Gardens are common pill bug habitats, sometimes spreading to internal spaces. No matter if pill bugs are dangerous or not, they can be a real nuisance. So, you may wonder how to control them.
How to get rid of pill bugs? The best way to control pill bugs naturally is to give them nowhere to live and hide. They love moist and dark places and feed off decaying organic matter. So, remove all boards, mulch, grass clippings, and leaves and keep everything clean and dry. Use chemical pill bug repellents as a last resort.
Read on for more information about pill bugs and how you can control them organically.
What Is a Pill Bug?
Pill bugs belong to the woodlice family, getting their name for their ability to roll into a ball when disturbed. They also go by the names roly-polies, Armadillidium vulgare, potato bugs, doodlebugs, and slaters.
People mistakenly consider pill bugs to be insects, but they’re arthropods, similar to crabs and lobsters. Although they have “bug” in their name, they’re not a true bug.
The common pill bug was an import from Europe, but it’s been living in the US long enough to consider it a native American.
What Does a Pill Bug Look Like?
Young pill bugs have tiny white bodies that look like miniature armadillos. Adult pill bugs are grayish brown and purple with segmented covering that looks like a shell, seven pairs of legs, and two antennas.
When they mature, they can reach up to 18 mm (1.8 cm) with an oval shape flat in the lower parts and rounder in the upper surface, giving them a dome-like appearance in the back.
Their hard segmented overlapping plates resemble armor, with each segment having one pair of legs.
Pill Bug Life Cycle
Pill bugs can mate all year long, developing several broods each year. But their main reproduction activities occur during March and April. The eggs remain in the female’s body in a brood pouch filled with fluid for three to nine weeks.
Young pill bugs can’t care for themselves immediately after hatching. They remain in the pouch for a few weeks.
Nymphs reach sexual maturity in a year, during which they regularly shed their exoskeleton. During each molting episode, they develop one part of their body. For example, the first molt gives them the seventh segmented plate, and the next molt gives them the seventh pair of legs. Adults molt every month and can live up to five years.
Where Do Pill Bugs Live?
Pill bugs have to live in moist areas since they breathe through gills. That’s why you usually find them under rocks, leaves, trash, flower pots, and mulch.
Because pill bugs are nocturnal, they’re inactive during the day. They want to stay in moist but not too wet areas to avoid losing water.
These conditions mean that pill bugs prefer to stay outside and may come inside only by accident and survive if their living conditions are favorable.
What Do Pill Bugs Eat?
Pill bugs are detritivores, feeding on decaying matter, especially the bacteria and fungi found on rotting vegetation. However, they can also be herbivores on rare occasions, feeding on root vegetables, including radishes and carrots.
They also appear as greenhouse pests damaging the roots and tender stems of soilless pots, such as orchid pots.
Interestingly, pill bugs are also known to eat their own feces and other animals’ droppings, such as ants. That’s because it loses some copper—an essential component of its diet—whenever it poops. It has to recycle some of it by eating the poop.
Types of Pill Bugs
Pill bugs belong to the family of land isopods. While there are around 5,000 species of land isopods, the most common types are the common pill bug and the sow bug.
Sow bugs are similar to pill bugs in appearance, which makes many people confuse them. But while they’re both isopods, with seven pairs of legs, sow bugs can’t roll their bodies into a ball. Both of them have tails, but the tail in the common pill bug isn’t visible.
Are Pill Bugs Bad?
Pill bugs aren’t generally harmful to human beings, pets, food, or the environment. On the contrary, they’re beneficial decomposing agents in nature since they feed on decaying matter. This way, they contribute to soil fertility.
Although they can feed on plants and vegetables, they very rarely do. Most of the time, we consider them nuisance pests because they form large colonies inside or outside houses without much damaging activity.
When they do eat vegetables, they leave traces like slugs: holes along leaves’ veins.
Do Pill Bugs Bite?
Pill bugs don’t bite, although their mouths are designed for chewing. They may look creepy with their antennas or segmented bodies, but they neither bite nor carry any harmful diseases.
They can’t damage wood or furniture at home. They just infest your home in large numbers and may damage young plants.
What Are Pill Bugs Attracted To?
Pill bugs are mostly attracted to moisture and darkness. They can’t live without moisture. So, if you put one on a dry piece of paper, you’ll see that it won’t last long. That’s because pill bugs are related to crustaceans such as shrimps and crabs, and they share many of their characteristics.
Another thing they’re attracted to is decaying organic matter, be it plants or animals. That’s why they help fertilize the soil.
Get Rid of Pill Bugs in Some Specific Places
Since you can find pill bugs in different places, it’s important to know how to get rid of them in each place to minimize the damages to the surroundings.
How to Get Rid of Pill Bugs in the Garden?
