Roly Polys, Rollie Pollies and Pillbugs, oh my!

Roly poly

Roly poly

Thanks to two facebook friends for their bug questions that inspired this post! Robyn Grace Jennings:  Rollie pollies are eating all my plants and I’m a totally organic gardener. What do I do Anne? :'(

Anne of Green Gardens: Robyn, before taking action, let’s do a little detective work. Rollie pollies love moisture, so they are easy to spot when you water. However, it’s possible they aren’t the culprit. Cue the “Mission Impossible” theme song, it’s time to go under cover!

Find a flashlight, a wig and some dark glasses. Then, at dusk, sneak around your garden to see who’s out and about, chowing on your plants. Stand still, hold your breath, wait and watch. If not a creature is stirring, check hiding places like underneath a hose, the inside of irrigation boxes, wood piles, and any areas of moisture in your garden.

Roly polies are considered decomposers, so usually they prefer to chow on rotting material in your garden. (somebody’s gotta do it!) But everybody likes a yummy change sometimes…which means they may nom your newly planted seedlings…

Facebook Friend Stephen B. Clayton suggested putting out beer traps, to do this, check out blog post “Build Yer Own Beer Trap.”If you catch a lot of snails and slugs, you’ve found the culprit. If you catch mostly rollie pollies and possibly earwigs, you’ve got your perp/s.

As organic gardeners, our goal is not to decimate insect populations (cuz then the “good” bugs have nuthin’ left to eat) but to bring exploding populations back to a normal level. It’s normal in spring for lots of bugs to suddenly hatch and converge on your garden. Sometimes a few days or a week go by and the problem takes care of itself (this sometimes involves insect/bug cannibalism).

To kill soft bodied insects like slugs, snails, earwigs, and roly pollies (to mention a few) use diatomaceous earth. This naturally occurring substance wicks moisture from the body of the critter, causing it to dry out and die. As you may guess, diatomaceous earth doesn’t work well in wet areas, and should be reapplied after watering.

Even though a product is “organic” it should still be used with caution. Breathing in diatomaceous earth and/or getting it on your hands is not recommended. Also, diatomaceous earth is a mined substance so consider using it only when needed.


  • Roly polies are actually crustaceans and can live from 2-5 years long!
  • Mother roly polies keep their babies in a pouch called a marsupium for 2 months! This means I’m gonna hafta pick up any I find in hopes of seeing this pouch! I think it’s buried under the “plates” of the bug and hard to see. I’ll keep you posted. 😉       
  • Roly pollies get the “blues” too. Well, they get sick. A bright blue or purple color means they have a bug-virus.
  • Rollie pollies roll up into a tight little ball when frightened, unlike their cousin the sowbug.
Please let me know if my blog post has helped you out! Or, answer one of these fun questions:
  • Have you ever seen a blue or purple rollie pollie? Were you a kid and what did you think of it? 
  • Do you still “play” with rollie pollies even though you’re an “adult?”
  • What’s your favorite bug in the garden and why?

Information taken from :





  1. Love the post, Anne. Yes, I admit, I still play with rolly polies t to make the “roll up.” I generally consider them benign critters so was interested to learn that they will take on living plant material. On the other hand, I have definitely observed earwigs chowing down, and yes, occasionally I have been “pinched” by an earwig. Thanks for this closer look at the natural world!

    • Hi Iowa Anne! Glad to hear you still play with roly polies. I still have no idea how to really spell that, LOL. I pick up earwigs on occasion too, scary looking little ancient creatures!

  2. I think rolly pollies are cute and actually will rescue some of them from high traffic areas or if they are stuck in the building at work (doors on stairways have not great weather sealing and the often come inside through there).

  3. Hi! I enjoyed this little post 🙂 I love Rolly Pollys (my ‘lil spelling) and so does my son. In fact, I thought I would let you know that they will be joining in part of one of my tattoo sleeve with at least one lady bug, near my son. I suppose that looks like serious Rolly Polly dedication, but it is because they are a part of so many special moments with my awesome, bug-loving little boy! Viva la good bugs 😉
    Have a great day 🙂

  4. I love the rolly polly bugs and I’m a grandmother. My granddaughter and I are making a habitat. My husband thinks I’m crazy because I rescue them. I’m interested in seeing the pouch but I can’t see it. If you look hard enough with a magnifying glass you can see them in difference stages of growth. You have to really look. They are so tiny.

  5. I came across a large purple roly poly at my nursery today, I set it aside and hoped to find some sort of Native American deeper meaning of its existence and appearance on the interwebs, I was sadden to find out that those roly ploys are just sickly. I haven’t searched very far for any sort of omen but I’m sure there could be some sort of interpretation about them that isn’t scientific.
    I was curious about some earthworms I uncovered as I collect them for easy feed for the momma robins around the greenhouses.. If they are more pale colored that red maroon does that mean they are old and sickly too and perhaps not as good to offer up in abundance?

  6. Hi I’m Joshua Merrell and where do you go digging for roly polys, even if there are no hiding spots in your yard?
    P.S., The email i’m sending you is my mom’s email.

    • Hi Joshua, sounds like you are having trouble finding Roly Polys. You’ll have to go to a new neighborhood perhaps? Look for mulch like shredded bark and for moist areas, or under tree logs.
      Good luck!

  7. I’ve seen the pouch and the birth of a rolly pollie the pouch is clear with little tiny yellowing rolly pollies baby’s after 2 months of the pregnant RP then the pouch brakes open and the baby’s crawl out and spread out in the area the mother will more often pass away after this happens and the baby’s will still crawl out they may end up eating there dead mother… hope this feed your curiosity!!!!! 🙂

  8. I hate rolly Pollies . I have them inside my carport by the zillions and when they die they stink. I want to know if any one know how to get rid of them. Every other day I shovel a much in the trash can. I am getting tired of picking there remains.

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