If you look close enough among the dense vegetation in your flower beds you can find a miniature bug tank. If you use a lot of wood chips in your yard, you will also have a lot of these amazing critters. If you have any ground cover or rocks, move them aside and you will discover hundreds of miniature tanks. Each one comes equipped with overlapping armored plates and the ability to roll into a ball if threatened. Our modern mechanical tanks cannot even perform such a task. That armored bug you are seeing is called the pill bug. You might know it by one of its many other names; potato bug, roly poly, ball bug, or armadillo bug. No matter what you call it, just make certain you don’t call it an insect.
Wait, it isn’t an insect? Pill bugs are not insects. They are crustaceans. Yep, the shrimp you love to have for New Year’s Eve is related to the little pill bug. Even though you will still call it a bug when you see it, you can now impress your friends and family when you tell them that the little roly poly is a crustacean. In fact, instead of having lungs, the pill bug has gills which it uses to breathe by exchanging gases. However, unlike crayfish and shrimp, the pill bug cannot breathe underwater. Meaning if you put it in a cup of water it will drown.
Strange bathroom habits Pill bugs don’t pee. When your body metabolizes food, it creates a lot of nitrogen. In order to get rid of the nitrogen buildup, your body converts it into urea and out comes urine. A pill bug can tolerate nitrogen and can pass it in the form of ammonia out through its exoskeleton. If that wasn’t weird enough for you, imagine being able to drink with your backside. Pill bugs come equipped with special structures on their backsides which can wick up water. They still drink with their mouths, yet they can use their rear end if they need to.
Wouldn’t that be a disgusting party trick? It gets worse. Your blood has iron which forms the heme in hemoglobin, which is why your blood is red. A pill bug’s blood does not depend on iron, rather it needs copper. Copper is used in its hemocyanin to grab oxygen. If the hemocyanin is oxygenated, it will be blue. Pill bug blood is blue. Because copper is such a valuable resource for the pill bug, it will… eat its own poop in order to recycle the much needed metal. If you have been wondering about the title, well there’s your answer. You are probably pretty happy that your blood uses iron and not copper.
The amazing pill bug Next time you are out planting flowers in your flower bed and you find a few pill bugs, you will be able to take a few moments to appreciate the oddities of nature… and be grateful you have normal bathroom habits.