Roly Polies Came From the Sea to Conquer the Earth | Deep Look

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Pill bugs. Doodle bugs. Potato bugs. Wood Shrimp. Whatever you call them, there’s something less creepy about these critters than other insects. Maybe it’s because they’re not insects at all.

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With winter rains, Bay Area pill bugs are out in force. Fortunately, they’re one of our most beloved “bugs.” Pill bugs. Doodle bugs. Potato bugs. Wood Shrimp. Whatever you call them, there’s something less creepy about these critters than other insects. Maybe it’s because they’re not insects at all.

Pill bugs are more closely related to a shrimp and lobsters than crickets or butterflies. Their ancestors lived in the sea, but ancient pill bugs crawled out millions of years ago to carve a life for themselves on dry land.

You can see the evidence if you take a close look at them, so that’s exactly what we did for this episode of Deep Look, an ultra-high definition wildlife video series produced by KQED and PBS DIgital Studios.

“Kids love them,” said Jonathan Wright, a professor of biology at Pomona College who studies the charismatic creepy-crawlies. After all, who hasn’t delighted as a youth in annoying a pill bug until it defensively curls up into a little armored ball?

Some adventurous foragers even eat pill bugs. Their flavor is said to resemble other crustaceans, earning pill bugs the moniker “wood shrimp”.

“I personally haven’t tasted one,” said Wright, “but I’ve spoken to people that have. They didn’t get a particularly high approval rating. Pill bugs have a lot of soil in their gut.”

They may not be ready to replace shrimp as an appetizer, but according to Wright, the evidence of the pill bug’s evolutionary lineage lies underneath its shell.

--- What are pill bugs related to?

Pill bugs are terrestrial crustaceans. They’re more closely related to marine creatures like lobsters and shrimp than crickets or other insects.

--- Why do pill bugs roll into a ball?

Pill bugs roll into a ball to protect themselves from potential predators. They will also roll up, a process called conglobation, to keep from drying out if they don’t have access to enough moisture.

--- What do pill bugs eat?

Pill bugs mostly eat decaying plant matter but also consume fungus, algae and lichens.

---+ Read the entire article on KQED Science:

https://ww2.kqed.org/science/2017/01/17/roly-polies-came-from-the-sea-to-conquer-the-earth-deep-look/

---+ For more information:

Respiratory physiology of the Oniscidea: Aerobic capacity and the significance of pleopodal lungs. Jonathan C. Wright and Kevin Ting


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Funding for Deep Look is provided in part by PBS Digital Studios and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Deep Look is a project of KQED Science, which is also supported by HopeLab, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the Vadasz Family Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Smart Family Foundation and the members of KQED.