Rollie Pollies

 Rollie Pollies

By Terri Estes

Have you ever turned over a rock in your yard and gotten totally grossed out by these little oval shaped grey bugs with a hard shell crawling all over the place? Well, I have! It turns out that these bugs are actually terrestrial crustaceans. They are not an insect at all; they just happen to look like one. However, no matter what we think of their appearance, the fact is, they are very beneficial to our environment.

The proper name for a rollie pollie bug is oniscidae. They are also known as pill bugs, but I have always called them as rollie pollies, so that is the name I’m sticking with. They get this name from their tendency to roll up in a tight ball and protect their vulnerable underside with their armored shell when they feel threatened.

These creepy little creatures are actually really, really good to have in our gardens. Their main diet consists of decaying organic matter, such as plants and dead leaves. They break it down into smaller parts. This accelerates the decomposition rate and releases essential nutrients back into the soil. They also feed on the larva of some harmful insects in our gardens, helping to keep their numbers in check.

Believe it or not, rollie pollies also remove heavy metals from the earth such as mercury and lead. They take in these heavy metal ions and crystallize them in their guts. This keeps those harmful metals from contaminating our water supply. So, the next time you see them under an upturned rock or crawling under the damp mulch — silently thank those ugly little critters, and let them do their job!

Isn’t nature cool?!

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