Pill bugs – a.k.a. “rolly-pollies” – and sow bugs are among the most gentle and easy to care for critters in the animal kingdom. The most common believe is that they are bugs. The truth is that they’re not. They are actually land dwelling crustaceans. Pill bugs and sow bugs can be told apart by their body shapes. Pill bugs are more rounded on the top making them look more like a pill and can roll up into a ball, which earns them their common name of “rolly-polly.” Sow bugs are more flat looking and cannot roll up. These creatures’ gentlity and ease of care makes them really good pets to have. So if you’re interested in having a pet that takes better care of itself than a cat, follow this guide and you’re bound to have some long lasting pets.
1. Storage – Like bugs, these crustaceans live on land and are really small. This makes them more able to get out of their container. The best container to use is one with slick walls – plastic critter cages and fish tanks are good for this. The slick walls will keep the “bugs” from being able to climb out. Currently, I am using one of those small, curved front, betta tanks that are designed to go on desks. I also dont bother with covering it either.
2. Flooring – You can use anything you want as a bedding for these critters but I find that its best to make things as natural for them as possible by using gardening soil. Not only does it retain moisture better – which we will cover later on – but it more closely resembles their natural habitat than anything else. I have also scraped away some of the soil in one part of the tank, spread it over the rest, and then filled in the gap with peat moss. The moss is optional but still works just fine. Another benefit in using a soil and moss mixture is that it will provide a source of food for them if they get desperate enough.
3. Rocks – You don’t need to invest in a small house sculpture for these guys to live in because all they are going to do is find a way underneath it. Pill and sow bugs are nocturnal and so normally they spend most of the day hiding under rocks and in the crevices of walls where its dark and moist. So what’s the perfect hiding place to give your new pets? That’s right kiddies, rocks. Now what I did was choose 3 rocks of different shapes and sizes. Then I dug some shallow holes for two of these rocks against the wall so I could observe the behavior of the animals as they spent their days in hiding and then the third one i just threw in there and let them dig it out the way they wanted it done. This provides them with the darkness they need and helps retain the moisture they need.
4. Foliage – Pill bugs and sow bugs are both commonly found in gardens. Part of this is because gardens are the best place to find rotting plants, which is what they eat. I have taken three types of foliage from an area where I find these creatures on a regular basis and included it in the tank. One of these plants being a type of garden moss that seems to grow as a sheet. I threw in serveral small blankets of this moss and as it starts to decay, it becomes a perfect food source. I have gone outside and found these guys just munching away at this moss. Now with some plants, you should be careful if you don’t keep a lid on the tank. If the plants grow tall enough to reach the edges, these guys can crawl up the stems and get out of the tank.
5. Water – Remember that these are actually crustaceans. They are almost a kind of land dwelling fish and so they do need moisture. What I do is use a sports bottle and squirt in just enough water into the tank to flood it – being sure not to cover the rocks which would allow the creatures to escape being trapped under water and possibly dying. This ensures that there is enough water in the soil to keep them alive and well. Now if your tank doesn’t have a drain hole at the bottom like mine does, I don’t suggest flooding it. Instead, just fill it to the point where the soil is very moist to the touch. Now there are some types of sow bugs that are ok with having alittle bit of excess water. But chances are you’ll find the land dwelling ones before you will the aquatic ones.
6. Food – As mentioned before, pill/sow bugs eat decaying vegitation so as long as you have some plants in there that you allow to rot a little bit, you won’t have to worry about food. Now if you’re lucky enough to have some babies born in captivity like I was, they will eat their skins as they molt. These guys can become cannibals if their living space is too crowded. So be sure to watch out for that.
7. Predators – If you’re a pill bug or sow bug, you don’t have much for a defense other than hiding. Spiders, birds, frogs, lizards, and the like will all be interested in your pets. Its up to you to keep them safe. Now you may start to see little tiny white things moving around in the tank. Don’t be alarmed. Chances are that these tiny white things are babies. Congradulations if you have them. When my critters had their babies, I quickly mistook the babies for some type of parasite and was going to kill them. Thankfully I was able to notice their shape and the way they moved before I did anything to them. They are big enough that you can still tell what they are if you look closely but they can easily be mistaken for parasites like mites. If you see them, view them through a magnifying glass to be sure of what they are. Again, they will most likely be babies.
8. Young – I have given you a basic run down of the young in the section about predators. I added them in that section soley because of how easy it is to mistake them for a parasite or some other harmful pest. Now here’s the good thing about them. They don’t stay white forever. As the babies get older and grow, they shed and eat their skins. Every time this happens, not only are they slightly bigger, they are also less white. They gain more and more color as they grow and then become more recognizable. They will spend the majority of their time hiding – day and night – and will start to come out more as they grow.
9. Handling – These guys are tiny. We are billions of times their size and much stronger. When you handle one, its best to hold them gently by the sides between the tips of your thumb and index finger with your hand underneath in case you lose your grip on them. Remember that the amount of pressure you put on a pencil just to hold it while you write is more than enough to kill one of these tiny creatures without even meaning to. Also keep in mind that if you let them walk around on your hand, they don’t have a good grip on skin and so they will end up falling at some point. So be ready to catch them by holding your other hand underneath where they walk.
Much of what I know comes from personal experience and observation. However there are sites that will offer up more information about them, including care. Many people care for their “unusual” pets in different ways. Me personally, I feel its best to make things as natural as possible for them so it doesn’t cause them very much stress. I hope that you find this guide to be quite useful and interesting. Thanks for reading.