After a rainy weekend, I almost stepped on a family of pill bugs in my backyard. I must look like a horrible giant predator to these poor little guys. What do I know about them? I know that they go by many names: roly-polies, potato bugs, pill bugs, and woodlice. They look like an insect, but they are not an insect!
Carefully pick up a pill bug and feel their legs across your skin. Insects have 6 legs, but pill bugs have 14! Did your pill bug roll itself into a tiny ball? If so, it is a type of wood lice from the family Armadillidae. Woodlice form the suborder Oniscidea within the order Isopoda, with over 5,000 known species.
Pill bugs are crustaceans like shrimp and lobsters, but unlike these animals, pill bugs live their entire life on land. Like shrimp and lobsters, they have hard exoskeltons that help protect them from predators. Like shrimp and lobster, woodlice have gills and need to be in a moist environment to be able to breathe. So, don't let your little guy dry out and make sure that you put your pill bug back where you found it.
My backyard rolypolies included mom and her babies. You can see from the picture that it was very wet outside. Mom carried her babies in a marsupial-like pouch on the underside of her body. She can hold up to 100 developing eggs. Roly-polies don't bite - they survive by eating decaying plant materials, like wet leaves!
I am so glad that I didn't step on my new backyard pets. What will you discover this summer?
Learn more- Read:
Rolypolyology by Michael Elsohn Ross
This classic is still available through Scholastic Books