The key to getting rid of pill bugs in the garden is to deprive them of their favorite habitat and diet.
- If you have boards or rocks in your garden, you should inspect them regularly for pill bug colonies.
- You could also use these objects as traps to attract pill bugs. Overturn the object and if you see pill bugs, dip it in soap water.
- Produce like watermelons and squash, which sit on the ground, can be a good hiding place for pill bugs. Make a raised bed for them using pebbles, baskets, or cans.
How to Get Rid of Pill Bugs in Potted Plants?
Potted plants can be a good living and hiding space for pill bugs living under the pots.
- Make sure to keep the area under the pots always clean and dry. Put the pots on elevated areas and don’t allow water to sit under them.
- You could also pour Diatomaceous earth around the pot to dry them out. If you see the soil infested with pill bugs, you need to re-pot the plant. Scrape off the infected soil and put the plant in a new pot. For example, the Earthborn Elements Diatomaceous Earth from Amazon is made of 100% freshwater diatomaceous earth that you can use to control many different bugs, including pill bugs.
- Earthborn Elements Diatomaceous Earth in a resealable bucket
- Natural multipurpose household essential
- Diatomaceous Earth is a natural source of freshwater amorphous...
- Pure & Undiluted: Never any additives or fillers
- Packaged in USA
How to Get Rid of Pill Bugs in the House?
The best way to get rid of pill bugs in the house is to block all their entry points, such as doors and windows using seal foam.
- Use caulk to seal any cracks or crevices in the wall.
- Always keep gutters clean and dry to avoid making a hospitable environment for them.
- If you want to avoid harmful chemicals, you could use baits to lure pill bugs and eliminate them. Cut melons, grapefruits, or potatoes and put them down with the cur side on the ground. The moisture will attract pill bugs.
How to Get Rid of Pill Bugs in Basement?
Damp and dark basements can be attractive places for pill bugs.
- Try to reduce moisture by keeping the basement well-ventilated.
- Fix any water leaks and clean the basement regularly.
- If you see any populations, you can vacuum them or physically remove them through any methods you feel comfortable doing.
How to Get Rid of Pill Bugs in Pool?
To get rid of pill bugs around your pool, keep the surroundings dry and clean off debris and grass. Remove anything that can serve as a hiding place for them. Even if you leave your wet towel overnight, you may see piles of pill bugs under the towel the next morning.
How to Get Rid of Pill Bugs in the Garden Naturally?
- You could use natural hunters to get rid of pill bugs in the garden. Frogs, lizards, toads, and spiders like to eat pill bugs.
- Garlic and natural oils of cinnamon, neem, peppermint, and oregano are also helpful. Add a few drops of these essential oils to soapy water and spray it on the infected areas.
- You could also make garlic spray by crushing a clove of garlic and adding it to water. Then, spray it directly on the pill bugs.
Products for Pill Bug Pest Control
Pesticides are the last resort to getting rid of pill bugs since they’re beneficial creatures. There are many brands available on Amazon. Bug Stop and Tempo Sc Ultra Premise are good options effective with a wide variety of pests, including pill bugs. They’re fast-acting and suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. They don’t leave a stain after being sprayed.
- KILLS ON CONTACT: This product kills multiple types of insects...
- FAST-ACTING: This fast-killing product kills on contact to...
- USE INDOORS AND OUTDOORS: Use indoors in cracks and crevices,...
- CLEAR FORMULA: The non-staining, clear formula leaves no oily...
- READY-TO-USE: no mixing required
If they caused severe damage, the best deterrents for pill bugs are pesticide baits targeting pill bugs. These baits contain food pellets covered with insecticide and kill only the pests that eat them. They are not environmentally harmful, and they don’t kill other animals.
How to Keep Pill Bugs Out of the House and Garden?
- You should manage moisture in the garden by watering your plants early in the morning. This way, the soil has enough time to dry until evening, when these nocturnal creatures become active.
- To keep pill bugs from entering the home, first, address any colonies outside. Seal all the windows and doors or any opening that can help pill bugs or other pests get in.
If you look for a natural way to get rid of pill bugs, you should repel them by destroying their natural habitat.
Since they can’t live without moisture, try to keep all their favorite places clean and dry. You don’t need to kill them inside the house, as vacuuming them will do the trick. Natural pill bug deterrents are essential oils such as cinnamon and oregano, and garlic.
List of Sources
Merchant, M. Pillbugs. Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.
Boggs, J. (2018). What Lies Beneath. The Ohio State University.
Bechinski, E. J., Merickel, F. W. (2009). Pillbugs and Sowbugs. University of Idaho.
Pillbugs and Sowbugs. University of California.
Benson, E. P., Scott, J., Zungoli, P. A. (2001). Sowbugs & Pillbugs. Clemson University.