Pill bugs, a.k.a. sowbugs, are a common type of woodlice related to lobsters, crabs and shrimp.

Pill bugs are the only crustaceans which have thrived on land.

Their name comes from their ability to roll into a ball to defend themselves.

An Unusual Defensive Strategy

Their ability to roll into a ball is known as conglobation.

What causes pill bugs to roll into a ball?

Vibrations and pressure often trigger conglobation, which is a defense not only to predation but also against respiratory and water loss.

Pest or Pet?

While many a child has been known to keep pill bugs (“roly polies” or “creepy crawlies”) as pets, their parents usually look at them as pests.

Pill bugs are known to invade basements and gardens alike, but they are normally not considered much of a nuisance if they stay outside:

  • Pill bugs are capable of returning organic matter to the soil which can then be digested by fungi, protozoans and bacteria.
  • By so doing, pill bugs make nitrates, phosphates and other nutrients available to vegetation.
  • While pill bugs have been known to feed on roots on occasion, they do minimal damage and are generally not considered a garden pest.

Cage cleaners? Yep!

Insect and spider aficionados sometimes employ pill bugs to clean the cages of those with whom they share a habitat. Random, but true!

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