These are the benefits of keeping the unique roly-poly bugs happy in your garden

Hey there, fellow Bartlesville garden enthusiasts! Today, let’s talk about those cute little critters that roll up into tiny balls n you touch them – roly-poly bugs! Depending on where you are in the country, you may hear them called pillbugs, potato bugs, slater, doodle bug, or wood louse. You’ve probably seen these funny-looking bugs wandering around your Oklahoma backyard, but did you know they’re more than just adorable armadillo impersonators? These little creatures play a crucial role in our gardens, and it’s time to shine the spotlight on their importance!

Meet the Roly-Polies: What Are They Exactly?

Alright, before we dive into the awesomeness of roly-poly bugs, let’s get to know them a bit better. Scientifically known as Armadillidiidae, these bugs are not insects; they’re actually crustaceans! Crazy, right? You might think they belong in the ocean, but nope, they’re right here in our backyard, chillin’ among the soil, leaves, and rocks.

Roly-polies are unique little creatures with segmented bodies, jointed legs, and two pairs of antennae that they use to explore the world around them. They’re small, usually not much bigger than a pea, and come in different shades of gray and brown. But what makes them truly special is their nifty defense mechanism – when they sense danger, they curl up into a tight ball, protecting their soft undersides from potential threats. It’s like having built-in armor!

Common pillbugs are oval shaped and somewhat flattened. They have three sections to their body: the head, the middle thorax (pereon), and the end abdomen (pleon). On their head, they have eyes and antennae. In the middle pereon, they have seven overlapping plates. On each of these plates is a pair of legs. Adults are about 10 mm long and 5 mm wide. Juveniles are between 5 to 7 mm long. Most pillbugs are gray in color, with the soft underside of the body a lighter color. Some have yellow, red, or brownish sports.

The Unsung Heroes: Roly-Polies and Your Garden

Now, you might be wondering, “Sure, they’re cute and all, but what do these little bugs have to do with my precious garden?” Well, my gardening buddy, they have a pretty important job to do!

1. Soil Enrichment and Aeration:

Roly-polies are nature’s very own gardeners. As they move through the soil, they munch on decaying organic matter like leaves, dead plants, and even small wood particles. And here’s the magic – they digest all that organic stuff and turn it into nutrient-rich compost! It’s like having a tiny composting team right in your garden, working day and night to improve the soil quality.

Not just that, their constant burrowing and munching actually help aerate the soil, which is just a fancy way of saying they create little tunnels as they move around. These tunnels allow air and water to penetrate deeper into the ground, benefiting your plants’ root systems. Healthy, well-aerated soil means happy and thriving plants!

2. Natural Pest Controllers:

Oh, but the goodness of roly-polies doesn’t end with their soil work. These bugs are superhero defenders against certain pesky garden pests! You see, they have quite the appetite for decaying plant matter, but they’re not interested in your healthy, living plants. Instead, they happily munch on the eggs and larvae of garden troublemakers like slugs, snails, and even some harmful insects.

Imagine having these little bug warriors patrolling your garden, keeping pests in check without harming your precious blooms. It’s like having your own tiny, non-toxic pest control squad!

3. Moisture Regulation:

If you’re like me and you sometimes struggle to keep your garden perfectly hydrated, roly-polies can be your secret allies. They prefer moist environments, so having them around can actually help regulate moisture levels in the soil. When it’s dry, they’ll burrow deeper to find moister areas, and when it’s wet, they’ll stay closer to the surface. This ability to sense and respond to moisture le

ed and healthy environment for your plants.

4. Indicators of Soil Health:

Here’s a neat trick – roly-polies are like little bio-indicators, giving you clues about your soil’s health. If you have a thriving population of these bugs, it’s a good sign that your soil is rich in organic matter and provides a healthy environment for beneficial organisms. On the other hand, if you notice their numbers dwindling, it might be a sign that something is off-balance in your garden’s ecosystem, and you might want to look into what’s going on.

Tips to Encourage Roly-Polies in Your Garden:

So now that we know how awesome roly-polies are, how do we get more of them to hang out in our backyard gardens? Here are some simple tips to attract and retain these helpful little creatures:

1. Provide Hiding Spots:

Roly-polies love to chill out in cool, dark places. You can create little bug-friendly hiding spots by placing rocks, pieces of wood, or even upside-down flower pots in your garden. These cozy hideouts will entice them to stick around and work their magic.

2. Avoid Chemical Pesticides:

Using chemical pesticides can harm not only the pests but also the beneficial creatures like roly-polies. Opt for natural and organic pest control methods, and let nature’s balance do the rest.

3. Keep the Soil Moist:

Since roly-polies prefer moist environments, be mindful of watering your garden regularly. Mulching around your plants can also help retain moisture and create a more appealing habitat for these bugs.

4. Add Organic Matter:

To support a healthy population of roly-polies, add organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure to your garden. This will not only nourish your plants but also provide the bugs with a tasty buffet.


There you have it, fellow garden lovers – the incredible world of roly-poly bugs! These tiny, armored wonders are the unsung heroes of our Oklahoma backyard gardens, working tirelessly to enrich our soil, control pests, and keep our plants healthy. So next time you spot one of these little critters rolling around in your garden, give them a nod of appreciation for all the hard work they do behind the scenes. And remember, sometimes the tiniest creatures can make the biggest difference in our beautiful gardens.  Happy Gardening!