Sowbug sketch by Jane Gates

Sowbug sketch by Jane Gates

Sow bugs and pill bugs are the same critters. Once again I’m taking liberties. These critters aren’t insects. They are crustaceans and are related to shrimp, clams and lobster and, yes, even snails. I wouldn’t recommend them steamed with butter, however. You’ll notice they amble about all over the place and cluster in dark, damp locations that they find comfy. Although they are frequently blamed for the big holes you find in stems and fruits in which they may be curled up, sow bugs or pill bugs are unlikely to have been the main culprit. Great opportunists, they’ll creep in any cave-like shelter and that damage was probably excavated for them previous to their residency. That doesn’t mean they won’t take a nibble at roots and other parts of your plants, though.

Sow bugs and Pill bugs (Armadillidium vulgare) tend to curl up into perfect little balls (hence the common name “pill bug”).  They are also known as doodlebugs or roly-polies.   They move on their numerous legs like multi-segmented, rounded tanks and usually come in neutral colors: grays, browns, blacks. If you happen upon one in a bright cobalt blue color, that individual has been infected with a disease common to, and limited to the species. In compost heaps, these creatures help break down your material into desirable compost. They do somewhat of the same job in the garden, as decaying organic matter is mostly what they feed upon. Although they may occasionally damage some tender root hairs of plants, they rarely have much of an impact on plant growth. In short, they really aren’t harmful, though they can become unsightly or disturbing to us humans when we encounter them in large numbers. If you don’t want so many of these sow bugs or pill bugs in your garden, you can collect them where they congregate under boards, rocks or other sheltered locations, and remove them by hand.