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Pillbug, Sowbug, roly-poly (Armadillidium vulgare)

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Order: Isopoda
Family: Armadillidiidae
Genus: Armadillidium
Species: vulgare (vul-GAIR-ee) (Info)

Profile:

9 positives
12 neutrals
16 negatives

Regional...

This bug has been reportedly found in the following regions:

Birmingham, Alabama
Phoenix, Arizona
Tucson, Arizona (2 reports)
Conway, Arkansas
Deer, Arkansas
Harrisburg, Arkansas
North Little Rock, Arkansas
Auberry, California
Elk Grove, California
Grass Valley, California
Lemoore, California
Los Angeles, California
Marina, California
Oceanside, California
Reseda, California
Salinas, California
San Diego, California
Santa Maria, California
Tracy, California
West Covina, California
Clifton, Colorado
Denver, Colorado (3 reports)
Golden, Colorado
Deltona, Florida
Jacksonville, Florida
Lake Butler, Florida
Orange Park, Florida
Panama City, Florida
Pensacola, Florida
Tallahassee, Florida
Winter Park, Florida
Duluth, Georgia
Springfield, Illinois
Westchester, Illinois
Indianapolis, Indiana
Linton, Indiana
Peru, Indiana
Valparaiso, Indiana
Delhi, Iowa
Kalona, Iowa
Lansing, Kansas
Ewing, Kentucky
Hebron, Kentucky
Melbourne, Kentucky
Salvisa, Kentucky
Plain Dealing, Louisiana
Baltimore, Maryland
Crofton, Maryland
Silver Spring, Maryland
Algonac, Michigan
Harper Woods, Michigan
Jackson, Michigan
Southfield, Michigan
Westland, Michigan
Bridgeton, Missouri
Saint Louis, Missouri
Sunrise Beach, Missouri
Maplewood, New Jersey
Roswell, New Mexico
Buffalo, New York
Himrod, New York
Yonkers, New York
Matthews, North Carolina
Raleigh, North Carolina
Swansboro, North Carolina
Cincinnati, Ohio
Corning, Ohio
Dayton, Ohio
Stow, Ohio
Williamsburg, Ohio
Claremore, Oklahoma
Owasso, Oklahoma
Astoria, Oregon
Eugene, Oregon
Portland, Oregon
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
West Columbia, South Carolina
Bristol, Tennessee
Charlotte, Tennessee
Germantown, Tennessee
Jonesborough, Tennessee
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Old Hickory, Tennessee
Sevierville, Tennessee
Westmoreland, Tennessee
Arlington, Texas
Austin, Texas
Boerne, Texas
Brady, Texas
Frisco, Texas
Houston, Texas (2 reports)
Liberty Hill, Texas
Lufkin, Texas
Mcallen, Texas
Red Oak, Texas
Salineno, Texas
Kanab, Utah
Madison Heights, Virginia
Manassas, Virginia
Cathan, Washington
Kalama, Washington
Lakewood, Washington
North Sultan, Washington
Pullman, Washington
Richland, Washington
Spanaway, Washington
Vancouver, Washington
Green River, Wyoming
Rawlins, Wyoming

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Member Notes:

RatingAuthorContent
Neutral Magpye On Jul 26, 2006, Magpye from NW Qtr, AR
(Zone 6a) wrote:

Isopods are omnivores or scavengers feeding on dead or decaying plants or animals. Some may eat live plants.

Color varies from dark gray to white with or without pattern.

Isopods breathe with gills, so they are restricted to areas with high humidity, under rocks or logs, in leaf litter or in crevices. Some species are nocturnal.

Some species, roll up into a ball when disturbed. Eggs (up to 100) are held in broad pouch on female. Juveniles look like adults and are soon liberated from pouch. Molting is in two stages. First the back half molts, then two to three days later, the front half molts. Coloration of both halves may be different at this time. Many species are fast walkers, but can be easily observed when held in the palm of the hand.


Impact on the Ecosystem ...

Positive
In their immediate vicinity, isopods do minimal soil improvement. Isopods are also a food source for other animals.

Negative
In greenhouses and southern states, large populations can eat and damage plants.

Negative MitchF On Jul 28, 2006, MitchF from Lindsay, OK
(Zone 7a) wrote:

These will eat anything in the garden.. great plant one day gone the next - they have even invaded the house bringing their gifts to the house plants to boot... arg..

Neutral Veshengo On Jul 29, 2006, Veshengo from Faversham
United Kingdom
(Zone 8a) wrote:

In England we call them Woodlice and they are closely related to the small shrimp that are found in rockpools on the atlantic coast.

Positive renatelynne On Sep 6, 2006, renatelynne from Boerne new zone 30, TX
(Zone 8b) wrote:

As a child I LOVED this bug nearly as much as a lightning bug. You could play all day with it. Roll it around and it would still live to craw away.

Positive IrisLover79 On Sep 11, 2006, IrisLover79 from Westchester, IL
(Zone 5b) wrote:

Yeah, roly-polys are cool. I've heard people say that they eat some plants, but I've never found them to be a problem. And, they are fun to play with, lol. One of the few bugs I'm not afraid of.

~Kristy

Negative ineedacupoftea On Sep 16, 2006, ineedacupoftea from Denver, CO wrote:

Most of the time, they lounge about under leaf duff to eat detritus at night, but recently they have brought havoc to my shade garden, eating Hellebores, Hostas, Hedera, etc.
Their activity in eating at Iris rhizomes is like nefarious swiss cheese. Most of my life, I had never seen one further than and inch off the ground, but I have seen in the past two years specimens actually climbing up stems to chew leaves.
Yet another colorful perk to being a gardener?

Areas I have seen of greatest density are moist wood mulches covered by unrooting groundcovers like dianthus, where they are so thick, the soil is heaving with them.

I have seen them fall to the pesticide called "Bug-Getta Plus," so it is time to bring out that old bottle again.

Negative winging On Sep 17, 2006, winging from Cincinnati, OH
(Zone 6a) wrote:

I lost three Campanula "Blue Clips" to these bugs practically overnight. I'm finding very large numbers in areas with shredded hardwood mulch. I'm beginning to wonder if they came with the mulch. In the past I've not viewed these as garden foes, but in large numbers I need to try to control them.

Otherwise, I used to love watching them roll up when I was a kid.

Positive renwings On Oct 21, 2006, renwings from Sultan, WA
(Zone 8a) wrote:

I've loved these little guys since I was little! For some reason we always called them potato bugs. There was a seemingly endless supply. No matter how many times we turned over a rock, there were always more to be found. We kept them in jars as pets and teased them into rolling up, then holding perfectly still, waiting for them to relax. It was just facinating.

In my garden they can always be found in the compost heap and at times in the vegi garden were they do minimal damage to the carrots.

Positive FloridaG8or On Jan 24, 2007, FloridaG8or from Lake Butler, FL
(Zone 8b) wrote:

When I was a kid we use to play with these like crazy! Even made little down hill coarses for them to roll on. Rollie-pollie! I mentioned this bug to my girlfriend just now "I loved rollie-pollies!" I've never had any trouble with these guys invading my gardens, they all hang out under the logs and bushes.

Negative divadonna On Mar 16, 2007, divadonna from Spanaway, WA wrote:

I used to like these bugs as a child, but now that I'm a gardener they drive me crazy. They ate halfway through the trunk of my 10 year old butterfly bush, now all that remains is it's beautiful memory.
Donna, from Spanaway WA.

Neutral TheBip On Mar 24, 2007, TheBip from Indianapolis, IN
(Zone 5b) wrote:

I used to love playing with these bugs as a kid, but now they gross me out. I was weeding today, and after Id pulled some, I looked at the ground and there were tons of them scurrying around! *shudders*

Negative blmlb On Mar 29, 2007, blmlb from Orange Park, FL wrote:

I finally found out what's been eating my strawberries. Gonna get some bug killer. :-)

Positive Lenka_ On Apr 13, 2007, Lenka_ from Princeton, TX
(Zone 8a) wrote:

Never had any problems with roly-pollies - used to and still like them as I think they're cute. One of the bugs I do not disturb as they never bothered my garden. Has anyone actually caught them in the act ? :)
I was under impression they do not feed on plants and feed on rotting leaves and etc.. from the ground - unless they have mutated due to toxic waste LOL ...

Positive dstreetmom On May 18, 2007, dstreetmom from Fremont, CA wrote:

I also was under the impression that they not only do no damage to vegitation but that they are helpful to soil condition. When we harvest our compost, we find zillions of them, which my kids love. Other than in the compost pile and under rocks, I never see them at all.

Neutral KyWoods On May 21, 2007, KyWoods from Melbourne, KY
(Zone 6a) wrote:

We used to call 'em "doodle bugs" in New Orleans. Here's a good article on them: http://www.ca.uky.edu/entomology/entfacts/ef439.asp

Negative NCmagnolia On Jun 4, 2007, NCmagnolia from Swansboro, NC
(Zone 8b) wrote:

Last year I noticed that the numbers of pillbugs and sowbugs in my garden had increased. Over the winter I added lots of shredded mulch to my flower beds. The early spring was a damp one and I have pillbugs and sowbugs everywhere! The ground moves with them and they are eating not only dead leaves but live plants. I hate to put poison out because I have birds that I feed . What can I do?!

Neutral madamecp On Jun 27, 2007, madamecp from Denver, CO
(Zone 5b) wrote:

I was a roly-poly loving kid, like most people, and now I have a roly-poly loving daughter.

There are so many of these little critters in my yard that I need to be careful not to squash them at night (constant patrols of them on the sidewalks). I often dig up huge clusters, and my compost pit is likely half compost and half roly-poly (fine with me, I have too much compost anyway).

The only plant I've seen them particularly flock en masse to is bindweed (though they will hide out under anything over-grown). If I could find evidence that they are eating it, as opposed to living under its shade, I would give them a raving positive. (I can at least daydream about them eating the roots!) All I know for certain is that when I dig up bindweed, I tend to send roly-poly colonies scurrying.

For all of their numbers and ranging, I haven't seen one on a garden plant yet.

Neutral Malus2006 On Jan 23, 2008, Malus2006 from Coon Rapids, MN
(Zone 4a) wrote:

Pillbugs and sowbugs seem to rarely mix with each other much - I have seen areas with mostly pillbugs and there's my yard which have nothing but sowbugs but no pillbugs. Pillbugs seem to be more of a southern species, being found in Iowa and Wisconsin at the edge of their northern range in the Midwest. Sowbugs seem to be more of a northern and central US species. To tell the different between the two - pillbugs will roll up when you handle them while sowbug will flee without any attempt to roll up, even if they are put on their back.

Positive phalvorson On May 3, 2008, phalvorson from Panama City, FL
(Zone 8b) wrote:

According to a UC Davis study, roly-poly bugs not only eat decomposing matter at ground level, but will also climb up some plants to eat stink-bug eggs. Since stink bugs do eat all sorts of vegetable plants and other live vegetation, maybe they're what's really eating your plants and the poor roly-polies are just taking the blame?

http://www.news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=4399

Negative bekados On May 26, 2008, bekados from Pensacola, FL wrote:

Helter Skelter! My garden is living (or dying) proof that these scavengers will eat any and everything living or dead in a garden! As a non-bug killer, I have been finally pushed over the edge and squish them with impunity. They eat flowers, fruit, vine and root. Nothing is off-limits to these little armored terrors. Yes, I have seen them do it. Perhaps it's just a problem for the humid south, but they are a definite garden pest around our house.

Neutral dee_cee On Jun 3, 2008, dee_cee from Birmingham, AL
(Zone 7b) wrote:

There seem to be millions of these things in my back yard! I see them all over the place but especially around the brush/compost pile. After a good rain, there will be 100s about a foot up around the base of my oak tree. I haven't noticed them eating my plants, but with so many of them living here, I figured it was time to do a little research on them.

Negative plutodrive On Jul 1, 2008, plutodrive from Denver, CO
(Zone 5b) wrote:

I never thought they harmed plants. They have destroyed most of my vegetable garden. I thought a larger critter was eating everything but couldn't figure out the culprit. I was covering everything in mesh and replanting. They made me look stupid. I think it is the cedar mulch they like to live in.

Negative WAonion On Jul 11, 2008, WAonion wrote:

The "Roly-Poly's" have been providing entertainment for my children all summer, and I thought they were harmless. Last night I caught one chewing a whole in one of my strawberries - I've been wondering who the culprit is. As a new gardener, any advice on the most natural bug deterrent to save my garden? I've used a citrus spray on ants and box elder bugs in our yard with success, but have been hoping to avoid using anything in the garden.

Thanks for any advice!

Negative greenpout On Jul 12, 2008, greenpout from Novato, CA wrote:

Caught bug in 'the act' eating my artichoke plant. I never liked then even when I was little because my brother used to throw them at me- now I really don't like them. Do they have any predators that eat them but don't harm graden?

Negative DaddyNature On Aug 12, 2008, DaddyNature from Atlanta, GA wrote:

I'm glad that I looked this up. I wondered if they were bad for plants. Many of my potted plants are crawling with them....and Ii lost a rosemary and giant spinner verberra (? I think) because of them. How should Ii get rid of them??? HELP. ={:-o

Neutral snowball1209 On Jun 20, 2009, snowball1209 from Charlotte, TN wrote:

How do you get rid of this bug? Help

Positive kricee On Jul 4, 2009, kricee from Rawlins, WY wrote:

As a child I found these cute little roly-poly bugs from El Paso, TX to Tacoma, WA to Phoenix, AZ to Rawlins, Wy. Never known them to be destructive, but will watch their habitat areas carefully, having read some other comments...Can't get rid of them, though, the grandkids and I have too much fun with the little guys:)

Negative nahanni On Sep 7, 2009, nahanni from Brampton
Canada wrote:

Hi from Toronto, Canada

I wondered what was eating holes in my tomatoes. I caught a roly-poly inside a tomato today. There have been lots of holes in the leaves of my ornamental plants too - thought it was earwigs. Nearly decimated my lamium ( a tough plant).

I put in a new perennial garden this year - with lots of mulch. It has been a wet, cool summer.

I have been using silicon dioxide (diatomaceous earth) to control the bugs. Fewer holes in leaves but still attacking tomatoes.

I do not wish to kill helpful bugs. Does anyone know how silicon dioxide impacts bugs good & bad?

Neutral 5teve On Sep 13, 2009, 5teve from Pays Basque
France wrote:

Hi from the Pays Basque
Woodlice as I know them certainly enjoy Tomatoes I don't think your soil will injure any insects although the lack of organic material will discourage them

Steve

Negative enyeholt On Apr 30, 2010, enyeholt from Village of Port Clements
Canada wrote:

These sow bugs are BAD BOYS.

Here in the Pacific NW of Canada rainforest they thrive and eat and eat. THey demolish strawberries and Tomatoes along with seedlings.
Place some dry instant mashed potatoes or cornmeal on a saucer and place it where it will stay dry for as long as possible. Pretty hard here in the wet. They eat the dried food and then it swells up and kills them off. The earwigs will eat some of this too, so thats ok. I have to put it out nightly in the greenhouse for about a week to control the little creatures. Good luck!

Positive aquilusdomini On Jul 18, 2010, aquilusdomini from Jackson, MI wrote:

I just love these little guys. I can't say anything negative as they've never bothered our plants before. If you keep an eye out, sometimes you can find an oddly patterned one. Today i found one that was two tone grey. Its back half was dark and its front half was 3 shades lighter.
If they get into your plants i suggest removing most rocks from the area as they really love to live under rocks. Perhaps providing real good drainage for the soil could also deter them.

Negative Clary On Jun 15, 2012, Clary from Lewisburg, PA
(Zone 6b) wrote:

My property is absolutely overrun by this horrible pest. They hide out of sight under gravel, groundcovers, and stepping stones. The damage they do in my garden is primarily to the roots of plants, stripping small new plants to the taproot and diminishing growth on established plants. Some plants they eat more than others. I recently planted a new vine and filled the planting hole with good rich potting soil... When it failed to thrive I dug it up and it had practically no roots left. My dianthus fail to spread because the bugs live under the plant and devour the new roots.

I removed the stone edging of my garden to reduce their numbers (slugs also) but they are still numerous and seem to be absolutely everywhere. In the past I had used compost and top dressing on my garden but haven't done so in the past few years because they seemed to thrive in rich soil. Now my soil is thinner, I limed it heavily, and I water less (transitioning to a xeric garden) and the bugs are fewer but still profuse.

I have plentiful toads and birds but nothing seems to eat these bugs.

Negative hutchygirl On Jun 22, 2012, hutchygirl from Stow, OH
(Zone 5b) wrote:

I also used to play with these bugs when I was a kid. Now, however, having worked as hard as I have on my gardens, they are making me insane!! EVERY YEAR these garden hazards destroy my hostas, inhibit the growth of my delphinium, partner with the aphids and leaf worms and spider mites to destroy my morning glories and a number of other detrimental activities in my gardens and containers!! Just the other day I found one in a container over three get tall as I questioned how the heck it got there!! They travel great distances and climb great heights and yes, they wreak a whole bunch of havoc!! They are anything BUT the fun little "potato bugs" / "roly polys" we played with as kids!!

Neutral dunnydame On Jun 28, 2012, dunnydame wrote:

In Australia we called these insects slaters, and in additional to playing with them like all kids seem to have done, I used them as additional feed for my long-neck terrapin (kind of turtle). He'd have to chase the slaters under water to get his meal.
Now in the US, I'm happy that my kids have also loved to play with them. However, I would never have thought of harming them - until I read people's comments here. Maybe I have an answer to some mysterious night-time damage to certain young plants? Roly-polies beware ! You are under serious observation!

Neutral SoooSirius On Jul 27, 2012, SoooSirius from Municipality of Murrysville, PA wrote:

Dysdera crocata or the Woodlouse Spider is a specialized predator of sowbugs. Also the common American Centipede, Scutigera coleoptrata, eats them. Toads eat them, too.

Neutral HeidiKHandmade On Mar 8, 2013, HeidiKHandmade from Vancouver, WA wrote:

Used to play with these as a child, found them entertaining and harmless. Yes, they can be controlled by the woodlouse spider (dysdera crocata), which lives mainly in leaf litter and underground--I have dug it up; look for a white abdomen and brilliant orange thorax, head, and legs. I have not personally observed pillbugs eating anything vital in my garden, but I don't observe my garden at night.

Negative dowbright On Jun 6, 2014, dowbright from Sunrise Beach, MO wrote:

We recently moved from St. Louis, Missouri to Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. I don't know if being near the lake makes it different, or if it's the changes in the weather, or if the soil is so different! Too many variables at this point to count. And there are many more, as with any big change.

BUT. For 35 years I have followed Ruth Stout's constant mulch methods, and my results have been all that I could wish.

I continued with the same style here, and nightmares have unfolded! Pillbugs? Sowbugs? Roly polies? The ones that roll up. They are eating everything I plant.

I think i mulched too early, but also, we've had a ton of ongoing rain, for weeks. But then the sun shown brightly to get things really growing, so I put my serious, heavy duty mulch down. DISASTER. These little crustaceously monstrous little buggers are everywhere. If I could buy toads, I would!! A couple are hanging around, and they're FAT! But it would take a thousand to eat all these bad guys.

I'm an organic gardener, but have resorted to something called Sluggo-Plus, which is labeled organic, but still...if it kills, it's gotta be a poison, right? It kills them, alright, but they are back in armies and dragoons and multitudes within a day. I'm going to remove all mulch, put it in a big pile away from anything I have planted, and wait for sunshine.

Then I'll keep close watch and see what happens next. Wish me luck!

I can't imagine gardening on plain dirt exposed to the sun. It gets lethally hot and dry here (usually) by now. And how can I really enrich that dirt (other than soil amendments) if it doesn't have mulch breaking down on it? (It wasn't horrible, but it was nothing like the loam I had at home, where I could plant without tools of any kind, no matter how deep. I had awesome dirt...MISS YOU, bud!

So when the sun and heat are here, I'll add a little bit, just a little bit, somewhere, and see how it goes. And work from there.

I guess I got too complacent about my mehtod as I grew older, then we moved, and nowóWAKE up call!!!!!! I hate these destroyers of all that I plant!

Guess it's time to learn the new and let go of the old!


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