Whether you call them roly polys, pill bugs, wood lice, or armadillidiidae we think they are just awesome. My kids spend hours digging in the garden looking for roly polys. These little guys have piqued my kids' interest in nature in amazing ways.
Roly polys have also bravely given their lives in the pursuit of science. They have taught my children valuable lessons. The most important lesson being how some things can be broken and can never be put back together again. Yes, eww!! Rest in peace, little roly poly friend. He didn't mean it and he was very sad to see you go. Now here are 20 fun facts about our unique little garden friends:
- Roly polys aren't bugs at all. They are terrestrial crustaceans. These little isopods are related to shrimp.
- Their color can vary from gray to brown. Sometimes they are two-toned because they are molting. First the back half molts and then the front half molts. They molt about 4 to 5 times during their life span.
- On rare occasions you will find a bright blue or purple roly poly. The purple/blue roly poly is a sick roly poly. The color is caused by the iridovirus which causes crystals to form beneath the roly poly's exoskeleton. Don't worry, the virus is not dangerous to humans.
- They have a hard exoskeleton called a cuticle and it's made from chitin.
- They are usually less than 1 inch in length.
- Roly polys can live up to 2 years. Sadly, sometimes less when my son comes in contact with them. Let's just say he is learning the meaning of gentle.
- Roly polys are super common. They are pretty much found all over the world. They can live in grasslands and rain forests. They just tend to like moist areas so you will find them under rocks, leaves, barks, or logs.
- They eat decaying plants and animals which is a good thing. They are like nature's little waste management team. Sometimes, however, they also eat seedlings and ripe strawberries which can really annoy gardeners. They can't eat thicker plants, however, so they aren't really a danger to most of the plants in your garden.
- You can catch a whole bunch of roly polys by placing a cantaloupe upside down in the garden. The roly polys are attracted to the rotting fruit and the moist environment.
- Predators of the roly poly include: frogs, newts, toads, spiders and small mammals. When the roly poly is molting and soft, they sometimes are eaten by other roly polys.
- Females have brood pouches that hold eggs and embryos. They tend to have 2 dozen offspring at a time and have two to three broods a year. Baby roly polys looks just like big roly polys except they are white and very small.
- No daddy required here. The roly poly can reproduce by parthenogenesis.
- They aren't related to the pill millipede even though they look a ton like them.
- They are able to roll into cool little balls. This process is called conglobation. It is a defense against predators.
- They have a gill-like structure that they use for breathing. Therefore, they require moist environments to live in.
- A roly poly is a true blue blood. Roly polys have haemocycanin in their blood which makes it blue in color when it is carrying oxygen.
- They can drink through their anus. They have uropods on their rear ends and are able to suck up moisture through them.
- They eat their own poo. This is called coprophagy and it allows them to get back some of the copper they lost when they poo'ed.
- Wolbachia bacteria can turn a male roly poly into a female roly poly.
- They don't urinate. Instead they release a form of ammonia gas.
After learning all this neat stuff about the roly polys, how can you not love them too!