A rock gets tipped over or some leaves get brushed aside and suddenly a flurry of movement as prehistoric bugs start to scurry for cover. The most likely culprit is the pill bug. Pill bugs, also known as rollie pollies, are a common yard and garden pest. They can cause havoc to young plants and can be a little freaky looking for anyone who just happens across them. Although its name implies that it is an insect, the pill bug is a land crustacean.
Identifying Pill Bugs and Bit About Their Breeding Habits
Pill bugs rang in color from gray to brown and even to an odd purple. Their oval shaped bodies can get up to 3/4’s of an inch long and they have a segmented hard shell covering that allows them to roll up into their name sake. Pill bugs are slow moving and do not bite or cannot do any real damage to a home.
The rollie pollie will mate all year long and can produce somewhere between 30 and 40 nymphs at a time. The female keeps the eggs in a pouch until they hatch and then carry the nymphs, which look like adults but smaller, for another two months. In the right conditions pill bugs can have two hatchings a year. With numbers like that they can easily become a problem within just a single growing season.
Habitat and Food
Rollie pollies need moisture to survive. Their bodies do not retain water and so they need to stay somewhere that water is in abundance. Near storm drains, around composting sites, garden and almost anywhere that water collects is a nice spot for the pill bug. While they can wonder into a home it is unlikely that they will stay for long. There typically just isn’t enough water available to them and they die or leave the home in search of water.
The pill bug is a scavenger pest that eats decaying matter. This makes them a welcome gust in the ecosystem as they play a roll in the decomposing process, but too many pill bugs in an area can do harm to plant life. Rollie pollies will eat young roots, tender leaves and young stems.
Control and Prevention
If you find yourself with a pill bug infestation there are a number of things you can do to control their population. While there are chemical products that can kill off the pill bugs it is always a good idea to try more natural or environmentally friendly methods first.
- Remove debris from the garden and landscape. Pulled weeds, plant clippings, leaves and sticks are all potential habitats for pill bugs and other pests.
- Use a mulch that doesn’t retain water. Course mulch is a great choice as it allows water to get to the plant roots and will let excess water drain away. Mulches black in color are also favorable as they will create an environment that is too hot for some pests.
- Improve air circulation around plants. Vining plants should have a trellis to grow up and support should be provided for plants that may get heavy and drop downwards. This also keeps the plants off the ground away from pill bugs and other pests.
- If pill bugs have infested your home then you should first repair or fill in any cracks in the foundation or walls that they used as a doorway. Then track down the moisture problem that allowed them to survive inside you home.
While pill bugs can’t damage your home or you or your family they aren’t a welcome guest. They can cause a great deal of harm in gardens if their numbers get out of control. The best way to control rollie pollies is to prevent their overpopulation by reducing their habitat.