Episode 9: Cannibal Roly Polies (ft Amanda Alessi)

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Amanda takes a selfie with the GPNC gang combing for beavers

Roly Polies (an isopod) are fascinating, accessible, common, and adorable. That's why GPNC naturalist Amanda Alessi adores them. What more do you want from a critter--important ecological roles, strange habits, diversity, crazy parasitic relationships? One word: isopods!! These tiny cute animals make Amanda's case for turning over rocks and digging in the dirt an easy sell.

Roly-polies are my favorite because:

  • They’re fascinating. They’re crustaceans that live on land!
  • Everyone has access to roly-polies. You don’t need special equipment or knowledge to enjoy observing them. Can’t hurt you.
  • While very common, most people know very little about them and are usually surprised at how unique they are.
  • They’re adorable.

~ Amanda

a sow bug that has just shed its skin perfectly on the top half of its body
molting sow bug by Grover Schrayer
Amanda's favorite isopod: Rubber Ducky
Amanda's favorite isopod: Rubber Ducky

All roly-polies are isopods but not all isopods are roly-polies. Roly-polies can roll up into a ball.

There are two families that do this: Armadillididae can roll up into a ball but not the antennae. Armadillidae can even get their antennae into the ball.

A land isopod that does not roll up is called a sow bug or wood louse.


Isopods eat dead and decaying matter, including plants, animals, and other isopods!

There are so many species and varieties of terrestrial isopods. The hobbyist in this video goes through his collection to give you an idea.