“Jagged Little Pill-Bug”



“Don’t say I didn’t warn you”…


We often see them as we dig the ground… they are the charmers of children, these animated little martian probes.  Follow me on my nerdy journey (snorts) to find out a little more about these “Bakugans” of the insect realm.


The pill bug is the only crustacean ( lobsters, crabs, shrimp, and water fleas), that can spend its entire life on land, and I saw loads of them as I did my main leaf clean up in the Patch, to get it ready for the spring.

DSC02196Some species of woodlouse in the genus Armadillidium are able to roll into an almost perfect sphere (hence the name pill bug) when threatened by predators, leaving only their armored back exposed. This ability, explains many of the woodlouse’s common names, names like pill bug,  roly-poly, armadillo bug, cheeselog, cheesy bug, doodlebug, potato bug, sow bug, roll up bug, chuggy pig or chucky pig, slater, gramersow and wood bug.


Woodlice need moisture because they breathe through gills, that’s right folks I said gills (right knee hits chin three times then immediately locks straight for three consecutive days).  This explains why you always fine them in damp dark places in the garden such as under rocks, logs and leaves. What an effective design…


Leg peeping out

Cylisticus convexus

They are usually nocturnal, and may venture over considerable distances during the night. On humid evenings, they can often be seen in large numbers with the help of a flashlight. They feed mostly on dead plant matter, although they have been known to feed on cultivated plants, such as ripening strawberries and tender seedlings. Woodlice then recycle the nutrients back into the soil. Pillbugs form an important component of the larger decomposer fauna, along with earthworms, snails, and millipedes. All of these animals return organic matter to the soil where it is further digested by fungi and bacteria, hence making nitrates, phosphates, and other vital nutrients available to plants. Although they may occasionally feed on roots, pillbugs do minimal damage to live vegetation and should not be regarded as pests.


Buckled over laughing…


A complete conniption!


“Man that feels better”

Picture curtesy of  http://www.backyardnature.net

The woodlouse has a shell-like exoskeleton, (also called the cuticle) which it must progressively shed as it grows.  The moult takes place in two stages-the back half is lost first, followed two or three days later by the front.


This photograph was taken as I freaked out as it climbed over my fingers after righting itself.

Pillbugs are also of importance in sites such as coal spoils and slag heaps, which face heavy metal contamination. They are capable of taking in heavy metals such as copper, zinc, lead and cadmium and crystallize these out as spherical deposits in the midgut. In this way, they remove many of the toxic metal ions from the soil, promoting the restoration of contaminated sites by accelerating topsoil formation. This in turn favors the establishment of plants that stabilize the soils by root formation. Stabilized soils reduce problems of toxic dusts and the leaching of metal ions into the ground water. Who would have thought these little guys in their own little way are doing something for the bigger cause!

Most pill bugs live for up to two years.

Moving on…


The Winter Garden taken from up the rotten Post Oak ladder. (A Darwin award waiting to happen)… “Man tragically dies in attempt to obtain shot for garden blog post.”

Here is the Patch after the leaf and general clean up, all ready for the spring. You can really see the bamboo damage from the last cold snap. The hardscaping really becomes visible at this time of year, taking center stage from the plants for a change.

This clean-up was expedited due to the fact that I had twenty four hours before the local scouts for the Garden Conservancy Tour were to set foot in the Patch (Thanks Linda).  The ESP is to be on the 2010 tour in Austin in October.


Looking back the other way, look at that sago palm damage!  And more bamboo damage (top left / right).

Other slightly out of focus photos this week…


A Snail Haven… (Ahem)


Painted yellow margin on an Agave Americana.

Inspirational image of the week:


Stay Tuned for:

“Journey to the Center of the Patch”

All material © 2009 for eastsidepatch. Unauthorized
intergalactic reproduction strictly prohibited, and
punishable by  late  (and extremely unpleasant)
14th century planet Earth techniques.

  • Pam/Digging January 23, 2010, 10:44 pm

    Great news, ESP. Do you mean the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour, perhaps? I have not heard of a Nature Conservancy tour in Oct., though that sounds cool too.

    • ESP January 23, 2010, 11:11 pm

      Hi Pam.
      I do indeed!
      We are very excited in the Patch…have you participated in this event before Pam? Perhaps we should start a “nature” conservancy tour ourselves?” :-)

  • Bob Pool January 23, 2010, 11:01 pm

    Congratulations on the tour. I’m going to get to see the Pa,aaatch, I’m seeing the Patch. Uhhh, I’ll be there.

