Pill bugs in garden

Often found in home gardens and landscaped areas across the country, sowbugs (Porcellio scaber) and pillbugs (Armadillidium vulgare), also known as roly polies, feed primarily on decaying matter and are important in the decomposition process. However, if present in large numbers they have been known to feed on seedlings, new roots, lower leaves and fruits or vegetables laying directly on the soil. These small scavengers scurry when disturbed and are often found outside hiding under leaves, rocks, garden debris, mulch and other dark, damp areas. Occasionally they will enter homes as accidental invaders. Indoors they are simply a nuisance and cannot survive for more than a day or two without water. These insects do not bite or sting and cannot damage household structures.



Similar in appearance, sowbugs and pillbugs (3/4 inch long) are slow-moving oval-shaped crustaceans that more closely resemble crayfish, shrimp and lobster than insects. They vary from gray to brown to almost purple in color and have seven pairs of legs, elbowed antennae, and a segmented hard shell-like covering, similar to that of an armadillos. Sowbugs also have two tail-like structures on the rear end that pillbugs lack.

Note: Pillbugs are sometimes called “roly-polies” because they often roll up into a tight ball when disturbed.

Both sowbugs and pillbugs mate throughout the year with most of the activity occurring in March and April. The female incubates her eggs in a fluid-filled pouch (marsupium) located on the underside of her body for 3-7 weeks. After hatching, the young nymphs (similar in appearance to adults, only smaller) remain in the pouch for up to two months until they can care for themselves. Nymphs molt, or shed their exoskeleton, at regular intervals and reach sexual maturity, usually within a year. As adults, they continue to molt about once every month. Females can produce broods of approximately 30-40 young that may live up to 3 years. There are one to two generations per year, depending on weather conditions.

Sowbug/ Pillbug Control

  1. To get rid of roly poly bugs reduce the habitat favored by these pests by eliminating garden debris, leaf piles, fallen fruit and weeds from all growing areas.
  2. Use mulches that are coarse enough to let water pass through easily so the surface next to plants will not remain damp for long.
  3. Improve air circulation around plants by providing trellises for vines and raising fruits, such as strawberries and melons, up off the ground.
  4. Diatomaceous earth, made from the finely ground fossils of prehistoric fresh water diatoms (one-celled shells), is abrasive to crawling insects and can be used as a barrier to protect plants.
  5. Apply Insect Killer Granules around foundations, lawns and landscaped areas to eliminate or repel all kinds of troublesome pests.
  6. Scatter Monterey Ant Control, a safe and organic bait containing iron phosphate and spinosad, evenly over the soil around or near problem areas.
  7. Apply fast-acting botanical insecticides as a soil drench if pest levels become intolerable.

Tip: Black plastic mulches will discourage many insects by creating an environment that is too hot for them.

Note: If pests are a problem indoors repair and seal cracks in the foundation wall, around basement windows and along door jambs. Reduce high moisture areas near possible entry points by properly draining water away from the house.

Our beautiful raised bed garden has turned into a sea of potato bugs / pill bugs / charlie bugs / rollly-pollies / sow bugs. See that beautiful photo of my beans? They ate that entire row of young bean plants in a night and then started on an Early Prolific Squash. I have never seen these docile cute little bugs swarm before. They are voracious.
Where did they come from? While we certainly have our share of all sorts of bugs we’ve never had this many sow bugs. As I did my internet research on how to be rid of them I learned they like to feast on decaying matter and young seedlings. I’m guessing they had a very cozy life inside the organic compost I used to start my garden. I don’t mind sharing some of our garden with nature but this is nuts!
So, how to be rid of them? Since our goal is to raise vegetables and fruits without chemicals we are looking for a natural, “Little House on the Prairie” solution to this problem. Here’s a variety of solutions we’ve learned thanks to a handy google search.
What you need to know about these fellers is they work at night. During the heat of the day they go dormant. They lounge in the shade of plant leaves, crowded together, hording moisture. At night, when the humidity rises, they go to work.

  • Remove them by hand. Pick em up. Smoosh em. Or relocate them. This didn’t work for us as there were just too many. At the height of it I could pick up trowels full of them.
  • Reduce the moisture in the garden by watering in the mornings. These little buggers thrive on moisture. If you water in the mornings the moisture will soak in throughout the day and the top layer of soil will be dry by evening. In theory, without moisture the pill bugs will go elsewhere. This helped but would not have sufficed on its own.
  • Once your plant is mature, try to raise the vegetation off the ground as they will eat a whole squash!
  • Use Sluggo Pellets, which supposedly dissolve and add iron to your soil. I didn’t try these as I didn’t feel 100% sure about the “naturalness” of this product.
  • Set a trap using over-ripe fruit. Place fruit in various spots of the garden. The sow bugs will make a meal of the fruit throughout the night. In the morning, pick up the fruit loaded with pill bugs. Toss it. This TOTALLY WORKS!!
  • Set a trap using newspaper. Take tightly rolled newspaper and soak it with water. Put it in the garden at the end of the day. The rollie-pollies will feast on it all night. In the morning, you should find a paper loaded with pill bugs. Toss it. This TOTALLY WORKS!!
  • A blogger from Australia says he uses cayenne pepper and/or curry powder as a deterent. He puts a mixture of cayenne pepper and curry powder in the soil around his tomato and potato plants and has found that to be an effective deterrent. I haven’t tried this one yet but I have found that cinamon is an effective deterrent for ants…that’ll be a whole other post.
  • Use Diatomaceous Earth. Diatomaceous Earth eliminates the pill bugs by dryingthem out and can be harmful to worms. I love my garden worms so I haven’t tried this solution.

IN THE GARDEN: Organic ways to get rid of roly polies

By October 06, 2017

Carolyn asks, “What is an organic solution to pill bugs?”

Carolyn, pill bugs (Armadillidium vulgare) are crustaceans, meaning they have exoskeletons similar to shrimp. Although they are fun to play with, these isopods are decomposers. They feast on transplants and seedlings.

You have a couple of options.

Bill Luedecke and daughter, Martelle, offer gardening advice for the Highland Lakes.

First, diatomaceous earth (DE). Diatomaceous earth is not poisonous; it is pet- and child-friendly. DE is made from the fossilized remains of tiny, aquatic organisms called diatoms. Their skeletons are made of a natural substance called silica, which causes insects to dry out and die after absorbing the oils and fats from the cuticle of the insect’s exoskeleton. Its sharp edges are abrasive, speeding up the process. To eradicate the pill bugs, spread DE around your garden, a top layer.

A second option is to bait the pill bugs. Set a corn cob or a slice of melon in your garden. The pill bugs will congregate for the buffet. Then, dispose of the melon rind in a small trash bag before placing into the garbage can. Fair warning: The bait might attract more than just the roly polies, consider wearing gloves before you pick up your bait.

Just so you know, pill bugs are really good cleanup bugs, equal to vultures cleaning up road kill.

October Garden Duties

1. This is the month to purchase (and place in the refrigerator for 60 days) your tulip and hyacinth bulbs. These have to chill for that period of time before they are planted in December. The other bulb plants can be planted now.

2. Start to make your list of trees you want to plant in November and December. This is the time of year for planning for next spring and cleaning up the gardens for winter. Remove all the annuals as they begin to dwindle in their blooms. Cut off the tops of all herbaceous perennials that have completed their flowering cycle or when the first freeze has killed their leaves.

3. Plant your bulbs (not tulip or hyacinth) so the base of the bulb is at a depth that is three times the diameter of the bulb.

