For any macro photographer, one of your first subjects is likely to be a pill bug. They are the ducks of the macro world – so ridiculously easy to find that they draw the beginning photographer like a magnet. They were one of my first subjects and from time to time I find myself coming back to them because they are so fascinating.
However, as common as they are, few people know much about them. After learning a bit more and looking back at some of my old blogs, I even made several mistakes about them. Try the following trivia questions to see how much you know.
- Pill bugs are insects.
- Pill bugs and roly polies are the same thing.
- Pill bugs and sow bugs are the same.
- Pill bugs and sow bugs are both called woodlice.
Let’s see how you did. Most of this information comes from this site.
1) Pill bugs are insects
Nope, that is not true. Pill bugs are actually crustaceans and therefore are more closely related to lobsters than insects. However, they still require moisture for theirs gills which is why you often find them under rotten logs and in other moist environments.
2) Pill bugs and roly polies are the same thing
This is true. The name roly poly is often used in England, while pill bug is the name often used in the United States. Interestingly, like many of the bugs in our gardens they are not native to the US. Instead, they come from Europe and thus roly poly and pill bug do refer to the same bug.
3) Pill bugs and sow bugs are the same
Nope, they are different. The easiest way to tell the difference is to poke one. If it rolls into a ball, it is a pill bug. If it does not, it is a sowbug. After some practice you can often tell the difference without poking them, but they often look rather cool when they bunch up into a ball.
4) Pill bugs and sowbugs are both called woodlice
Until recently I believed this to be the truth, and you can find other web sites making the same claim. However, it is not technically true. Woodlice are the names given to the crustaceans that look much like pill bugs and are native to our forests. After seeing a number of pill bugs, I can vouch that the ones I have seen in our forests do look a bit different – for one thing they are a lot quicker. They are also a bit smaller.
Although many gardeners attempt to get rid of anything that moves, there really isn’t any evidence that they are much of a pest.
What interests me is it is well known that pill bugs defend themselves by rolling into a ball. Their hard outer armor makes it much more difficult to attack them. However, how do sowbugs defend themselves given that they lack this ability? Although I could not find any information other than camouflage, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that they have some sort of natural defense mechanism.
So tempting as it may be to squish them (which admittedly I loved doing as a child), try to be easy on these amazing creatures hidden in our yards.
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