Not all garden bugs cause damage

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Garden Bugs, Roly Poly

Most people regard all garden bugs to be pests. They must kill them by any means. However, some of them are helpful. Many gardens in the central parts of the United States have the most interesting little critters that cause no harm. In fact, they bring benefits that should make them welcome guests in any garden.

A creature with a scientific name of Armadillidium Vulgare has various names in different parts of the country. You might call them Woodlice, Pill bugs, Potato bugs or Roly Polies. I prefer to call them Roly Polies because it is a name that does not bring pests to mind. The U.S. is home to 12 different Roly Poly species, all able to roll themselves in little balls to escape their enemies.

Crustacean, protection
Rolling themselves in little balls for safety

You might have seen the little armor-plated bugs in large numbers under garden rocks or mildew and rotting plant matter. Most importantly, they don’t feed on your plants, nor do they carry diseases, bite or sting.

Crustacean, lobster
Roly Poly’s Distant cousin

What makes these garden bugs unique?

What makes them unique among garden bugs is the fact that they are not insects but crustaceans. Can you believe that they are actually related to lobsters, crabs, shrimps and langoustines? According to the Entomology department of the University of Kentucky, no other crustaceans have adapted to live exclusively on land. Another amazing fact is that these unique garden bugs breathe in the same way their armor-plated cousins do, underwater. Could you guess how? They have a pair of gills through which they breathe.

Crustacean, crab
Like crabs, Poly Polies are crustaceans

Roly Polies are garden bugs that benefit the ecosystem

Even if you cringe at the thought of these critters, their eating habits benefit the ecosystem. They have a diet with an unpronounceable name. It means that rotting plants, mildew and animal poop in the soil provide the Roly Polies with the necessary nutrients. These garden bugs have microscopical creatures in their guts that help them break down the dead organic matter. As a result, they increase the soil’s mineral content, turning the organic matter into healthy compost.

Carrots, Soil
Roly Polies enrich soil with nutrients and remove toxins

How do they do it?

The detritivorous diet (I told you it is unpronounceable) speeds up the decomposition of the dead plants, poop and mildew. That increases the bioavailability of the nutrients in the soil. Ultimately, the little armor-plated garden bugs improve the soil quality, enhancing the growth and health of your plants.

And that’s not all

Besides adding nutrients to your garden soil, what they remove from the ground is also unique for garden bugs. Scientists report that Roly Polies favor heavy metals, based on studies of their insides. They thrive on contaminated soil rich in toxins like arsenic, cadmium and lead. After ingesting these toxins, their digestive systems crystallize it, effectively removing toxins from the soil.

Garden Bugs, Roly Poly
Don’t kill Roly Polies, they do no harm

Do you still want to kill these garden bugs?

I bet not. If you find a Roly Poly in your house, it must be lost. There is nothing in your home that it wants. What they look for is moisture because without it, they cannot breathe. So be kind and help it out to a damp spot in your garden, and these little composters will richly reward you.


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