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100 Species #28: Pill bug

dandelion

There are nearly 200 species of pill bug, but in the absence of any smarty-pants to tell me otherwise, these are probably Armadillidium vulgare, found under the same rock with the flat-backed millipede.

Pill bugs are those woodlice with the ability to roll up into a ball to defend themselves. Pill bugs and other woodlice are harmless terrestrial crustaceans that feed on fungi and fungus-affected plant material. Occasionally this includes water-damaged wood indoors, which accounts for the times that these creatures and their specialized predators are found in buildings.

This animal is noteworthy in human culture for its ability to generate common names and discussions about them.

The pill bug was previously encountered on this blog as 365 Urban Species #152, and also I wrote a paper about the woodlouse suborder, Oniscidea.

By request: My homework

lobster face
There was some interest in my final paper for my Evolution and Biodiversity class, so what the heck, I've posted more embarassing things. I'm not in love with this paper--I think if I gave it a few more hours of research and general rigor it would be much better. But I did it for a grade, not to improve the quality of Oniscidean information available, so it succeeded on that level, if nothing else.

Click for 10 pages of schoolworkCollapse )

365 Urban Species. #152: Pill Bug

dandelion

Photo by cottonmanifesto. Location: animal found on my front step in Brookline, brought inside for photographs (left the camera inside).

Urban species #152: Pill bug Armadillium vulgare

Of the 3000 or so described members of the terrestrial Isopod order Oniscidea, there are a conspicuous minority of species that can roll into a ball. These tiny land-dwelliing crustaceans do this to protect themselves from the piercing fangs of spiders and centipedes. Those isopods that have adapted this method of defense have done so at the cost of greater need for calcium intake, to harden their armor. All Oniscideans (woodlice, sowbugs, whatever you'd like to call them) possess mineral and metal sensing abilities that serve them well in urban environments. While they avoid toxic metals such as lead and cadmium, they seek out copper and zinc. These metals build up in their bodies, causing no harm, but providing some additional defense from predators--probably a bad taste.

The most common pill bug found in urban areas is originally native to the Mediterranean. The use of soil as ship's ballast transported them around the world, and they have also traveled the globe in the soil of potted ornamental plants brought from one continent to the next. Pill bugs and other woodlice are detritivores, preferring to eat plant material that is infected with fungi (is decaying). They are considered to be very important decomposers.

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