4. If you have been saving seeds of those favorite plants, allow them to air dry then place them in an air-dry container. Be sure to mark what they are before putting them away.

5. Late this month, begin to dig your caladium bulbs to save them for next year. After several days (7-10), remove the leaves and dirt then pack them, without them touching each other, in peat moss, vermiculite, or similar material for storage. Dust them with an organic fungicide and place them in an area where the temperature will not drop below 50 degrees.

6. How are your tomatoes growing? (The ones we cut back from the summer.) How about those we have planted for the fall?

7. It is time to feed the azaleas, camellias, and rhododendrons with bone meal to encourage bud formation.

8. When you are composting, add coffee grounds to assist in bringing down the pH level.

9. If you want to have a beautiful, healthy lawn next spring, now is the time to prepare. The month of October is the best time to fertilize (8-2-4) for the winter.

Winter stratification

So, why are we planting our wildflower seeds in the fall before it gets really cold, you may ask? Wildflowers were here before bulldozers and even the explorers Lewis and Clark. The wildflowers are self-sufficient. According to Wildflower Farm, fall and winter create “cold moist stratification or winter sowing in order to wake up and begin to grow. Cold moist stratification or winter sowing is nature’s way of breaking down the hard seed coating found on some wildflowers.” If, by chance, you haven’t located the seeds that you would like to plant by our first freeze, don’t panic. In the spring, you can place your seeds in a container with sand. Shake it up to utilize the abrasion of the sand. Then, pull out your ice cube trays. Put a couple of seeds in each cube, top with water, and freeze for 48 hours. Then, plant your ice cubes. Voila: You have cold, moist winter stratification.

Keep your souls and soles in your garden! Remember the True Master Gardener, Jesus said, “I am the vine; my Father is the Gardener.” John 15:1

Have questions or comments? Contact Bill Luedecke at The Luedecke Group Realtors at (512) 577-1463 or email [email protected] Contact Martelle Luedecke at (512) 769-3179 or [email protected]

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There are many pests which are drawn to areas where moisture accumulates. Moisture allows many things to thrive; it is the basic ingredient for life. Besides the thousands of microscopic organisms, many insects and other creatures will readily live where it is damp. Among these creatures is the pillbug. This article will explain some basic biology of this isopod and explain how to treat local infestations.



Pill bugs are small, about 1/2″ to 3/4″ in length, gray in color and oval. They live under rocks, logs, mulch, wood chips and all around the home where it is damp, dark and moist. Generally you may see hundreds or thousands of them emerge when you attempt to do some gardening and begin to disturb the soil.

Though generally not a destructive pest, pill bugs will readily move under slabs, into doorways and window frames which accumulate moisture. This moisture may form due to leaks or condensation and with this moisture comes mold, mildew and algae – the basic food stuff of these pests.

Established colonies of pill bugs will move inside when moisture levels are too high or to seek relief from either cold or heat. It is when they migrate into living areas that people first notice just how bad of a problem they have.


The pill bug is unique in that it can roll into a round ball thus achieving a good defensive position. Pill bugs will bear young at least twice a year and carry them until the young are able to keep up with the rest of the colony. Though the young may leave mother from time to time, it is not uncommon for them to come back and allow her to bear their burden for as long as she can.

As food supplies dwindle, colonies will relocate and forage to adjacent areas that meet dietary needs. Most feeding will be done during the night and due to their behavior traits, many people refer to them as “water bugs”.



Controlling these isopods should be done in a two phase format. First, try to identify moisture problems. If you have a leaky window, roof or bad caulking, get it fixed. Any constant supply of water will allow mold and algae to grow as well as take away from the overall impact chemical treatments will have.

In effect, the moisture will allow the pest to be ever present – the ones you kill will quickly be replaced by new pill bugs seeking shelter and food. If the local conditions are OK but you have a lot of mulch, rock, pine straw, wood chips or other objects around the perimeter of the home, expect the activity to continue. But even as the moisture is reduced, the problem will most likely require some treatments to remedy it for good.


First, you must focus on the outside of the home. In most cases, this is where they’ll be nesting. Apply TALSTAR GRANULES to all mulch beds, gardens and turf around the home. Talstar is slow to act but will last 2-3 months per application. Use 1-2 lbs on each side of the home applying it over a 10 foot band. This treated “zone” will be pest free since Talstar will control just about any common perimeter invader. Do this treatment every 1-2 months when they’re active; once every 3 months to make sure they don’t return.


Next, spray the foundation and ground areas with DFENSE. This concentrate is unique in that it will stay on the surface of any porous substrate like cement and wood much longer compared to emulsifiable concentrates. Mix .5 oz per gallon of water and apply monthly where pill bugs are active. Once the problem is gone, treat every 3 months to insure they don’t return.

Use a good PUMP SPRAYER to apply the D-fense.

When spraying, get at least 1 foot out from the home on top of the turf, soil or mulch and end where the Talstar Granules will be active. Since mulch, siding and plants are where pill bugs like to live, treatment needs to address these locations around the structure. Do this at least once a month. When local activity has ceased, you may be able to go a little longer between treatments.

Also spray at least 2 feet up the side of the home. On siding where pill bugs are higher, spray higher to establish control.


If you have pill bugs in the home, garage or basement, inside treatments will be necessary. Use D-Fense on baseboards in rooms where activity is seen. This is likely to be in garages, crawl spaces and around doors.

If they are up high where you can’t spray or nesting in wall voids or difficult to treat cracks and crevices, use DFORCE AEROSOL. This aerosol comes with an injecting straw tube which allows you to inject the material into cracks and crevices.

Dforce will kill pill bugs quickly since it’s both a contact killer and a flushing agent, it will chase them out of hidden spaces.

Pillbugs can become a problem in and around the home. Though they don’t cause damage, they can be a pest. Use Talstar Granules and D-Fense outside the home to kill off local infestations. Eliminate moisture for long term control. Treat cracks and crevices inside with Dforce Aerosol to quickly control any which are nesting in the home.


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What Do Rolly Pollies Eat?

Although this might sound strange to most people, there are people who actually consider rolly pollies to be interesting, low-maintenance pets to keep at home. Granted, some of us think of them as pests; rolly pollies, or pill bugs, make up some of those rare critters who tread the thin line between pest and pet; sort of like hamsters and rats. Maybe you have seen a few of them around your house and wondered, “what do rolly pollies eat?”

Scientifically known as Armadillidium vulgare, these isotopes are arthropods and have numerous common names, such as rolly pollies, sow bugs, the wood louse, pill bugs, pillbugs, rolly pollies, roly poly bugs, pill millipedes, potato bugs, and poly bugs, aren’t that fussy about what they eat. They can eat pretty much anything you put in their path. These crustaceans particularly enjoy feeding on decaying matter such as leaves and grass. They can even live for more than five years on this stuff. That makes them kind of difficult to starve, don’t you think?

Whether you want to keep rolly pollies as pets or want to get rid of them, you need to know what it is they eat so you can plan a proper eradication course. You also need to know when they are most prevalent (during winter months) and they main breeding habits as well as habitat and characteristics. Here is a quick rundown on what rolly pollies eat and how you can get rid of them if you choose to do so:

What Are Rolly Pollies?

Rolly pollies are not insects as most people would believe. They are more closely related to living organisms such as shrimp, lobsters, and crabs. They are crustaceans that have exoskeletons and hard shells. Unlike their lobster cousins, these critters can easily live on land.

In order to survive, these crustaceans need a moist environment, some dirt or rocks under which to take shelter and, of course, something to eat. Although when it comes to the ‘something to eat’ part, pretty much anything will do for these critters.