    Wow, good pictures of the Pill Bugs. Just once I’d like to see you taking pictures of bugs. In my minds eye I see you all hunkered down with the camera. The Hobbits have little pieces of white, light reflecting paper, and are moving along with the bug. Your giving orders, like a general. “Move that paper around to this angle, trooper. Can’t you see the light is fading? Would some body shut that fat mouthed woman up.” Not referring to your wife, but you know who. ” Oh my gawd, who shot the damn dragon fly with a tiny arrow? Honey, come heard these little bast….., oh, never mind, the lights gone now.” It’s just got to be a riot.

    • ESP January 23, 2010, 11:44 pm

      Hi Bob and thanks.
      You can pop in here anytime you want…tour or no tour…there is a cold one waiting for you in our outside refrigerator, anytime you are in the neighborhood. But if not, yes, we look forward to you being here in October… “We’re goona meet Bob at Draco, we’re gonna meet Bo”…..etc.etc.

      Thanks on the Pill Bugs, they deserve a little press I think…now move that reflective paper private err, hobbit…”KEEP UP” “MOVE THOSE ENORMOUS FEET”…can’t you see the pill-bug is on the move! And just how are you aware of my intimate photography techniques Bob? Have you been in cahoots with the Naboo once again? I think I need to have a word with the chief.

      Leah laughed at your fat mouthed woman comment…she knew immediately to whom you were referring and didn’t take any offense, she laughed out loud then immediately got hit on the tongue by a Naboo arrow. I did warn her that they were arrow-happy today after the visit-with-no-paperwork, you know how they hate that!
      She is now gargling Epsom salts!

      Cheers Bob.

  • Les January 24, 2010, 5:46 am

    Thanks for the information on the Sow Bugs. They have always reminded me of Trilobites, so I guess that they are related to crabs and lobsters is not a stretch. Cool about those gills. My back yard is full of them, and pretty it isn’t, but my colony has become quite fond of any dog droppings I fail to clean up.

  • ESP January 24, 2010, 9:23 am

    Hi Les.
    They really do look like Trilobites, all prehistoric and armored, they do look ancient, like the roach, I think they would be one of the human successors! Gills? (right leg locks for another three days). Darn!
    And I only thought they ate rotting vegetation…Ewww!

  • Pam/Digging January 24, 2010, 10:42 am

    That’s the best tour in Austin, in my opinion, ESP. You’ll be on the tour with the likes of James David and Gary Peese. I’m glad to say I knew you when… No, I have never been on a garden tour, unless you count having 30 garden bloggers visit during the 1st Garden Bloggers Spring Fling two years ago. I was quite nervous enough over just that number.

  • Jenny January 24, 2010, 10:56 am

    Word has spread in the gardening world. Congrats. on you upcoming tour. You will have a busy time getting ready for October. Next stop- Wildflower Center!
    You post about pill bugs is timely as they come out of hiding and prepare to give birth to thousands of offspring. They were probably pals with the cockroaches back in prehistoric times. I have tried to reduce their numbers, to no avail. In the end I thought they might at least be adding some fertility to the soil with their poop. Have you noticed there are two types. The more common one which I always thought was Armadillidium vulgare ( I always liked the sound of the way that rolls off the tongue so it has stuck with me since being a student. As well as Anobium punctatum!) and a faster moving flatter grey one. So, your post set me to researching and in the end I still don’t know what the two different names are. In the end pill bug sounds good to me. However, in my garden they do damage. They chew at the bottom of plant stalks until the plant dies. They are fond of violas and other juicy things like beans and peas. Seedlings never get a chance. In the spring a trap them under grapefruit halves and orange skins and put out asparagus trimmings , strawberry, bean ends for them to eat.

    • ESP January 24, 2010, 1:00 pm

      Hi Jenny, and thanks.

      I saw loads of pill bugs on my recent clean-up, one gardening “chore” I hate is my annual leaf pick-up, I just have so many leaves with all the Post Oak and Pecan trees around. I composed as much as I can in my bins then mound the rest until I just run out of space. I have never noticed any damage from the “pills in the Patch” but I did read that, like you mentioned, they have a soft spot for seedlings and strawberries! (Who can blame them). I also suppose I do not see their damage as I do not grow a lot of vegetables? I guess their pallet is not too fond of habanero and serrano peppers.

      I did notice that there were two types, and saw pictures of both, and yes just pill bug works for me too – Leah was already looking at me strangely as I would interrupt her movie with a “mmm, huh, I didn’t know that, well what do you know” etc.etc.
      She huffed, paused the TV and asked what?
      “Pill bugs, they have gills!” I said astonished.
      She just stared at me.


