns about 4,000 isopods of 150 different eclectic species, most of which hail from other countries. His collection is worth a total of around VND500 million.

Phu’s passion for this most uncommon of interests was first piqued when he stumbled across proud collectors’ posting about their hobby 2021. After learning that isopods were relatively “easier to care for [than most pets],” Phu purchased his first group of 10 for VND2.5 million.

A week later, 6 were already dead.

"Thankfully, a few managed to survive and started to breed,” Phu said. “If any more had died, I probably would have given up .”

Hobbyist spends nearly $20K on pet isopods

In their natural habitat, isopods thrive beneath the ground, in damp areas covered dry leaves, rotten wood, and rocks.

The first essential step in providing for them is to replicate this environment. Thus isopod cages are usually plastic boxes filled with a mixture of potting soil, coconut fiber, dry leaves, and wood chips.

Hobbyist spends nearly $20K on pet isopods

Each of Phu’s boxes is home to between 50 and 500 isopods. Larger pieces of bark provide the “bug-like” creatures with both food and shelter.

At the beginning, Phu struggled to find good information on the needs of species due to his esoteric hobby’s obscurity in Vietnam . To gain more expertise, he joined international groups on the internet and studied foreign materials.

"The primary challenge for isopod owners is understanding the unique habitat and behaviors of each individual species," he said.

Hobbyist spends nearly $20K on pet isopods

Raising isopods requires little space: only plastic boxes that can be neatly stacked in a house corner, according to Phu.

The only intervention needed in the boxes is to cut holes in the cages for ventilation.

Hobbyist spends nearly $20K on pet isopods

Occasionally Phu needs to moisten and humify the living quarters he creates by spraying the surfaces of his pets’ homes with water.

Isopods reproduce from every few months to nearly a year, depending on the variety, each of which births dozens of offsrping each season.

Hobbyist spends nearly $20K on pet isopods

Porcellio Ornatus, which have the largest bodies in Phu’s community, grow to lengths of 3cm.

Hobbyist spends nearly $20K on pet isopods

Isopod enthusiasts often buy species in batches of ten.

Through raising, breeding, and trading parts of his collections, Phu said he manages to earn approximately VND80 million per month.

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