Most of us know about pill bugs and some of us even love to keep them as pets. However, most are unsure about what they eat or what they can eat. This article provides some information on the eating habits of pill bugs.
Pill bugs are mostly mistaken with pill millipedes (Order: Glomerida) due to some similarities in their sizes and habitats, the ball-like shape they roll into, and even their overall appearance to the naked eye. This is an example of convergent evolution.
A pill bug, also known as roly poly, belongs to the family Armadillidiidae in the order Isopoda. Though many associate them with insects, they are actually crustaceans and are more closely related to shrimp and crayfish. They are not insects.
They are arthropods with a sturdy outer shell, segmented trunk, and jointed limbs. These bugs tend to roll into a ball when disturbed or for defense. This ball or pill-like shape that they are able to roll into, gives them their name. Armadillidium vulgare is the scientific name for the common pill bug, which is the most widely occurring species.
What Do Pill Bugs Eat?
Pill bugs are detritivores. That is, they mainly feed on dead or decaying organic material. This dead and decaying organic matter is known as detritus. Their consumption is primarily plant detritus that includes dead vegetable matter such as leaves, grass, etc. They also feed on algae, fungi, rotting wood, moss, bark, damp vegetation, leftovers, mold, mulch, young plant growth, and decaying flesh.
They are referred to as decomposers, as on consumption of dead and decaying matter, they have the ability to return the essential nutrients to the soil, where they are then digested by certain other organisms. Due to this, the nutrients essential for plants are made available to them.
It has been observed that at times, pill bugs tend to feed on ripe fruits or vegetables that are in contact with the soil.
If their population increases, they may feed on living plants as well. Due to this, they may be referred to as pests. However, such kind of damage occurs only in rare cases and they should not be regarded as pests.
Pill bugs are known to consume a lot of fecal matter, including their own. The behavior of consuming their own poop may be surprising; however, the reason they do so is to make up for the little amount of copper that they lose each time they defecate. This is because copper is an essential element required for their survival and feeding on their poop enables the bugs to reuse this resource. Not having enough copper in their systems causes them to turn sick and their color changes to bright blue or purple.
They may feed on roots and stems of a variety of plants from time to time, however, they cause the least possible damage to live vegetation.
Many people prefer to keep them as pets. In such cases, they can be given fresh fruits and vegetables such as carrots, lettuce, and the skin of an apple. Other eatables include potato and zucchinis’ skin, oatmeal, fish food, egg cartons (crumpled), and cardboard. Also, water can be included in their diet.
According to a study, it has been found that pill bugs may also feed on the eggs laid by stink bugs. This is considered as one of their beneficial qualities as stink bugs are known to damage crops to a great extent, and pill bugs help control it.
Thus, we can conclude that pill bugs are not very fussy eaters after all being able to survive the most on plant detritus. Moreover, some of their eating habits prove to be beneficial for the environment.