Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pill Bug Pioneers!

I was watching our cat, Rosie, sleep at the foot of our bed one morning. She was completely curled up, her nose hidden under her tail, and she looked so cozy and warm.

I started thinking about pill bugs.

You may know them as rollie pollies. As a child, pill bugs were a natural backyard toy. A bug that rolled up into a tiny ball when you poked it. What could be better? They are the armadillos of the bug world. Really. Their species name is Armadillidium vulgare.

Did you know this humble isopod is the only crustacean that spends its entire life on land? They are more closely related to crabs and crayfish than insects and bugs! This is why you find them in damp areas under rocks and leaves. Most of the pill bugs we find live in our compost piles. Left in the open, they will dry out and die.

They are one of the important parts of the degradation process, aiding decomposition. They eat almost anything--fungi, live and dead plant matter, dead animals. They are like tiny little Roombas for nature.

Like many of their sea dwelling cousins, pill bugs are a valuable food source to other animals. That wonderful ability to curl up into a hard little ball is actually a handy defensive maneuver. They also are colored to blend into their environment.

I think I appreciated them more after I learned about them. Just think, mom and dad pill bug, trying to make it in a harsh land environment. They make a burrow for their babies and bring them food. Papa pill bug guards the homestead. They huddle together to keep their gills moist. When it's time to clean house (their burrow) , the entire family pitches in to remove the trash (fecal pellets). And when predators threaten, they roll up to make it hard for their enemies.

And so, another life lesson learned from watching animals:

Roll with the punches.

Sorry for the lack of pictures this time. My subjects are hiding from the frigid temperatures. I do have some links if you want to read more:
Pillbug factsheet from
Animal Diversity Web: Armadillium vulgare


appleleaf said...

The apparently humble and easily over-looked things of the world can definitely have huge functions. Thanks for this post. I appreciated it too.

Kerian said...

I love when cats curl up with their tail over their nose. It's quite cute.

Would you believe it, my sisters and I would play with rollie pollies as kids. I never had to hunt in dirt for them, though. They would crawl across the cement.

Sandra Foyt said...

Ah, yes. The beloved pill bug. My daughter created a terrarium for a pet pill bug last summer. She showered it with love, and vowed t keep it forever, until I insisted that she let it go back to its environment.

That left us with one less bug in our home; we still have mealworms, earthworms, and miscellaneous others.

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