Even cardboard boxes! They particularly like to eat organic matter such as rotten fruit, dead plants, and also things like carrot and apples as well as potatoes. They are typically referred to as rolly pollies because they tend to roll up into a tiny ball when they feel threatened. The ‘pill bugs’ reference probably stems from the fact that once they are rolled up into their little ball, they look like tiny pills instead of living creatures.

As we have already mentioned, rolly pollies can eat pretty much any organic matter in their path. Although they are technically not bugs, they have a diet that is similar to that of most bugs. They relish dead vegetation and similar formula foods such as cardboards and fish food flakes. For the most part, they survive on:

  • Apple skins
  • Grass
  • Carrots
  • Plant roots
  • Tree bark
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes

They are particularly fond of rotting food that is well on its way to decaying. If you intend to keep these critters as pets, then make sure that the food is rotten before putting it in their habitat. Although, as much as these critters survive of decaying matter, moldy food poses a danger to their lives. Strangely enough, rolly pollies cannot safely process moldy food and often die off when exposed to such sources of sustenance.

What About Water?

As crustaceans, these critters have gills that allow them to get the water they need from the moisture within their habitat. That is why open water sources pose a danger to these little buggers. Any open water source is a potential drowning hazard for rolly pollies. For that reason, rolly pollies do not live in ponds or swimming pools; they live in moist environments such as mulch beds and damp soil. They can typically be found curled up under fallen vegetation, wood, and rocks.

Are Rolly Pollies Pests?

The answer to this question will depend on how you view these creatures.

As this tweet shows, some people think of them as a precious commodity:

pill bugs are precious commodity and they must be protected

— lingonberry jam (@ericasplund) October 11, 2017

As we mentioned, some people actually keep them as pets. If you are, however, not one of those people, then you can view them as pests to some extent. The main reason for this is that, although rolly pollies typically feed on decaying matter, come winter time when their food runs out, they can turn on the roots of your plants. If you are a farmer, this is not something you want hanging around your property. Anything that can turn plant roots into a meal is bad for business.

Additionally, rolly pollies will easily snack on vegetables and fruits growing in your garden. Avid gardeners do not take this sort of thing lightly, especially when they begin to destroy entire orchards just to survive. That being said, rolly pollies can also be a major ally when it comes to managing stink bugs. These bugs tend to damage plants by feeding on their juices both internally and externally. Rolly pollies, on the other hand, feed on stink bug eggs thus keeping their population down and saving your plants in the long run.

Rolly pollies also take dead matter and decompose it thus providing invaluable nutrients to the soil around their habitats. In reality, rolly pollies do more good than they do harm. But, as we mentioned, it is all a matter of perspective. Are you willing to let these critters roam freely on your land decomposing dead matter or do you think the fact that they could eat plant roots is a deal breaker?

Strange Facts You Need To Know About Rolly Pollies

We have already covered the fact that they are not exactly insects and that they may or may not be harmful to your property depending on the hunger situation. Here are some other facts that you may find interesting about rolly pollies:

Rolly Pollies Breathe Through Gills:

To most people, this will not make sense because creatures that breathe through gills live under water. The problem here is that although pill bugs do breathe through gills, they will actually drown when submerged in water. As crustaceans, they survive best in moist environments where they can suck the moisture from their surroundings to stay alive.

Rolly Pollies Turn Blue When Sick:

Rolly pollies will turn a bright blue color when sick. If you see a lot of these critters turning blue in your garden, it is often an indication that something is going around. You should, therefore, keep an eye out for your plants.

Rolly Pollies Can Actually Be Good For Your Garden:

They are mainly decomposing machines that can bring life to your garden. The fact that they eat almost everything in their path and only turn to plant roots in the direst of situations is a testament to their being useful if kept well-fed. They also act as good pest deterrents by eating off any stink bug eggs that might be found in your garden.

The Benefits Of Keeping Rolly Pollies

Rolly pollies are decomposers that eat dead plants and animals. They then defecate thus providing your soil with the nutrients it needs to be conducive and productive as far as plant growth is concerned. In all honesty, rolly pollies are probably more beneficial to you as a farmer or avid gardener than they are a nuisance. Yes, during the winter, these critters might eat a few plant roots here and there, but they do not go overboard with the damage. If you think about the good they do versus the damage they can potentially course, you will see that maybe it isn’t such a bad idea to have them around; in controlled numbers.

How To Get Rid Of Rolly Pollies In Your Garden

If, however, you have decided that having these little critters around is not in your best interest, then there are some steps you can take to get rid of them. Here are some of the best tips to get rid of rolly pollies:

Get rid of or reduce their habitat: One of the fastest ways to get rid of any pest is to eliminate their habitat and food source. Rolly pollies live in garden debris, moist logs, under rocks, and thrive on fallen fruits, weeds, and dead leaves. Get rid of all these aspects, and your property will quickly become untenable for rolly pollies. They will either die off or move along.

Useinsect killer granules on your property: Another excellent way to kill off almost all types of pests is to apply insect killer granules. This will kill off most types of insects and pests including rolly pollies.

Improve air circulation by raising plants: You can easily improve air circulation around plants by constructing trellises for vines as well as raising fruits off the ground. This will deny rolly pollies the moist and damp environment they need to survive as well as keep fruits out of easy reach.

These are simple and straightforward methods that you can use to minimize the number of rolly pollies on your property.

Ultimately, however, if you want to make sure that you have made your property as pest-proof as possible, then you should call your favorite pest management professional. Not only will we get rid of rolly pollies for you, but we will also make sure that we’ve analyzed all other possible pest infestations that might be building up on your property and giving you the most practical course of action. Give us a call today and let us help you pest-proof your property.



Pillbug Control

Pillbugs are a very common sight in Oklahoma. This animal has taken on many different names over the years ranging from roly-poly to woodlouse. Though the pillbug is often called an insect, they are actually a terrestrial Isopod.

The pillbug belongs to the class Crustacea, making it closely related to the lobster, crab and shrimp. Crustaceans, however, are part of a larger group of joint-legged animals called Arthropoda. Arthropods all have a tough outer cuticle that is divided into flexible segments.

Pillbugs are characterized by their round-backed profile that can be rolled into a ball, similar to an armadillo, coining the name pillbug. The head of a pillbug is broad and contains two sharply-angled antennae. This land crustacean is also equipped with four pairs of mouthparts.

The seven trunk segments found on the pillbug all possess their own set of legs, resulting in seven distinct leg groups. Behind these segments is the pleon, which is divided again into six smaller segments. The pleon covers a pair of five pleopods, which in turn covers overlapping gills easily visible from the bottom of the animal.

The gills of a pillbug are responsible for many vital functions to sustain life. The primary functions include reproduction, gas exchange and excretion. Because of the unique anatomy of a pillbug, they do not urinate, and instead, pass it as a gas through their bodies.

Within the United States, there are 12 known species of pillbugs found within Northern and Central United States. Many more species can be found in coastal areas and in Floridian wetlands. Most pillbugs look nearly identical from a distance, however, with magnification many differences are clearly visible.

Pillbugs are not native to North America and were transplanted in the region from European countries. The earliest history of pillbugs within the Americas can be traced back to the 19th century through genetic testing. It is believed they arrived with traded lumber on the Mississippi River and St. Lawrence River lumber routes.


Pillbugs can be found in humid environments throughout the day. The largest populations of pillbugs can most often be found in compost piles and deposits of leaf litter. Many can also be found within piles of rocks, wood deposits and under fallen tree bark.

