Doodlebugs: The Coolest Crustacean Around

kid playing outside with dog

Do you remember playing outside in the dirt with doodlebugs?

Prior to the internet and on demand television, kids would spend a lot more time outside. Kids would explore, have adventures, and even play in the dirt and sometimes find doodlebugs. These neat little roly-polies are harmless, but what made them fun was that a quick touch would cause them to form itself into a little ball.  This process is actually a defense mechanism and even has a special name: Conglobation. This big, four syllable word – Conglobation – means “to form into a ball.” This conglobation process is the reason why the doodlebug is sometimes called a roly-poly. But, these little entertaining creatures actually play a very important role in the ecosystem.

Doodlebugs (Roly-Polies) Go By Many Names

Doodlebug, Roly-poly, Chiggypigs, Penny Sows, Wood Shrimp, and Cheesybugs are just a handful of the many nicknames, but the official name for these creatures is a Pillbug. Did you know that pillbugs are not even insects at all?

They are actually crustaceans which means they are more related to shrimp and crawfish over ants and other insects. Roly-polies are terrestrial crustaceans and are the only crustaceans that have adapted to living entirely on land. They actually breath through gills like other crustaceans, but their gills must remain moist even on land. They cannot live underwater, but do require a moist environment. They are not a big crustacean and typically range between a quarter-inch and a half-inch long with seven sets of legs under their segmented bodies.

Doodlebugs also have some really neat bodily functions. Humans and other animals urinate to rid their bodies of waste containing ammonia, but roly-polies have a high tolerance for ammonia. They actually do not urinate but release gas through small holes in their shells to excrete ammonia. They also drink a little more differently than other animals, because they can actually drink from both ends of their body. Doodlebugs can drink through their mouths and also through uropods on the back end which are straw-like structures.

Why Are Doodlebugs Important?

Doodlebugs are scavengers and they mainly eat decaying plant matter and other decomposing material. They help to break down decaying material through eating it and then return nutrients to the soil. They also eat fungus which helps to reduce the carbon dioxide being released into the environment. They are small, but certainly make an impact.

If you find that you have a lot of doodlebugs in your home, do not worry. They do not bite or sting and do not care for eating living plants or crops. If you find them in your home, take them outside. Take a closer look at your home’s exterior for holes and other ways for them to get into your house. Make sure that leaves, mulch and even plants are set back from your foundation. Also, make sure that all water and moisture runs away from your foundation. These problems may not only attract the cute doodlebug, but may also attract bugs and insects which could cause actual damage to your home like Termites.

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