In My Backyard – Issue #9 – Roly Poly

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

 As a young child I would typically inspect plant soil and any fresh dug dirt for those “lovable”, round creatures I called roly polies. I had a fascination with them, as well as ladybugs, and pretty much any other creature I could dig up and/or handle. When I found some I would collect as many as I could and show my collection to Mum or Dad, or anybody nearest. Then I would return them to their home and study them some more. One time I tried to keep a few as pets. I used my favorite music box as a cage and added little scraps of greenery. I recently found out that keeping them as pets is something most children try, but what I didn’t know is their ability to survive as pets is greater than many other wild animal/creatures. I ended up returning mine to its natural habitat since I was afraid they wouldn’t survive, but I’ve read they keep well as pets as long as their habitat is moist and relatively dark. Another tidbit, owners of tarantulas keep them as cage cleaners since they do a good job of cleaning up that common icky stuff that tends to collect in an animals habitat. Neato, huh?

The roly poly, or as its more commonly known, the pill bug, has a latin name of Armadillidiidae. Anything come to mind? The armadillo and pill bug, along with a couple of others, have the uncanny ability to roll themselves in a protective ball, known as conglobation. Imagine, a mammal and a small insect having something so unique in common. What’s more, despite its many similarities to the other members of the suborder Oniscidea (woodlouse), the ability to congloberate is exclusive to the pill bug (Armadillidiidae). Others of that order look very similar, but upon closer inspection, one could easily see the difference. For instance, the length of other woodlice tails cause them to look more like a trilobite, while the pill bug is shorter.

Woodlice in general are crustaceans and have to moult in order to grow. The difference between the moulting of your average crustacean and a woodlouse is the process it takes. While common crustaceans moult in a single process, the woodlouse first looses the skin of it back half and then after a few days, looses the skin of its front half. Why this is so, I have no idea. One of those forever unknowns? Something to consider. Off hand, I wonder if you could find their skins like you can a snakes. Maybe with a microscope.

Marsupium is the latin word for pouch, as in marsupials, kangaroo and wallaby that we all know give birth to their young in a pouch. Similarly, woodlouse females have a marsupium, or brood pouch, that she carries her young in until they hatch. Members of at least 4 other crustaceans have marsupiums.

Now just because woodlice are crustaceans, I wouldn’t recommend broiling them to eat with your Cesar salad. On the contrary, woodlice are said to taste very unpleasant, but how they ever found this out, I wouldn’t know. Serves the person right who goes around eating anything they find to see if it tastes good. No, I’ll stick to the tried and true method.

The difference between the two. Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

For those of you who never cared for playing with pill bugs, don’t overlook them completely. Just like earthworms, pill bugs are beneficial to gardens, even if you might find an occasional few that take delight in your strawberry plant. One thing many people today will appreciate is the fact that they don’t carry disease. Caution is always recommended when playing with animals of any sort, and you should always wash your hands before eating after playing with them. Just so, our theory is you’re more likely to find disease touching something in the store than you would the cow on the other side of the fence. But don’t quote me, these are my personal opinions alone.

Lastly, woodlice are preyed upon by their own special enemy and wouldn’t you know it, its called the woodlouse spider. Evidently they can get past that horrible taste.

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

In light of the many creatures God created, its sometimes a good idea to stop and take a deeper look at one in particular and then try and appreciate just how amazing creation is.

This concludes the ninth issue of In My Backyard, a monthly series posted every last friday of the month. I hope you enjoyed what you read! Make sure and leave me a comment below, I’d love to hear from you.

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