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Pill bugs, rolypolies, wood lice, potato bugs or isopods, these cute little crustaceans come with a bunch of common names. Add the names for their close cousins the sow bugs (the ones that can't roll up) and the shore isopods called slaters, and you have a dictionary full.

What do you call these seashore isopods?

Today we're going to be using pill bugs, the ones that look like a pill when they roll up.

Although most people associate pill bugs with moist environments,  surprisingly we have pill bugs in the desert that can tolerate a much drier climate. They are common and active residents of our back yard, although they do seem to prefer the irrigated areas.

Pill bugs are fun to investigate.  First, prepare a temporary holding container with a walnut-sized wad of moist paper towel and a few bits of carrot for food. Look outside under stones or logs for pill bugs. Note:  always return the rocks or logs to their original position when through, and be careful if you live where there are poisonous critters that live under rocks. You might want to tip them with a bar.

When you find some pill bugs, gently transfer them to the container. After they unroll, you can look at them through a magnifying lens. Study how they move and their body parts.

Check the "Using Live Insects in the Classroom" Isopod Information Sheet for a detailed description of their morphology.

1. Draw or build a model pill bug.

Gather materials such a paper, cardboard, chenilles and/or clay and create a pill bug model. Pay particular attention to what they look like, because the more details you add, the more realistic the model will be.

2. Do all your pill bugs look alike? We found some of ours were entirely dark gray whereas others had gold or yellow spots on their backs.

Any ideas why pill bugs might be different colors?

3. When the pill bugs roll up, can you still see their antennae? Our desert pill bugs can roll up with their antennae inside, other species can't. Why might that be?

4. Build a simple maze and test some of your ideas about pill bugs. We built ours out of light cardboard, like a cereal box. We taped it down with masking tape so it wouldn't fall on the pill bugs. Be careful that no sticky edges are exposed, because the pill bugs might get stuck. We also found certain pill bugs wouldn't cross the masking tape, so try to keep the tape on the outside of the maze. While planning, you might want to sketch your maze on graph paper or use a computer.

We tested the idea that pill bugs would prefer darkness to light. We also offered them different types of food.

In the video, we wondered if the pill bugs would explore a complex maze with a lot of turns to find food. We set two pill bugs in the maze entrance together. See what happened:

We had fun and learned a lot about how pill bugs behave. Hope you give it a try.

Once we were done, the pill bugs went back to nature unharmed.

For more information and great science activities with pill bugs, I highly recommend:

Rolypolyology (Backyard Buddies) by Michael Elsohn Ross, and illustrated by Darren Erickson

It seems to be out of press, but you should be able to find it at your local library. It is filled with fantastic ideas.

Other pill bug books (linked images and titles go to Amazon):

A Pill Bug's Life (Nature Upclose) by John Himmelman

The Pillbug Project: A Guide to Investigation by Robin Burnett

I'm a Pill Bug (Nature: a Child's Eye View) (Nature: a Child's Eye View) by Yukihisa Tokuda, and illustrated by Kiyoshi Takahasi

Nature Close-Up - Pill Bugs & Sow Bugs and Other Custaceans by Elaine Pascoe

Pill Bugs Up Close (Minibeasts Up Close) (Perspectives) by Greg Pyers

Compost Critters by Bianca Lavies is an excellent introduction to composting. Although it is an older book, the photographs are excellent.

Previous post on pill bugs

Mother spiders and their offspring seem to be a theme lately. Let's find out more about them.

Right about the same time I found this mother cellar spider carrying her babies last week,

cellar spider with babies

I also found this mother black widow guarding her egg sacs.

black widow with egg sacs

black widow with egg sacs

Female spiders often lay eggs in sacs, and sometimes guard them afterward. Black widows are also known to create multiple egg sacs, often three.

Some spiders, like wolf spiders, carry their babies on their backs for a while. The female cellar spider above was the first I had seen carrying her offspring in her legs.

To learn more, there are a number of great picture books about spiders. The first two are about baby spiders in particular.

Disclosures: I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

 

Sneaky, Spinning Baby Spiders by Sandra Markle

As you can tell from the cover, this book has fantastic close up photographs. It covers spiders from throughout the world. Look for my in depth review at Bouncing Baby Spiders

Up, Up and Away by Ginger Wadsworth and Patricia J. Wynne (Illustrator)

This newly released book has a totally different feel, although it covers a similar topic. Be aware, if your children are sensitive, that the trailer shows an illustration of one spider eating another and a near miss by a predator.

Nic Bishop Spiders by Nic Bishop

Time For Kids: Spiders! by Editors of Time for Kids

Are You a Spider? by Tudor Humphries

These books are always wonderful, and I love how she brings the child into the story by comparing what humans do to what spiders do.

Spinning Spiders (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Melvin Berger and S. D. Schindler

Spectacular Spiders by Linda Glaser

The Magic School Bus Spins A Web: A Book About Spiders  by Joanna Cole, Jim Durk (Illustrator), Bruce Degan (Illustrator)

The Magic School Bus books walk the line between fiction and nonfiction, but are always well researched and informative.

Spiders by Gail Gibbons

Gail Gibbons books are always well done.

For older kids, try:
Uncover a Tarantula: Take a Three-Dimensional Look Inside a Tarantula! by David George Gordon

For more information, see my review Tarantulas Inside and Out.

 

This week the hollyhocks will catch your eye here in Arizona. Tall, with large, striking red, pink, or white flowers, the hollyhocks are a favorite.

hollyhock

Certain insects and arachnids also seem to prefer hollyhocks.

Shiny metallic-green flies were resting on the leaves this morning.

long-legged fly

Aren’t they pretty?

long-legged fly

Any ideas what they were doing?

Called long-legged flies, the small green flies are predators waiting to catch other insects for food.

leafhopper

Tiny, pale green leafhoppers like this one are a meal for long-legged flies.

Another fly I found isn’t quite so welcome.

leafminer fly

leafminer fly

This tiny yellow and black fly is an adult leafminer. The fly will lay its eggs in the hollyhock leaves. The larvae will feed between the upper and lower surface of the leaf causing a winding light-colored tunnel. Fortunately the damage is relatively cosmetic (looks only).

leafminer damage

Other creatures already hard at work on the bottom leaves of some of the plants are spider mites.

spider mites

spider mites

The spider mites make fine webs like spider webs, hence the name. In our hollyhocks, the mites quickly build up, causing the leaves to turn yellow and die.

Hopefully, some predators will show up that eat spider mites. Here’s a sign that at least one predatory insect is about to make an appearance. Do you know what the stalk is?

hollyhock

I'll give you a hint:  it is on the underside of the leaf (I flipped it over).

hollyhocks