  • ESP January 24, 2010, 1:48 pm

    Hi Pam.
    But my hell-strip, my brush piles, my pond thats need cleaning…panic already setting in…my frozen bamboo my etc.etc. I keep telling myself October is a long way off but the gardening demon on my shoulder keeps whispering “ohh no it isn’t ESPppppp”.
    “Shut up”!
    Should be quite an experience.

  • Jenny January 24, 2010, 2:18 pm

    Just to give you more angst, think more in the realm of 600-900. We had 900 when on the WFC tour and about 600 on the MG tour. Prepare thyself! Actually I was staggered when they told me the numbers. It never seemed like that many but a constant stream throughput the day. Even the non gardening David had a wonderful time. It was an absolutely fantastic day and what was really nice was the MGs throwing an after event party. That way we didn’t feel let down when 5pm came and everyone was gone. I think that was a good idea so I suggest you find a party to go to. Your garden flows nicely so everything will work out well. Just remember to warn parkers about that neighbor! Of course he will get a free invitation.

    • ESP January 24, 2010, 8:03 pm

      Oh Jenny, you are fueling the garden demon that will be annoying perched on my shoulder from now until this October…muttering about things I haven’t got to, areas that need work…600-900 people you say? (left eyebrow develops an immediate twitch that does not go away)
      It sounds as though you had a good experience and a fun day with the tours. There is a party for all the Austin gardens that are hosting so that we all get to meet each other, though I am not sure if it is after the event, sounds a blast. The hobbits are in for a big day, they will love all the “new” people in their space, the Naboo on the other hand is a completely different matter. I have set up a meeting tomorrow at dawn to discuss terms and negotiations with the chief. The good news is that I found out that the Conservancy Tour provide insurance coverage, should a rogue Naboo dart be blown.

      Thank you, and I am curious Jenny…what did you study in college? Entomology?

  • Linda Lehmusvirta January 24, 2010, 3:36 pm

    Thanks for standing up for the pill bugs! Every year I get so many emails from viewers who want to nuke them out of existence. One secret to keep them away from tender seedlings is to avoid mulching the area until the little ones are big enough to beat up on Botox Lady. Super news on the tour! Wish I had an incentive to get my garden as tidy looking as yours. . .I do love winter when we can see the structural design. Fabulous!

    • ESP January 24, 2010, 8:36 pm

      Hi Linda.
      I had a lot to learn about these little orbs, what fascinating creatures they are…but breathing through gills? What? That was the biggest shocker to me, I had no idea…it is amazing what you learn when you scratch the surface.
      Really excited about the tour, thinking we will convert my “everything but the kitchen sink” rain water collection “system” into a help-yourself sangria dispenser, complete with pump :-) No?
      I also like the winter garden, at least when all the clean-up work has been executed, you really get to see the backbone of the scheme and what can be improved.
      Thanks Linda.

  • Germi January 25, 2010, 4:31 pm

    Every time I read the word ‘Woodlice’, I would have an uber – ESP reaction, complete with knee-jerks, jaw-clenching, eyebrow twitching, and scalp gymnastics (my personal specialty). They are MUCH too cute to be considered any type of louse! I always referred to them as ‘Rolly – Poleys’, and still do… which doesn’t do much for my credibility when it comes to clients. Funny thing, there aren’t as many here in California as I remember in Texas. Every so often, you see a small massing – but I remember armies of them when I was a little girl making mud cities in my back yard. (my mother didn’t appreciate me digging up the back lawn for my civic design studies). I would create canals and then flood the city, and rolly-poleys were always put on leaves and sent careening down the swift currents – damn! I want to do that NOW! There’s a small area in back of my vegetable garden … hmmmm…
    The Patch looks FANTASTIC and I am so thrilled to know that you’re going to be on a major garden tour! I know you’ll be working like crazy trying to make things perfect – but The Patch is a wonder – it is going to look FANTASTIC! One thing to be warned about – I was shocked at the damage in my garden after the first tour I did. But I’m sure Texans are MUCH more well behaved! My specific problem was tender succulent groundcovers that got smashed underfoot – Sedum brevifolium, Sedum rubrotinctum, Senecio serpens – all stomped on and ground into jelly! And on that same tour my husband said he saw a woman snipping cuttings! I could never find the evidence of it, but he swears… Regardless, I LOVED it! Doing tours is such a marvelous way to share the love of gardening, and you and Leah and the Hobbits are obviously so generous and spirited – it’s going to be a BLAST! I envy the tourists!
    It is so interesting to see the difference between your Winter Garden and your Summer Garden! Mine is backwards! My Winter garden is actually fuller and more lush – isn’t that weird?
    Another beautiful and informative visit – thanks for being the consummate host!