The pillbug is a nocturnal animal that will travel large distances during a period of the night. On evenings that are particularly humid, groups of pillbugs can easily be spotted feasting on dead vegetation and leaf litter. Pillbugs can be found in most gardens at any time of day, however, they will hide during periods of sunlight.

The diet of a pillbug consists of decaying plant and animal material. The most common food sources for a pillbug are algae, moss, fungi and bark. The pillbug will also eat feces from a variety of sources, including its own. As pillbugs defecate they lose copper precious to their livelihood, for this reason, they eat their own feces to retain copper content.

Large populations of pillbugs can draw in a number of unsavory pests within and around the home. Natural predators of the pillbug include amphibians and reptiles such as frogs and lizards. However, some spiders feed exclusively on pillbugs and will be more prevalent with increased populations of the animal.

Life Cycle

Pillbugs will reproduce in the months of May through September. The pillbug is capable of creating offspring through parthenogenesis, or reproduction without fertilization, but a male is typically involved in the process. Male pillbugs have elongated pleopods that they use for fertilization. Mating has seldom been witnessed, but a male pillbug will crawl across the females back to fertilize her eggs.

Once fertilization is successful, a female pillbug will develop a fluid-filled pouch to lay eggs into. Once the female has successfully fertilized her eggs, they will hatch within the passing of a few days. Each brood will contain up to a dozen young pillbugs.

Once the eggs hatch, juveniles will absorb the fluid in the pouch before breaking free. This process can take several hours. Upon exiting the pouch young pillbugs will only have six pairs of legs, and will develop the seventh pair following their first molt.

Juvenile pillbugs will remain in the pouch of a mother until they are fully formed. Often young pillbugs will take on a white color as seen with insects such as cockroaches. After molting, the color of a pillbug will begin to darken. Juvenile pillbugs are born with only six leg sets, but will grow their seventh pair after the first molt.

Pillbugs will continue molting every few weeks throughout the duration of their life. One unique difference in the molting of a pillbug is its ability to molt in two separate sections. The common species of pillbug in the United States has an average lifespan of two to three years.

Pillbugs in Oklahoma

In Oklahoma, the common pillbug, or Armadillidium Vulgare, is the most abundant species of pillbug. There are significant populations found throughout North America and many other countries. Though this species is native to the Mediterranean; it has been introduced to nearly every continent that contains a hospitable environment.

Common Pillbug

The common pillbug is a very active surface and soil dwelling terrestrial isopod. In order to survive, the common pillbug requires a humidity level within a range of 50% to 60%. Any conditions with a lower percentage of humidity will promote desiccation and kill the animal.

In most cases, the optimal habitat for a common pillbug will include large amounts of organic matter undergoing decomposition. Moderate temperatures with low direct sunlight will help the common pill bug flourish and retain humidity and moisture levels. Though some species of pill bug will nest near water sources throughout the winter, the common pillbug prefers a dry area that isn’t directly near water.

Finding a common pillbug is a relatively easy affair. Raising natural debris such as large stones or fallen logs will almost always net a large quantity of this land-dwelling crustacean. This particular species prefers large-particle soil as seen in flower beds or greenhouse applications.

The common pillbug can be identified from other terrestrial isopods because of its clearly visible antennae. These antennae are easily observed any time the common pillbug rolls itself into a defensive ball. This species is much hardier than other pillbug species because of a thicker cuticle that allows them to avoid dehydration more efficiently.

This species of pillbug exhibits a distinctly oval shape due to its elongated body. Juvenile common pillbugs can measure anywhere between 5 and 7 millimeters in length, while the adults are larger, spanning 10 to 15mm in length. Studies have shown that male and female common pillbugs have a nearly equal mass.

Pigments within the common pillbug give the isopod a dark coloration within their abdomen and distinct color spots within the dorsal. Typically, this species will have yellow shaded spots, but it is not uncommon to see brown or red. The overall color of a pillbug will open take on a dark gray primary color, but variants of color can exist.

The common pillbug has an average lifespan seemingly shorter than related species. In the wild, the average lifespan of a common pillbug can be as short as a year and a half, though some live for a few years. Studies have found that this species requires a high social activity to increase their potential life span. When placed in isolation and still receiving optimal environmental conditions, common pillbugs faced extremely high mortality rates.

Ecosystem Role

Pillbugs play a critical role in the decay of natural plant materials, making them an important piece in the decomposer fauna. Though they can do damage to some transplanted, young plants within a garden, pill bugs generally will focus on already dead and decaying matter. In a compost pile, pillbugs can speed up the process of decay naturally.

The pillbug returns organic matter into the soil after being consumed. In a cycle commonly associated with earthworms, the excrement of a pillbug is then digested by fungi, protozoa and bacteria. This, in turn, gives plants vital nutrients in the form of nitrates, phosphates and other nutrients to ensure proper growth.

Pillbugs are also capable of ingesting heavy metals from coal spoils or slag heaps that may be contaminating the soil. The metals they are capable of ingesting include copper, lead, zinc and cadmium. By removing these metals, pillbugs promote restoration by encouraging accelerated topsoil promotion.


In most cases, pillbugs will only enter a home in mass when water sources are unavailable outside. Though the pillbug is not harmful to humans, their presence can be unwelcomed. To keep pillbugs from entering a home, there are several steps that can be taken to ensure maximum protection.

Minimize Moisture

Pillbugs require moisture in order to survive. When excess moisture is found near a home’s foundation, the likelihood of a pillbug infestation is increased. It is important to not allow water to pool near a home’s foundation or a crawlspace. To fix this issue, divert water away from the home through the use of gutters, downspouts and splash blocks.

Repair Leaks

Leaking faucets and water pipes can create an environmental suitable for the pillbug. Air conditioning units can also create condensation that will make moisture levels higher than normal. By remedying these issues, homeowners will make it less likely for pillbugs to enter a home.

Remove Debris

Food sources for pillbugs are typically found outside. The pillbug will generally eat vegetable and plant debris or decaying matter. Removing leaf piles, grass clippings, unnecessary mulch and stones near the foundation of a home will make the likelihood of an infestation less severe.

Seal Cracks

Most often pillbugs will enter a home through small cracks predominately from sliding doors that serve as an exit from the home. By installing tight fitting weather stripping or door sweeps this problem can be remedied in most cases, though sometimes caulk may also be necessary. Pillbugs may also enter the home through cracks in foundation walls or basement windows. Sealing these entry points will make pillbugs less likely to enter.

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth is a sedimentary deposit composed of the fossilized remains of diatoms. This natural bug killer can be very effective against isopods such as the pillbug because they require so much moisture. When a pillbug crawls over diatomaceous earth, the soft underbelly will become damaged and cause dehydration and eventual death.

Common Associations

Pillbugs are often confused with another land crustacean, the sowbug. The major difference between these two woodlouse species is the sowbugs inability to roll up when disturbed. The sowbug also has two appendages not seen with pillbugs that resemble tails.

Sowbugs and Pillbugs

ENTFACT-439: Sowbugs and Pillbugs | Download PDF

by Michael F. Potter, Extension Entomologist
University of Kentucky College of Agriculture

Sowbugs and pillbugs are similar-looking pests which are more closely akin to shrimp and crayfish than to insects. They are the only crustaceans that have adapted to living their entire life on land. Sowbugs and pillbugs live in moist environments outdoors but occasionally end up in buildings. Although they sometimes enter in large numbers, they do not bite, sting, or transmit diseases, nor do they infest food, clothing or wood. They are simply a nuisance by their presence.



