What Do Rolly Pollies Eat?

Written by Patrick Sather
Published: December 24, 2021
Image Credit Mauro Rodrigues/Shutterstock.com
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Think back to a time when you were a kid playing outside on the playground. Do you remember seeing a little creature crawling across the ground that rolled into a ball when you tried to touch it? Chances are you do, which means that you encountered a rolly poly, also known as a pill bug. These curious critters get their name from their habit of rolling into a ball when threatened. They also go by the name slaters, potato bugs, or doodle bugs. Despite its name, the rolly polly is not actually a bug, nor is it an insect. Rolly pollies belong to the woodlice family in the order Isopoda, which makes them terrestrial crustaceans. While they originally hail from Europe, you can now also find them throughout the Americas. They are now a common site throughout various ecosystems. However, the question remains, “what do rolly pollies eat?”

In this article, we’ll attempt to put this playground question to rest. We’ll start off by talking about what rolly pollies like to eat. We’ll then move on to a discussion of their senses, and how they go about finding food. Next, we’ll discuss what rolly pollies eat in the wild, as well as what they eat as pets. Finally, we’ll end with an exploration of what baby rolly pollies. So, let’s get this conversation rolling and learn all about what rolly pollies eat. 

What Do Rolly Pollies Like to Eat?

Rolly pollies are detritivores that eat decaying plant and animal matter.

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Rolly pollies are decomposers that mostly eat dying or dead organic material. They are detritivores that eat both decaying plant and animal matter. That said, rolly pollies also eat live organic matter such as living plants, particularly when the weather is wet. Due to their penchant for eating domestic crops, some farmers and gardeners consider them pests. However, most environmentalists consider rolly pollies to be contributors to a healthy ecosystem. Given their penchant for recycling dying material, they help to temporarily remove toxins and heavy metals from the soil. Rolly pollies eat many different types of plant and animal matter. For the purposes of this article, we’ve gathered a list of 10 foods that they typically eat.

10 foods that rolly pollies like to eat include:

How Do Rolly Pollies Find Food? 

Rolly pollies interact with the world in very different ways from humans. First of all, although they cannot hear, they are able to sense vibrations using their antennae. While not extremely helpful for finding food, it does enable them to protect themselves from threats. Generally speaking, rolly pollies mostly rely on their sense of smell. Firstly, they give off a scent that enables them to find other rolly pollies. In addition, tiny hairs on their antennae and mouth help them to detect scents and locate food. Research suggests that they are very sensitive to taste and odor, which indicates a high likelihood that they primarily use these senses to find a meal. Although rolly pollies do have eyes and are able to see, their vision is rather poor. Overall, their vision is only helpful for navigation, and they don’t rely on their eyes to find food. 

Rolly pollies become most active at night, which means they are less limited by their poor vision. They are drawn to sweet, pungent, and neutral odors, which usually indicate dying or decaying organic matter. Once a rolly polly locks onto a scent, it will move in that direction until it finds the food it’s looking for. Rolly pollies are foragers and don’t go after live prey. Upon finding some decaying material, a rolly polly will start tucking in with relish. It uses its mandibles that consist of 2 jaws to chew up food. Food particles then pass through its digestive system before being expelled as waste. Due to their diet, rolly pollies do not need to chase down food or use ambush tactics. Rather, they will simply move from one site to another in their hunt for the tastiest substances. 

What Do Rolly Pollies Eat in the Wild?

What Do Rolly Pollies (Pill Bugs) Eat - Pill Bug Rolled Up
Rolly pollies rely on their sense of smell to locate food.

Mauro Rodrigues/Shutterstock.com

In the wild, rolly pollies will eat pretty much any decaying matter that they can find. This includes plant as well as animal matter. Typically, their diet consists mostly of stems, shoots, leaves, roots, and tubers of dying or dead plants. Grass, twigs, bushes, and weeds are all on the menu for a rolly polly. Aside from wild plants, rolly pollies will also eat domesticated vegetables. They also enjoy fruit, particularly spoiled or rotting fruit. While rolly pollies will eat fresh plants, they usually only do so when it’s wet outside. So long as the plant matter is soft enough, they will eat it. Additionally, rolly pollies also eat decaying animal flesh of carrion. You can sometimes see them snacking on the discarded skin of reptiles such as lizards or snakes. Along with animal flesh, they also dine on animal feces, including their own. 

What Do Pet Rolly Pollies Eat?

What Do Rolly Pollies Eat
Rolly pollies in captivity can survive on a diet of raw fruits and vegetables.

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Thanks to their easy maintenance and charm, some people keep rolly pollies as pets. In the event you decide to keep a rolly polly as a pet, you’ll want to make sure you feed it a proper diet. If you take care of your rolly polly and feed it well, it can easily live for up to 2 years and as long as 5 years. At first, it can seem like a tall order to feed a pet rolly polly. After all, they are detritivores who thrive on dead or decaying plant matter. That said, a pet rolly polly will do just fine on a diet of raw fruits and vegetables. The older these foods are when they’re given to your rolly polly, the better. Safe foods include peels from potatoes, carrots, apples, and pears. You can mix these foods in with clippings and fallen leaves from your yard. 

What Do Baby Rolly Pollies Eat?

Rolly polly females carry their eggs in a pouch under their bodies until the eggs hatch. Upon hatching, baby rolly pollies look exactly like adult rolly pollies, only smaller. However, even after they hatch, babies will stay with their mothers for another two months. It takes about a year for rolly pollies to reach maturity. During that time, they eat roughly the same foods that they do as adults. Soft plants make up the bulk of a baby rolly pollies diet, as well as animal feces and carrion. If you raise a baby rolly polly, you can feed it peelings from fruits as vegetables, as well as clippings and leaves from your lawn. Just make sure to replace its food often so it doesn’t get moldy. In addition, you can also feed it small scraps of paper or cardboard. 

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