Pill Bugs

Finding pill bugs is an easy and enjoyable backyard pursuit for nature enthusiasts and children. Just about anything laying on the ground has the potential to hide a “roly poly.”


A tile floor is a dangerous place when you are less than a quarter inch tall. Humans, unaware or indifferent to your presence, may squash you without malice but you are still just as dead.

I thought of this as I gazed upon the pill bug on my floor.

Liberating it was easy as it quickly rolled into a slick BB-sized defensive ball. I slid a business card underneath and deposited the lost soul outside, happy to rescue the little guy.

Pill bugs -- often called roly polies, sowbugs, armadillo bugs, woodlice and potato bugs -- are every child's favorite insect. The only problem with that is that a pill bug, despite the name, is not an insect. It is a crustacean and is more closely related to crayfish than to insects.

As crustaceans, pill bug blood contains hemocyanin instead of hemoglobin making it blue rather than red. And, like most crustaceans, the mother carries eggs and newly hatched young in a small pouch between abdominal plates.

Technicalities aside, pill bugs are a favorite because they are harmless and easy to find. Members of the genus, Armadillidium, also have that cute habit of curling into a ball when disturbed. They make great pets; living up to three years and requiring little care other than a damp home and plenty of rotting vegetation to eat.

Pill bugs likely need no introduction, but perhaps at least a little description is in order. Pill bugs are one of a relatively few crustaceans that have adapted to terrestrial life. They have an 11- to 13-segment exoskeleton of overlapping scales. The first seven bear a pair of jointed legs. If there are two pairs per segment it is a pill millipede. The blocky head carries a set of antennae. Most are small, less than half an inch long, but there some marine relatives that stretch to more than 14 inches and may weigh nearly four pounds.

There are about 4,000 species of pill bugs and they are found in almost every corner of the world. There are dozens of species in North America.

Although pill bugs are now found worldwide, they arrived in North America with European settlement, hitching rides on loads of cargo. Since we continue global shipping today, we are likely to see additional species colonize suitable habitats.

Pill bugs are major players in turning dead vegetation into compost that builds garden soil. So, although they are occasionally guilty of munching on such delicacies as ripe strawberries or tender seedlings, they are far more beneficial to a garden than they are harmful.

On occasion, pill bugs may invade homes as conditions dry outside in the summer. But they don't spread disease and don't damage structures so even that trespass can be views as beneficial, as it indicates moisture issues in the home that should be addressed.

Catching pill bugs with my granddaughters for the accompanying photo brought out what little kid is left in me. And for humans, that may be the best thing about pill bugs.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Best of Nature by Terry R. Thomas

The Best of Nature

by Terry R. Thomas

Giveaway ends June 24, 2014.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho