Pillbugs belong to the woodlouse family. They are one of the few sub-species which has the ability to roll into a ball when threatened. This defensive stance is a means of protection. Because of this characteristic, Pillbugs belong to the Armadillidiidae genus; which is a family of woodlouse which share this specific ability.
Pillbugs are a land crustacean and have a protective, hard shell. This shell is similar in structure to that of a shrimp. The exoskeleton sheds periodically during the lifetime of a Pillbug. These tiny insects rarely grow longer than an inch and range from reddish-brown to silver-blue hues. They may also take the common names potato bugs, roly polies, or rollie pollies.
Like many other creepy crawlies, Pillbugs can often be found lurking in damp areas. They share many characteristics with crustaceans, including similar habitats. They are found all across the world and inhabit many American, Canadian and European yards and landscapes. These creatures are most prevalent in New Zealand.
Pillbug infestations commonly occur in greenhouses, where ideal environmental conditions are amplified. They live under rocks, in leaves and mulch, but depend upon conditions in which heat and humidity are prevalent. They may also be found close to water. These water-based conditions help prevent loss of water from their bodies, which they are unable to regulate by themselves.
When they feel threatened, they roll into tiny little balls that offer complete protection. Other woodlice do not do this. However, a genetic cross-species known as a pill millipede shares this trait and are loosely related to Pillbugs. This defensive feature is known as conglobation and helps to maintain their core temperature.
Life Cycle of Pillbugs
Female Pillbugs have a marsupium, which is a small pouch in which they carry their young. The female hosts this pouch on her front side. She lays her eggs in this pouch and carries them with her at all times, sometimes for up to three months. The eggs hatch inside this pouch, which can give the illusion of the female birthing her offspring.
Pillbugs molt, shedding two halves of their exoskeleton at separate times. The front half is shed first, followed by the second half a few days later. If you find a Pillbug which has a two-tone color, it is a strong sign that the Pillbug is maturing. This process allows for the protection of the inner flesh, which is only partially exposed at any one time. This molting will continue into adulthood – and typically occurs every month, lasting up to two weeks at a time.
Male Pillbugs may also turn into females in adulthood. While this may seem unusual, it is not a rare occurrence. If a male is infected by Wolbachia bacteria, his gender will change. This is due to exposure of greater levels of the male hormone; the body adjusts with female hormones, resulting in an unbalance and ultimately, becoming a female. These newly-made females will be able to give birth to eggs, though these eggs will also be infected. This process can repeat through several generations, causing an increase in the female pillbug population.
Pillbugs and Humans
Humans may come in contact with Pillbugs in the garden, but they are completely harmless. Greenhouses are a prime location due to the wet, humid conditions. In this setting, they can often live for months behind plant pots and other equipment.
Woodlice may be considered beneficial to gardeners who have existing mold problems and should consider keeping them in these cases. However, Armadillidiidae, or woodlice which have the specific ability to roll, are considered a pest and should be removed. To test which genus exists in your garden, they can be gently tapped to see if they roll up into a ball. Both types of woodlice are harmless to humans, but a member of the Armadillidiidae family pose a threat to plant-life.
Pillbugs do not typically come inside the home. On occasion, they can sometimes present themselves as pests if they overpopulate, and may alert homeowners to areas of wet or rotting wood inside the house. If they are found within the home, the first step is to evaluate the environment. If there is wet or rotting wood, the structural damage needs to be repaired or the object removed. The next step is to sanitize the area. For more information please visit our pillbug control page.
Pillbugs Scientific Name: Armadillidium vulgare
Pillbugs belong to the animalia phylum or arthropoda sub-phylum. The are classified as Malacostraca and are filed under the suborder, Oniscidea. Unknown to many, they are successful predators and will feast on a variety of animals, including small mammals and lizards despite their tiny frame.
Pillbugs are the only woodlice in their phylum which can roll into a ball and is considered a key feature to their genus; the Armadillidiidae. They may be confused for pill millipedes as they both share the same rolling skills and can be found living in the same conditions. Pill millipedes are also an arthropod but share little else but size in common.
Pillbugs are negative phototaxis. This means they do not like light or bright conditions. Pillbugs are also positive orthokinesis, and their movement is dictated by their temperature. When it is warmer, Pillbugs have been observed to move faster and slower when colder. They have also been known to be positive thigmokinesis; which works in connection with orthokinesis. Thigmokinesis means if more of the body surface is in contact with the floor, they will also become lethargic.