When most of us see a pill bug (aka Rollie Polie or woodlice) we don’t really think much of them. We just see a slimy insect but there’s more to rollie pollies than meets the eye. Firstly, the rollie pollie has more in common with a crab than they do with insects. They can actually be considered crustaceans.
But don’t ever make the mistake of crushing these little critters when you see them in your back yard. They do a lot more good for you than bad, especially if you’re a gardener. The microbes inside the guts of pill bugs help these little guys break down dead plant matter, quickening the decomposition process. This keeps the soil nice and healthy, perfect for composting.
Dead plant matter has a lot of important nutrients trapped inside of it. So when pill bugs break down the plant, it sends the organic matter to the soil for fungi, protozoans and bacteria to break it down, even more, returning nitrates to the soil.
There’s more to these little critters than just returning vital nutrients to soil though.
Pill bugs are also crucial in the removal of heavy metals in soils polluted with lead, cadmium, and arsenic. The pill bugs ingest these heavy metals and crystallize them in their stomach into “spherical deposits”. And with the Trump administration reinstating coal mining it is important for these creatures to be around to deal with coal spoils and slag heaps.
Pill bugs serve a very important purpose in returning nutrients to soils and removing heavy metals preventing any leaching of toxic ions into groundwater. So let’s just take this time to appreciate these little critters for what they do.