Other common names: Woodlouse; Pillbug; Pill Bug; SowBug; Sow Bug; Roly-poly; Armadillo bug
Scientific name: Armadillidiidae sp.
Woodlice ("Woodlouse" singular) are tiny crustaceans which are common worldwide, and which number more than 3,000 species. Woodlice are nocturnal and feed on decaying leaves and vegetation.
Armadillidium vulgare is the most abundant species of Woodlice in Europe and has been introduced worldwide. As a defensive maneuver, it is able to roll up into a ball - which is why these Woodlice are commonly known as pill bugs or roly-poly bugs.
Woodlice can be kept in a large glass jar. As they need moisture, a few centemetres of moist (not wet) sand in the bottom of the container is essential. They will also need someplace to hide, such as a rough rock, twigs, bark or wood (not cedar) on top of the sand. Make sure the habitat is always humid, but be careful to avoid standing water and significant condensation.
Woodlice will survive on bits of bark and leaf litter.
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Woodlice as unusual pets
In the wild, woodlice like damp environments where they feed on decaying organic matter. A rotting stump of tree branch is an excellent place to find them. They are one of the few terrestrial arthropods (they are related to shrimps). Indeed, if you are adventurous you can cook them and, like prawns and shrimp they turn pink on cooking!
As long as they are kept in a moist environment with plenty of hiding places and decaying organic matter (rotting wood and decaying leaf-litter is ideal) they will thrive. And because you can find them in any garden they are cheap to find and low maintenance. They are also excellent for children as an introduction and kids are fascinated to see them roll into a ball as a defensive mechanism.
Most people start with woodlice as pets because they rear them as food for reptiles or amphibians and small insectivorous or omnivorous mammals (siberian hamsters will happily snack on them). Woodlice are also good for keeping the substratum of environments for other animals, particularly amphibians, reptiles and larger invertebrates clean.
Their scientific genus name, Armadillidiidae is derived from the Latin word for 'Armour' and once you see them the reason for that name is clear, for they appear to be covered in overlapping plates of lamellar armour.
Like many arthropods, woodlice can be surprisingly long-lived and it is not unusual for them to live up to 2 years..
From DLlE Sep 2 2012 9:51AM
My Wee Buddies
When I started my garden snail habitat, I discovered that all the sources of snail info suggested adding pill bugs (AKA woodlice AKA isopods AKA roly-polies) to the tank in order to help with cleaning (in other words, they will eat snail poop). So I went out looking and discovered that pill bugs are really easy to find and collect. On sidewalks that are next to areas of soil, you will often see these little guys going about their business around dawn. To collect them, I simply nudge them onto index cards. They tend to roll up like hedgehogs at that point, and then I put them into a little plastic container with an air slit for the trip home. If it will be a few hours before their arrival, it is considerate to the pill bugs to have some moist soil or a moist paper towel in the container. They like it humid, just as snails do.
What if a rolled-up pill bug pops off an index card and into a crack in the sidewalk? I've got that covered. I carry a pair of tweezers, and I use it to gently remove the bug from the crack.
So far, I have collected about 300 pill bugs. I figure that they will be quite content in their new home, far from any danger of being stepped on by inconsiderate humans.
Pill bugs thrive in a snail tank. They will nibble at the same vegetables and fruits you feed the snails. They are very industrious little invertebrates, and whenever I inspect my tank, I see dozens of them that look very busy. I have become exceptionally fond of them, and I consider them to be equal citizens with the snails in the habitat..
From MarkHarris Mar 24 2015 1:56PM
I like them, but I regret keeping them as pets
Great little creatures, but I unwittingly got a male and a female and didn't intervene early enough, which means I now have ever-increasing amounts of woodlice (probably about 4th generation now, each more numerous than the last) and no way to ensure that they're all getting enough food and moisture - and since it's gotten very cold outside I'll have to wait until the spring to release them. I hope they'll be okay until then!
The problem with woodlice is that they seem like an easy pet, but if they don't get enough moisture by way of daily mistings, etc (say, you go away on vacation for a few days and leave them on their own), they can die easily as they literally cannot breathe when the moisture is too low..
From Clemmy Nov 24 2015 2:06AM