    • ESP January 25, 2010, 6:34 pm

      Hi Germi, and welcome back to what looked like a very soggy LA, happy that the water excess did not water-log your plants.
      Woodlice indeed, the name does seem a little harsh on these (much too big to be a louse) giggling garden spheres doesn’t it? I enjoyed reading about your civic design studies and mud city destruction…sounds like so much fun, maybe I will create a city and canal in my hell-strip for the tour complete with “canoe” leaves (I have no shortage of these) and rolly poleys pre-caught in a jar for the visitors entertainment …hmmm… Your story brought back a memory of developing “scent,” my sister and I used to get rose petals and other aromatic plants in bowls, we used to add water then pound the whole nasty mixture to a pulp to extract the “scent.” Never managed a decent smelling cologne but I always tried.

      The patch looks fantastically “browned” with our hard freeze right now, but I think most things will pull through, my major concern is my Barbados cherry, it is looking as dry and crunchy as a dry and crunchy thing. Thanks for your encouraging words G, we are looking forward to the tour. I also have a “front line” of small sedums tucked in here and there between my moss boulders, I fear I may lose some of these to the wandering feet also, otherwise the pathways run between boulder or brick lined beds, which should limit damage. I will also inform the Naboo to “take out” anybody attempting to take cuttings!!! Can you believe that! The Naboo may be in for the feast of their lives!!! Yikes.

      I like the winter sparse garden, lets just hope some of it grows back in, in the Spring!!! Even bigger Yikes.

      Thank you-Witchy Poo.
      Ta-ta for now…

  • Cheryl January 27, 2010, 10:48 pm

    Congratulations! Wish I was brave enough to fly from Sac to Austin…I’d LOVE to see the ESP and meet you and your loved ones in person..and Pam and …welll..it would just be a kick to tour Austin’s gardens. I never was too interested in Texas before I started reading the garden blogs from there… now I’m telling everybody how wonderful Austin and her people are. ;>)

    • ESP February 1, 2010, 10:29 am

      Cheers Cheryl, and we love to have you in the Patch, and in Austin. It amazes my how many garden bloggers there are now in Austin, hard to keep up with them all, there should be a blog that just blogs about who are the new bloggers, blogging!
      Keep spreading the word.
      ESP and clan.

  • TexasDeb January 31, 2010, 9:07 am

    Oh me oh my – I love that long shot. FINALLY I can put all the wondrous components of the “patch” together cohesively.

    So now you are a stop on a major interplanetary garden tour. Congratulations! Couldn’t happen to a nicer garden/gardener family. But Sangria for 900? Really? You ARE generous!

    I begrudged the pillbugs my strawberries – they got to them juuuust before they looked ripe enough to me to pick. If they are at least sharing the wealth with the soil after I suppose I’ll have to look the other way (as if there was anything else I’d do about them…).

    Now I will be using your overhead view to try and convince my Hub to put in more pathways, define more discrete areas in our own bit of dirt here Westerly of you. Trowels crossed!

    • ESP February 1, 2010, 1:30 am

      Hi TD.
      That “dangerous” up-high, long shot does show the Patch in its bare-bones state.
      It seems that I am indeed on a major interplanetary tour, quite scary really. I have already had e-mails from a host of my Vulcan friends that have been waiting for me to open the garden gate to the Patch for the last millennium…They appear to like the more “logical” approach to the pathways”, in preference to the original free-form Bermuda grass scheme, that is. Got to love the Vulcan mind!
      You need to “mind meld” with your Hub…he will then be able to totally understand and implement anything you have in mind regarding your pathways, no more arm waving.

      Stay warm.

  • bloominrs February 22, 2010, 8:53 am

    I love the long view of the patch and all those circles. I came here to see your wormwood. Love the variation of light in the picture. Anyway got sidetracked looking at the other posts. Now I’m gonna check out august to see if the late summer patch pics. Best of luck in the photo contest.

    • ESP February 22, 2010, 10:58 am

      Happy you found the Patch bloominrs. You can really see all of the circles in the winter when everything dies back. I have a lot of artemisia in my back garden, can you have too much? Thanks on the photo contest front!


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