Pill BugPill bugs (also called Sow bugs or woodlice) are crustaceans that live on land and are approximately ¾ inches long. Often, people refer to them as "Rollie Pollies" because they roll up into a tight ball when they sense danger. They have three body parts: the head, the thorax and the abdomen. They have two sets of antennae, the most visible curving out from the head. The body is segmented into seven parts and they have seven pairs of legs and two uropods that extend from the abdomen. Uropods are very much like antennae in that they are used to detect any environmental changes that pose danger for the pill bug. They vary from white to a dark gray and may or may not have a pattern. Females have "brood pouches" along some of their legs which appear leaf-like. Males, on the other hand, have two long "copulatory" (sexual reproductive) organs connected to the abdomen.

The majority of pill bugs are found in the central and northern areas of the United States. Of the species found, there are about 4,000 known types throughout the world.

Pill Bug Facts

These Isopods are drawn to moist, dark environments. As omnivores, they scavenge for food whether from decaying animals or plants. Given the opportunity, they will eat living plants. Like other crustaceans, they have gills with which to breathe and they are not able to retain water. This makes it necessary for them to stay in areas where the humidity is high, such as under logs, rocks, or any other plant litter. In addition, they may hide in trash cans, flower pots, or mulch covering flowerbeds. Several species will only come out at night because without the sun's rays vaporizing the moisture, it makes it easier to search for food.

Pill bugs live for around 3 years, becoming fully mature after one year of life. They mate and reproduce in the spring.

The female sow bug can hold up to 100 eggs (typically around 35) in her pouch. The young nymphs develop in the pouch from 45 to 60 days, appearing as fully formed adults upon leaving their mother. Within their first year of life, young pill bugs will molt twice.

Sow bugs molt (discard the old exoskeleton for a new one) in two separate stages. First, the back part of their body molts, then about two days later, the process finishes for the front half. Throughout the time, each half of the body may be colored differently.

These Isopods have many predators, due to their small size, from vertebrates to invertebrates, especially spiders. The only known predator that specifically targets pill bugs is the Woodlouse Spider. They are often found in areas with rich soil, so they provide an easy food source for animals.

If pill bugs enter the home, they will enter at the ground level under doors (especially sliding doors) or through windows. Homeowners will find them in the moistest areas of the home, such as basements, under sinks, inside garages, and in storage sheds. Usually, homes are much too dry for them, so they die shortly after entering a home. If there are signs of pill bugs in the home, this usually indicates there is a large population of pill bugs outside with the potential for issues with gardens and/or other moist areas where their presence may be unwanted.

Suggestions to prevent Sow Bug Problems

In order to prevent developing a problem with sow bugs, it is best to restrict their environment. Sow bugs have their place, benefitting the soil, helping eliminate waste, and providing food for certain wildlife. At the same time, when they pose a threat to gardens or greenhouses, something must be done. The following are some ways a homeowner may cut down on a potential problem with pill bugs:

  • When storing firewood, make sure it is placed off the ground, away from the home.
  • Do not keep piles of grass or leaves in the yard. Bag them up and discard of them appropriately in a timely manner.
  • Keep the downspouts free of debris and make sure they do not drain into the foundation of the home.
  • Wrap up hoses when done using and hang them to dry rather than leaving them in a wet heap.
  • Find a way to keep flowerpots off the ground, if possible.
  • Empty and dry out any buckets or other containers used for water, soil, mulch, or any other products used for gardening. If soil and other products are stored in buckets and other containers, cover them tightly to avoid giving pill bugs access to moist areas to hide.

If the home's foundation tends to leak during wet weather conditions, make sure all boxes or other stored items are kept off the floor so that moisture does not seep into them and establish an environment for pill bugs and other, more damaging pests.

Although many steps can be taken to ensure sow bugs will not have access to moist hiding places, it will be impossible to remove all possible hiding places. Having a garden means that there will always be a moist environment with rich, luscious soil and plant life which will draw unwanted creatures. In general, pill bugs will not cause damage, other than to plants if there is a large population of them in an area. They do not bite humans, making them a great form of entertainment for children. In fact, some people keep them as pets. Still, they can become a nuisance is they are entering the home and/or eating flowers or vegetables in the garden.

For all your Pill Bugs and Sow Bug pest problems, Alliance Pest Services is your local pest expert to keep your home pest free.