It may come as a surprise to some that I love bugs! I find them absolutely fascinating and if I had known growing up that entomology was a thing, I would have gone into that field. I am always trying to find out more about creepy crawlies and was amazed to learn that some garden critters are more beneficial than harmful!
One, in particular, is the “Armadillidium Vulgare” or the common pill-bug, potato bug, roly-poly, common pill woodlouse, slater, doodle-bug, or carpenter. They are one of the very first “bugs” I remember being curious about as a child. These little creatures are one of the most extensively investigated terrestrial isopod species according to “The World Catalog of Terrestrial Isopods."
Roly-polys can be found in moist, dark environments and feed on decaying matter. They are actually crustaceans and are more closely related to crabs & shrimp than insects. They don’t have lungs and they breathe through gills. They carry their young in pouch-like kangaroos and lobsters. They do not urinate and can withstand high amounts of ammonia, it escapes through their exoskeleton. They have blue blood. When threatened they roll up into a ball. They are one of the best protectors of soil! Their guts contain microbes that help them feed on a dead organic matter where they then return the organic matter to the soil so it can be used further by fungi, protozoans, and bacteria. The process then produces a natural supply of nitrates, phosphates, and other vital nutrients beneficial to plants.
One of the most amazing and important things they can do is consume heavy metals found in soil. They are an indicator of soil pollutants such as lead, cadmium, and arsenic. They take in these heavy metals and then crystallize the ions in their guts. The toxins then become spherical deposits. They can survive in some of the most contaminated environments. They help to re-establish and stabilize healthy soil and prevent toxic metal ions from leaching into groundwater. Which can mean protecting well water from becoming contaminated.
Roly-Polys are an important part of soil health and natural ecosystems. So next time I see them munching on my lettuce, I will just consider it payment for helping out my soil and do my best to remember, “If something is not eating your plants, then your garden is not part of the ecosystem.”