A while back, I was out in the garden with my nephew when he found some roly poly bugs and started playing with them. After a moment, he stated that his Mom had taught him that roly poly bugs are bad, and ruin plants. Personally, I have always liked these little armored tank looking bugs, and decided to find out for myself if they were indeed a pest for gardens and plants.
The quick answer is that roly poly bugs, potato bugs, or pill bugs are not bad for your garden, actually they are extremely beneficial for gardens and foliage. These small bugs are actually a land crustacean instead of an insect, aid in the decomposition of dead vegetation and fungus and are important to the ecological process. Let’s take a quick look at roly poly bugs and see what they are all about.
Reading: Are roly poly bugs bad for garden
What are Roly Poly Bugs?
Roly Poly bugs are bluish-grey, multi-legged bugs, with two large antennae that most of us have encountered under rocks, in window sills, or in the grass that instinctively roll up into a ball (called conglobation) when they feel threatened. They look like small armadillos with a tough armor (called an exoskeleton) on top and seven pairs of little fuzzy legs underneath that tickle when you let them crawl on your hands and arms. You find them in dark, damp places, such as small cracks, under rocks, under logs, bark, and leaves. They love these dark spots when they have enough moisture, and will typically choose these types of places to burrow during the day. Though may venture out beyond their burrow at night to seek more food.
As stated above, when these little bugs feel threatened, they curl up onto a little ball, making them look like small ball bearings or BB’s. This is indeed a defense mechanism, as their armor can fend off threats and keep them warmer when they roll up.
One thing you might not know is that roly poly bugs are actually a crustacean. They are one of a very few number of land crustaceans, or terrestrial crustacians. They are from the woodlice family and the order isopoda. Their scientific name is armadillidiidae. Kind of sounds like armadillo, doesn’t it?
Also Read: Planting onions in the spring
These little bugs can live up to 3 years. They can have up to 2 batches of young each year producing 30-40 new bugs each time. These amazing bugs can reproduce via parthenogenesis, which is to say, asexually, where an embryo is created without fertilization. The females carry their eggs around for a few weeks until they hatch.
After they hatch, they look like tiny versions of the adults and still hang onto the mother for another 3-7 weeks. They will molt off their exoskeleton often as they grow from the nymph stage. When they grow up, the adults will molt about once a month.
What is the Difference between Roly Poly Bugs and Sow Bugs?
Roly poly bugs and sow bugs look very similar. They are a little different however. Sow bugs can’t roll up onto a ball like Roly Poly bugs. Sow bugs also have 2 appendages that look like a tail. They do however have similar coloration and appearances.
What do they do in my garden?
As it turns out, roly poly bugs are beneficial to the decomposition of dead vegetation. They spend their time in the dark wet spots eating dead plants. They can conglomerate under logs and leaves and almost anywhere that they can find high moisture and dead vegetation to eat. They spend their life in these small places taking care of dead and rotting vegetation.
Are potato bugs dangerous?
Potato bugs, pill bugs, and roly polys are not dangerous. They are not poisonous. They don’t bite humans. They are just a peaceful bug that helps in decomposition. They can however eat young plant leaves if they can’t find enough dead vegetation. They don’t eat much of the young growth but can pose a minimal threat to small leaves on your plants. Some farmers have reported that these little bugs will eat their crop. This tends to happen when there isn’t enough vegetation in the soil, and there is a lot of moisture available in the environment.
Also Read: Is makita a good brand
Most people will benefit from the presence of these little bugs as they eat up old leaves, sticks, and grass. They are really interesting to watch and fun to look at. They are not harmful to people, or pets. I happen to know that chickens love to eat them and add to the variety of diet to your flock.
Some people may find these little bugs unsightly. That is the only real threat that they pose. They can multiply rather quickly in areas that have a lot of rain and vegetation, and you may end up with just too many of the little creature for your comfort. Other than that, they are beneficial and benign.
Different names for potato bugs
These little land crustaceans have been around for a long time. They have been the subject of many childrens’ play and discovery. They also have had some fun monikers. I have heard them called pill bugs, roly polys, potato bugs, woodlice, and doodle bugs. I remember being in a bit of a heated argument when I was five years old stating that they were in fact potato bugs, and my cousin emphatically arguing that they are roly polys. Needless to say, they are known by several names across the world.
Ways to control potato bugs
I really enjoy these little bugs and just love to watch them. You may however not have the love for them and want them to be controlled. If you want to get rid of the little bugs the the following are some good methods available.
- Let your chickens loose on them. Chickens love them and will voraciously devour them.
- You can use diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth is composed of ancient diatoms that have been fossilized. These crusty diatoms have hard sharp edges that get stuck into the armor plates and becomes an irritating barrier to the bugs.
- Cleaning up your place and getting rid of places for the bugs to live will work.
- There are baits available to deter them as well. Many ant baits will work but be careful not to bait something you don’t want to.
- Insecticides are also available, but I would caution the use of them. Insecticides will kill the good bugs as well as the bad bugs.
Potato bugs, pill bugs, roly polys, and doodle bugs are not dangerous or bad for your garden. They actually preform a benefit in decomposition of dead vegetation. They are super fun to watch and play with. They are one of very few varieties of land crustaceans. If you don’t want them around there are some easy things you can do to get rid of them.
I would encourage you to enjoy them, have fun seeing them curl up, and tickle your hand and arm when they crawl.
Also Read: Do deer eat hibiscus bushes