Sowbugs and pillbugs range in size from 1/4 to 1/2 inch long and are dark to slate gray. Their oval, segmented bodies are convex above but flat or concave underneath. They possess seven pairs of legs and two pairs of antennae (only one pair of antennae is readily visible). Sowbugs also have two tail-like appendages which project out from the rear end of the body. Pillbugs have no posterior appendages and can roll up into a tight ball when disturbed, for which they are sometimes called “roly-polies”.

Biology and Habits

Sowbugs and pillbugs are scavengers and feed mainly on decaying organic matter. They occasionally feed on young plants but the damage inflicted is seldom significant. Sowbugs and pillbugs thrive only in areas of high moisture, and tend to remain hidden under objects during the day. Around buildings they are common under mulch, compost, boards, stones, flower pots, and other items resting on damp ground. Another frequent hiding place is behind the grass edge adjoining sidewalks and foundations.

Sowbugs and pillbugs may leave their natural habitats at night, and crawl about over sidewalks, patios, and foundations. They often invade crawl spaces, damp basements and first floors of houses at ground level. Common points of entry into buildings include door thresholds (especially at the base of sliding glass doors), expansion joints, and through the voids of concrete block walls. Frequent sightings of these pests indoors usually means that there are large numbers breeding on the outside, close to the foundation. Since sowbugs and pillbugs require moisture, they do not survive indoors for more than a few days unless there are very moist or damp conditions.


Minimize Moisture, Remove Debris

The most effective, long-term measure for reducing indoor entry of these pests is to minimize moisture and hiding places near the foundation. Leaves, grass clippings, heavy accumulations of mulch, boards, stones, boxes, and similar items laying on the ground beside the foundation should be removed, since these often attract and harbor sowbugs and pillbugs. Items that cannot be removed should be elevated off the ground.

Don’t allow water to accumulate near the foundation or in the crawl space. Water should be diverted away from the foundation wall with properly functioning gutters, down spouts and splash blocks. Leaking faucets, water pipes and air conditioning units should be repaired, and lawn sprinklers should be adjusted to minimize puddling near the foundation. Homes with poor drainage may need to have tiles or drains installed, or the ground sloped to so that surface water drains away from the building. Humidity in crawl spaces and basements should be reduced by providing adequate ventilation, sump pumps, polyethylene soil covers, etc.

Seal Pest Entry Points

Seal cracks and openings in the outside foundation wall, and around the bottoms of doors and basement windows. Install tight-fitting door sweeps or thresholds at the base of all exterior entry doors, and apply caulk along the bottom outside edge and sides of door thresholds. Seal expansion joints where outdoor patios, sunrooms and sidewalks abut the foundation. Expansion joints and gaps should also be sealed along the bottom of basement walls on the interior, to reduce entry of pests and moisture from outdoors.


Application of insecticides along baseboards and other interior living areas of the home are of little use in controlling these pests. Sowbugs and pillbugs which end up in kitchens, living rooms, etc. soon die from a lack of moisture. Removal with a broom or vacuum is all that is needed. For large infestations, insecticides may help reduce inward migration of these and other pests when applied outdoors, along the bottom of exterior doors, around crawl space entrances, foundation vents and utility openings, and up underneath siding. It may also be useful to treat along the ground beside the foundation in mulch beds, ornamental plantings, etc., and a few feet up the base of the foundation wall. (Heavy accumulations of mulch and leaf litter should first be raked back to expose pests for treatment.) Insecticide treatment may also be warranted along foundation walls in damp crawl spaces and unfinished basements.

Various insecticides sold in hardware/lawn and garden shops are effective, including Sevin, and permethrin (Spectracide Bug Stop). Treatment can be accomplished with a compressed air (pump up) or hose end sprayer.

Issued: 4/98
Revised: 7/19

CAUTION! Pesticide recommendations in this publication are registered for use in Kentucky, USA ONLY! The use of some products may not be legal in your state or country. Please check with your local county agent or regulatory official before using any pesticide mentioned in this publication.


Images: University of Kentucky Entomology

Sowbug (Oniscus spp.)

Small, armored Sowbugs may go by many other names, but Pillbug and Roly Poly are not one of them.

Sowbugs are small, crawling Isopods, not insects. They cannot fly and do not sting. They are shaped like a bean and have many small legs hidden under their gray segmented armor plates. They are sometimes likened to a mini-armadillo. Sowbugs, however, do not roll up to protect themselves, like their similar-looking relatives, Pillbugs. To differentiate between these two types of Isodpods, look for two small tail-like appendages at the rear end. Sowbugs have them; Pillbugs do not. Sowbugs also have two pairs of antennae, though the second set is not easily visible.
Like Pillbugs, however, they can be found under stones, large rocks, logs, leaf litter, compost, mulch, and wood stacks. In fact, another name for a Sowbug is Woodlouse. They scavenge for decomposing organic debris in these areas. It is not unusual to see a few under the same stone or log, all searching for food. They prefer moist areas and head toward darker, more humid areas if displaced. Infestations are not likely and they are not considered a nuisance. If any find do their way indoors, they are unlikely to live long unless they find a damp, cool place. Removing debris and maintaining a dry interior will reduce the likelihood of seeing them inside.

How to Manage Pests

Sowbugs and Pillbugs

Sowbugs and pillbugs are not insects but soil-dwelling crustaceans in the Isopod order, more closely related to crayfish than to insects. Isopods have a hard, shell-like covering that is made up of a series of segmented plates. Some isopods roll up into a ball when disturbed and are called pillbugs. Isopods have seven pairs of legs and are dark gray or brown but may be almost purple or blue just after molting.


Sowbugs and pillbugs feed primarily on decaying plant material and are very important in the process of decomposing organic matter in the garden. However, they occasionally feed on seedlings, new roots, lower leaves, and fruits or vegetables lying directly on the soil or near a damp soil surface.


Limit moisture and decaying matter. Try to water early in the day so the soil dries by evening. Using raised beds or planting boxes, plastic mulch, and drip or furrow irrigation instead of sprinklers usually keeps sowbugs from becoming serious problems. Black plastic mulch may be more effective at discouraging sowbugs than white or clear plastic are because it gets hotter.

  • Exclusion: As with most insects, rodents and other pests, one of the best ways to keep pillbugs and sowbugs from invading your home is building them out. That is, sealing all cracks, crevices and gaps in the foundation and around vents, cables, wires, doors and windows (especially at thresholds); repairing and maintaining screens; and keeping doors and windows shut. Particular emphasis should be paid to ground-level areas, as this is where the bugs most frequently enter.
  • Moisture Reduction: Because these pests cannot survive without moisture, repairing and eliminating any areas in the home that are wet or damp (such as basements, leaky pipes, cracked foundation areas, etc.) will help keep these pests from surviving or reproducing even if they do enter your home. It is also helpful to ensure that the property is graded away from the home so that water flows away rather than accumulating near the foundation.
  • Sanitation: Pillbugs and sowbugs will harbor in clutter, especially piles that have gotten moist from sitting. Because they feed on organic matter, they may also seek out these areas for food.
  • Indoor Chemical Control: Once the bugs enter the home, insecticides won’t do much good. Rather the bugs can be controlled by simply vacuuming or sweeping when seen and controlling moisture and sanitation to disable survival.
  • Exterior Chemical Control: A perimeter application of an insecticide labeled for sowbugs/pillbugs and the area in which it is to be used can provide some preventive control in keeping these, and other occasional invaders, out of your home. According to the University of Kentucky, an insecticide may be applied “along the bottom of exterior doors, around crawl space entrances, foundation vents, and utility openings, and up underneath siding. It may also be useful to treat along the ground beside the foundation in mulch beds, ornamental plantings, etc., and a few feet up the base of the foundation wall. (Heavy accumulations of mulch and leaf litter should first be raked back to expose pests for treatment.) Insecticide treatment may also be warranted along foundation walls in damp crawl spaces and unfinished basements.”

Sow Bug Control – How To Get Rid Of Sow Bugs

Sow bug control in the garden is a tricky process, as the bugs, also known as pill bugs or roly polies, like moisture and gardens cannot exist without water. Good cultural practices can help reduce sow bugs in the garden, as well as other, more destructive bugs that damage crops.

How to Get Rid of Sow Bugs

Sow bug control begins with cleaning up debris in the garden. Rake up and remove dead plant matter, bricks, wooden planks and anything that gives sow bugs in the garden a protected place to hide. Pay particular attention to debris near or against the foundation, as this is often a spot that holds moisture. Eliminate sow bugs near the foundation to stop them from entering your home through cracks and crevices. Problem openings in foundations should be sealed.

Chemicals are not necessary to eliminate sow bugs. While sow bugs in the garden will occasionally feed on tender plant material, they do not bite and are not dangerous to people. Once moisture is no longer a factor, killing sow bugs with other methods is not necessary.

Sow bugs in the garden may be removed by hand, although many of the roly poly creatures will move on their own once debris is removed. If you have a worm bed for vermicomposting, the sow bugs can be moved there, or to the compost pilewhere they are actually helpful. Sow bugs help break down organic material and this is a better solution than killing sow bugs.

Sow bug control near new and emerging seedlings may be accomplished with small amounts of diatomaceous earth around the plants. This keeps sow bugs in the garden away from growing plants.

Sow bug control can also be accomplished by placing a cantaloupe open side down to lure the sow bugs away from other areas. This can then be moved to the compost pile as a means of sow bug control. Alternatively, fruit dropped from trees and left rotting on the ground should be removed so as not to attract sow bugs in the garden and orchard areas.

How to Get Rid of Sow Bugs: Control House, Basement & Garden Infestations

Sow bugs are small in size and are often mistaken for being pill bugs, aka rolly polys. The difference between the two is sow bugs don’t roll up in a ball like pill bugs. You will find sows in areas where there is plenty of moisture commonly found in gardens and flower beds. There are steps you can take to help keep bugs out of your garden as no one likes to see a ton of bugs eating on plant leaves and flowers. They could come into your home if there is a lot of humidity as they can enter through cracks or any openings close to the foundation.

Even though sow bugs are really harmless they can be annoying if there is an infestation in your home. They will also eat off the of the plants in your garden and can do a lot of damage if they are in large numbers. There are ways to get rid of sow bugs.

Do basic things to help get rid of sow bugs

Get a dehumidifier and put it in the room that you see the most sow bugs. With a dehumidifier it will take out the moisture in the air and dry up the bugs. Since they have gills they need moisture to breathe. Then vacuum them up and you will not see any more bugs trying to come in as there will not be enough humidity for them to survive.

Clean up around your home

Clean up around your home to prevent sow bugs from sticking around. Remove any debris in the garden including dead plants, unnecessary bricks and wooden planks. If you have fire wood sitting close to your home move it at least 10 feet away.

Seal up cracks

Make it difficult for the sow bugs to enter your home by sealing up any cracks near the soil with caulking. There is no need to use chemicals to kill the sow bugs as there are other ways to get rid of sow bugs. They are not dangerous and are not hard to get rid of.

Remove rotten fruits

Remove any fruits from trees that may have fallen from the tree limbs or are ripe from the ground. If there are fruits that are rotten on the ground this will also attract sow bugs. Remove these fruits from your property.

Remove sow bugs by hand

Gather the visible sow bugs in your home by hand and those that are on your plants and put them in a bucket. Once you gathered as many as you could you place them in a worm bed for vermicomposting or in a compost pile so they can do something useful by breaking down organic material.

Place diatomaceous earth in the soil of young plants to help keep the sow bugs away or you can place coarse mulch including bark around the flower bed that will help remove some of the moisture from the soil.

Another technique is to dig around your flower bed and send a trail back to a compost pile or elsewhere away from your garden.

Keeping your home humidity level reduced will help prevent any sow bugs from entering. By using flowers in your flower bed that don’t need a lot of water can also deter sow bugs from coming around. Avoid over watering your plants to help keep your soil dryer.

Take the following steps to make sure that you won’t have an infestation around or in your home.

  • Use a Dehumidifier in your home.
  • Clean up around the exterior base of your home.
  • Clean up any fruits on the ground.
  • Use diatomaceous earth in the soil with young plants.
  • Make a trail from plants to a compost pile to send sow bugs elsewhere.

Photo by azureedge.net

Ask Gardenerd: Roly Poly Problems

Here’s a new question that came in this week:

” I have a ton of roly poly bugs in my raised beds right now… They at the roots/stems of my last round of cucumbers and I would like to get rid of them without hurting my worm population. Can I use Diatomaceous earth? – Tia”

Diatomaceous earth or DE is safe for use in organic gardens without harming the good guys of the soil food web.

Hi Tia,

Yes, you can use diatomaceous earth (DE) to get rid of the pill bugs (A.K.A. roly poly) without hurting your worm population. Diatomaceaous earth is fossilized, single-celled organisms from a billion years ago. It pokes holes in insects, leaving them to dessicate and die. Some say instead that DE can absorb copious amounts of moisture and, as hard-bodied insects come in contact with it, it absorbs the waxy protective layer from around the insect. Either way it debilitates the insect to the point that it dies of dehydration.

The thing to know is that DE becomes inert when it gets wet, meaning it looses its effectiveness. Since worms spend most of their time underground where soil is moist, they don’t come in contact with DE applied to the surface of the soil. That said, a worm’s exoskeleton is pretty much impervious to DE anyway. DE works on hard-bodied insects, and worms are soft-bodied. Some say that, much like humans and animals, DE actually benefits the digestive system of worms.

Red Wiggler worms in a worm bin. You can apply Diatomaceous earth to keep fruit flies away without harming worms.

This is a good time to point out that you should be using Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth in your garden. Make sure it says this on the package you buy. There are non-food grade options sold for swimming pools–stay away from these.

Just remember to apply DE when your soil surface is dry and wear a mask to prevent inhalation. Reapply after rainfall or overhead watering. The good news is that DE is effective fairly quickly, so you may only need to do this for a few days before seeing results.

Thanks for writing in about your roly poly problems! We hope this helps resolve the issue. Good luck with your cucumbers.

Roly poly, doodle bugs, or pill bugs… whatever you call them, these are popular little garden dwellers.

Children play with them, fascinated by their ability to roll up into a little ball. Frogs and lizards find them to be tasty treats. And we find them in every part of the United States as well as widespread abroad.

But are pillbugs in garden settings a problem? More and more often, people ask if pill bugs in the garden are friend or foe.

Let’s examine that in depth! I’ll also help you learn how to prevent them from becoming a real problem dweller. And we’ll discuss how they can be a beneficial addition to certain portions of your yard.

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Good Products To Control Pill Bugs:

  • Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth
  • Neem Oil
  • Monterey Garden Insect Spray
  • Garden Safe Slug & Snail Bait
  • Monterey Sluggo Plus

Overview Of Pill Bugs

Pill bugs. Source: cygnus921

Common Name(s) Pill bugs, pillbugs, common pillbug, roly poly, doodle bugs, sow bugs (related but not identical)
Scientific Name(s) Armadillidium vulgare (sow bugs are different but related species, Oniscus asellus)
Family Armadillidiidae
Origin Worldwide
Plants Affected Prefers dead plant matter but will eat seedling plant tissue or fruit if decaying plants are not available
Common Remedies Food grade diatomaceous earth, neem oil, spinosad sprays or baits are available. Protecting seedlings with toilet paper tubes keeps them at bay. Baiting and moving them with decayed plant material can be beneficial, especially if moving to a compost pile. Maintain clean debris-free garden spaces.

All About Pill Bugs

A bunch of roly poly bugs or pill bugs. Source: Wildreturn

First, let’s go over what pill bugs are, and what they’re not.

The common pillbug or pill bug, Armadillidium vulgare, is a type of woodlice. Part of the Armadillidiidae family of woodlice, they’re a type of bug that rolls up into a ball. This protects their tender underbelly from harm.

Pill bugs are often confused with the sow bug, Oniscus asellus. Sow bugs are Oniscidae, or part of the wood louse family. Unlike pill bugs, they can’t completely roll up, forming a C-shape instead.

Both pill bugs and sow bugs are related, and are both part of the Crustacea, or crustacean family. In fact, they’re not an insect at all. They’re related to lobsters, crabs, or shrimp!

Interestingly enough, these crustaceans are the only ones which live outside of water. They do require large amounts of moisture to survive. This is why they tend towards sheltered, damp locations to live.

There’s good reason why both pill bugs and sow bugs are so often confused. Both share the same basic habitat and food source, and are found in the same locations worldwide. Both are also controlled with the same methods.

The sow bug, Oniscus asellus, is related but can’t ball up. Source: Myrialejean

Life Cycle Of Pill Bugs

An adult female pill bug will lay several eggs. Unlike most insects, these eggs remain with her, carefully hidden on her underside. Female pill bugs have a pouch called a marsupium which keeps the eggs protected.

For four to six weeks, she will carry her eggs with her in this brood pouch. When they hatch, they look identical to their parent, but in miniature form. After hatching, baby pill bugs remain in their parent’s pouch for another couple months.

The hard exoskeleton that rolls up to protect a pill bug must be shed five to six times as it grows. This happens in two stages. First, the roly poly will shed the back half of its shell. Once that has reformed, it will shed the front half.

It takes about a year for pill bugs to mature to full adulthood. They’ll leave their mother’s pouch at about 4 months old. The parent can then lay a new batch of eggs, producing up to three generations per year.

The average lifespan for these tiny crustaceans is three years. They don’t breed as rapidly as other garden dwellers do, but they can have many young in that time!

Common Habitats For Pill Bugs

A pill bug just starting to curl up. Source: JoCampos

In the dark and sheltered spots of your garden, you’ll often find pill bugs. They prefer locations which are damp, dark, and filled with decomposing organic material. In addition, they prefer to be sheltered from predators who want to feed on them.

Often, they take shelter beneath rotting logs or rocks. Moist cracks and crevices where plant debris builds up are also suitable residences.

Pill bugs prefer to remain close to the soil, and in fact can burrow through it if needed. This means they may appear even in shallow raised beds. It’s far more common to find them at ground level, though.

If you have not cleared the debris in your garden, it may become a pill bug habitat. It’s food, it’s shelter, and it’s perfect for the pill bug! They’re also common in compost piles or other locations where debris accumulates.

On occasion, pill bugs may take shelter inside your house. This only happens if you have a damp location, and may signal other problems with your home. Water leaks or rotten wood can be much worse than just a few roly-poly visitors!

What Do Pill Bugs Eat?

A mostly-balled pill bug. The exoskeleton is layered and allows for bending. Source: katunchik

Pill bugs are part of nature’s garbage disposal system. Consuming mostly decaying plant matter, they’re wonderful in a compost pile.

In a perfect world, the pill bugs and sow bugs of the world would only touch dead plant parts. Alas, our world is far from perfect. If no other food is available, live plants become the next target.

While a roly poly eating strawberries seems a bit odd, it can happen. Ground-level fruit may be on the pillbug diet if there’s many around. So too may the tender, young stems of seedling plants.

Are Pill Bugs Bad Neighbors?

Completely balled, this pill bug is in defensive mode. Source: DaveHuth

In the quantities which usually appear in the average garden, pill bugs aren’t a problem. In fact, they’re hardly noticed at all. There’s usually an abundance of decaying material for them to feast upon.

It’s when the pillbug population skyrockets that it can become a major issue. When you have a large population, the fallen plant debris can be consumed too fast. And suddenly, your plants are next in line.

This doesn’t mean that the pill bug is a bad garden dweller. In fact, large populations are usually uncommon to discover. And if provided alternatives, they’ll often switch right over, ignoring live plants.

These little roly-polies can also be great for your garden. If you’re a compost fan, you’ll want a bunch of them in your pile. They can break down plant parts rapidly, chewing them into smaller bits. This speeds the compost process along.

So are they bad neighbors? Not on purpose. But they are hungry, and they do need food. If you supply alternative sources, they’ll eat those instead. If you don’t, your plants may be at risk.

How To Get Rid Of Pill Bugs

A pill bug feeding on the edge of a leaf. Source: Cletus Lee

You may not wish to completely remove the pill bug habitats in your yard. Let’s go over how to control pill bugs in the garden.

Organic Pill Bug Control

There are a variety of organic control methods you can use. I recommend applying these only around the plants that you wish to protect.

Food grade diatomaceous earth is one of the simplest options. This fine powder made of the shells of diatoms will shred up the tender underside of the pill bugs. It’s harmless to plants or humans. Sprinkle this around the base of plants to make a border they won’t cross.

Neem oil can work well as a preventative too. Just like other pests, pill bugs don’t like the taste of the neem, and will become sickened by it. It is a mild poison for the roly polies, but safe for us!

If there’s huge populations around your plants, there are more drastic steps to take. Spinosad sprays such as Monterey Garden Insect Spray can be used to kill off excess pill bugs.

Finally, snail and slug baits are often used to draw the attention away from your plants. Garden Safe Slug & Snail Bait or Sluggo Plus are good measures for reducing numbers.

Environmental Pill Bug Control

While the methods described above work, there are other options you can use to reduce the risk to plants.

Placing toilet paper tubes around seedlings prevents pill bugs from getting to them. Old plastic cups with the bottom removed will work similarly, but don’t break down like the tubes will.

You can bait and move pill bugs to another location. Place a small pile of waste in your garden for a couple days. Decomposing leaves, corn cobs, or even a half of a cantaloupe will draw the pill bugs to them. After a couple days, pick up the waste and collect the bugs to move elsewhere.

If you’ve got melons or other fruiting plants growing, provide support to keep the fruit off the soil. Melons, for example, can have a sling or hammock made out of old T-shirt material to protect the fruit. Strawberries can be planted in narrow troughs so the berries hang over the sides.

Potted plants under pill bug attack can be protected, too. Hanging your potted plants or putting them onto a concrete surface will prevent bugs. As the pillbug needs moisture to survive on its way to your plant, this basically puts a desert in their way!

Preventing Pill Bugs

There’s no surefire way to prevent pill bugs in the garden. But they can be discouraged from living in your garden beds.

Keep your beds well maintained, cleaning up plant debris. Don’t provide adjoining habitats for pill bugs next to your garden space.

Instead, segregate them to a composting portion of your yard. Pill bugs are excellent compost bugs and extremely beneficial there! If you’re making leaf mold, or have a regular pile or bin set up, you can entice the bugs to that. Don’t place them inside compost tumblers, as they won’t survive well in them.

You can also allow them to live in spaces where their harm is negligible. For instance, pill bugs hidden along the edges of your lawn may nibble the grass, but you’ll never notice. Under old trees which don’t have plantings is another great location.

Frequently Asked Questions

Both pill bugs and sow bugs respond to the same control methods. Source: treegrow

Q: Do pill bugs bite? Are pill bugs dangerous to humans?

A: In short, no and no. Pill bugs don’t bite, nor do they sting or transmit diseases. They don’t infest wood in the same way termites do (although they may take up residence in rotten, damp wood), and they don’t attack clothing or food like insects might.

Many kids actually have pet pill bugs or use them for science fair projects because they’re so safe! They’re fun to play with, especially when they roll up into those tight, protective balls.

Q: What eats pill bugs?

A: There’s one particular type of spider that’s known as the pill bug killer or sow bug killer. They’re found close to these crustaceans wherever they naturally occur in nature, and that’s their primary target.

Other than spiders, a wide array of other creatures will eat pill bugs. Centipedes, frogs and toads, ants, and birds might snack on these garden morsels. Lizards also find them tasty. In areas where there’s lots of competition for food, they may even prey on each other!

As you can see, pill bugs aren’t necessarily as dangerous as other types of garden inhabitants. With good control, they’ll become another beneficial addition to your garden. Do you have pill bugs or sow bugs in your yard? Have you ever had problems with them? Tell your tales in the comments below!

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Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener
Kevin Espiritu
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Sow Bugs-Pill Bugs

The presence of sow bugs or pill bugs in the living quarters of a home is an indication high moisture conditions. This condition will also contribute to a number of other problems including mildew, wood rot and a good breeding environment for other insects.

  • Reduce moisture or humidity level indoors. Use bathroom fans, stove hood vent fans, vent clothes dryers outside. Crawl spaces and attics need to be well ventilated.
  • Remove excess vegetation and debris around exterior perimeter of the home. Make sure that leaf debris (leaves hold moisture and hide the bugs) is cleaned up from around the outside of your house. Keep rain gutters and downspouts clean and in good repair.
  • Instead of chemicals, use a caulking gun to close any cracks or crevices at or near ground level. Houses built on a concrete slab poured directly on the ground, can have more of a problem with sow bugs or pill bugs if there is no moisture barrier under the concrete.
  • Built-in planters are usually a bad idea for many reasons. Window box planters and planter boxes on decks tight against the house are good breeding places for many bugs.
  • Make sure all your doors (ground level, to the outside) are weather-stripped. If your garage is attached or integral with the house, make sure those doors are properly weather-stripped also.
  • Watch for obvious moisture problems in the garage and bottom level.
  • Keep soil levels well below structural wood around the home.

A perimeter pesticide spray may help break the cycle for a short time but will not eliminate the problem permanently. Remember, if you don’t solve the moisture problem, the bugs will return no matter what chemicals you use, or how much you use them.

More Information

Structure, Appearance and Characteristics
Oval body, convex above and flat or hollow beneath.
Pale brown to dull blue in colour.
Can grow up to 19mm in length.
Head and abdomen are small.
Head has eyes and prominent segmented antennae.
Thorax is comparatively large and is composed of 7 hard individual but overlapping plates.
7 pairs of legs.
Mostly active at night.
2 prominent tail-like appendages (processes) from abdomen.
Become inactive during winter months because of temperature.
Depend on moisture to keep oxygen-absorbing gills under their bodies moist.
Life Cycle

Female gives birth to numerous, live young and carries her young in a pouch (marsupium) on the underside of the body. The brood is carries for an average of 44 days. Usually 2 new generations are produced per year depending on environmental conditions with an average of 28 young in brood. New generation are white in colour. 1st moult within 24 hours (7th pair of legs appear after 1st moult). 2nd moult during 2nd week. 3rd moult during 3rd week. 4th instar moults every 2 weeks until the animal is 20 weeks old. After 20 weeks, periods between moults are irregular.

Prefer moist locations and are found under objects on damp ground or under vegetable debris. Have been known to bury themselves under several centimeters of soil. Can at times invade damp basements, fern houses and first floors of houses indicating large number present outside the house nearby.

Feed on decaying vegetable matter.

Pest Status
In rare instances can become pests of young plants (especially in fern houses where climatic conditions are ideal). The slater does not bite and is harmless. In unusual climatic conditions (extreme wet), they can invade houses in large numbers creating concern for occupants. Their presence though is short-lived because these animals die from desiccation. Neither adults nor young are considered pests.

Habitat and food requirement leaves wide variety of areas to inhabit in gardens etc. Because of this need they cannot survive away from its ideal environment thus it will not breed or survive for long indoors. A high degree of moisture is required for survival.

Talk to a local pest control professional about your sow bug problem.

Sow Bugs and Pill Bugs In The Garden

Are They A Pest?
These bugs play a vital roll in composting organic matter in the garden and compost bins. They can be more effective making soil than earthworms.

Sowbugs and pillbugs get blamed for more damage to garden plants than they actually do. They are deemed guilty as they are often found feeding in decaying or damaged garden produce, after diseases, slugs and other pests have inflict the initial damage. They are great opportunists.

Most annoyingly, sowbugs and pillbugs feed on tender seedlings, young roots, flowers and fruits and vegetables laying directly on damp soil. Most active at night, sowbugs hide in dark, moist protected areas during the day, such as under flowerpots, decaying leaves on the soil surface, boards, mulches and ground cover. They thrive under sprinkler irrigation.

How to discourage sow bugs in the garden

> Limit moist, dark hiding places. Clean up organic debris, boards, boxes and piles of leaves around the yard and garden.

> Water early in the day so plants and the soil surface dries out by the evening when sow or pill bugs are active.

> Mulch with coarse materials, so water passes through to the soil quickly.

> Elevate fruits and vegetables off the ground with old strawberry baskets or pebbles. Black plastic mulches are good because they get too hot in the summer to provide desirable shelter for sow bugs.

> Plant seeds deeply and do not water until seedlings have their first true leaves. Or start seedlings indoors. Then to maintain good drainage, transplant seedlings into the garden so that the soil around seedlings is higher than surrounding garden soil.

> A non toxic method for sow bug control is to place a rolled up newspaper tube on the soil surface. Leave it overnight. In the morning, shake out the tubes into a pail of soapy water.

Another less toxic method to control sow bugs is to sprinkle diatomaceous earth directly on the row where seeds have been planted to dry the soil surface enough to discourage sow bugs. Experiment with the amount of diatomaceous earth, as too thin a layer will not be effective and too thick a layer can become like plaster if it becomes wet.

Various species of sow and pill bugs are common around the world but they have many different names.

Some common names are:

  • “armadillo bug”
  • “boat-builder” (Newfoundland, Canada)
  • “butcher boy” or “butchy boy” (Australia,
  • “carpenter” or “cafner” (Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
  • “cheeselog” (Reading, England)
  • “cheesy bobs” (Guildford, England)
  • “chiggy pig” (Devon, England)
  • “doodlebug” (also used for the larva of an antlion)
  • “gramersow” (Cornwall, England)
  • “granny grey” (South Wales)
  • “pill bug” (usually applied only to the genus Armadillidium)
  • “potato bug
  • “roll up bug
  • “roly-poly”
  • “sow bug”
  • “slater” (Scotland, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia)
  • “wood bug” (British Columbia, Canada)

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