Adventures in Ethics and Science

Unlike Tuesday and Wednesday, today there was no early-morning rainfall.

As such, the slugs and snails decided, apparently, that there was no compelling reason to be out munching on my garden.

There were, however, a good many potato bugs.

So, last night, Uncle Fishy and I were talking about potato bugs (the grayish oblate bugs that roll into balls when they feel threatened). Neither of us does anything about potato bugs in the garden because, as near as we can tell, they don’t do any appreciable damage to our plants. (Uncle Fishy’s impression was that they only eat dead plant matter — making them herbivore maggot analogs, I guess.)

Are we right about this? Is it the experience of the gardeners among the commentariat that potato bugs are benign? Of should I be thinning out their population on gastropod-impaired mornings?

Also, there was a striped cat (the one, if I’m not mistaken, who used to sit on my garlic patch). I did not catch it. But I shook my fist as I hissed, “Scat!”

Today’s take: no slugs or snails.


  1. #1 chezjake
    June 4, 2009

    If the “pill bug” described here ( is what you are calling a “potato bug,” then Uncle Fishy is correct about its eating habits. However, be aware that it’s not really a “bug” — it’s another refugee from the sea, a crustacean.

  2. #2 oku
    June 4, 2009

    Oh, those are known by the kids as ‘rollypollies’ (not sure about the spelling). They are everywhere where there is dead plant matter, not just around potatoes. I do not worry about them, they are probably even helpful.

    Btw, does anybody know what to do against potato leafhoppers? I think we have those, and they make the leaves roll upwards. The infested plants are smaller than those not infested, although I planted those later.

  3. #3 cephyn
    June 4, 2009

    Yeah, those are what I’ve always called pill bugs. Neat little creatures.

    Potato Bugs – what I thought you were talking about the last time you mentioned them – are horrific alien creatures that will haunt your dreams.

    These terrifying creatures do indeed eat decaying matter and sometimes other insects. Pillbugs will eat decaying matter and moss.

  4. #4 Lisa D
    June 4, 2009

    Pill bugs are ok, unless you have lots of them. If you have disgustingly many, they may eat your roots. The bigger issue is that hoards of them indicate overwatering or other moisture problem.

    Potato beetles, on the other hand, are a huge issue and will clean out parts of your garden. has pictures of each.

  5. #5 blf
    June 4, 2009

    Like cephyn, I also thought you were talking about Jerusalem crickets. They look and can smell nasty, but are, as far as I know, basically harmless.

    The grey things that roll into balls I also know as “pill bugs”. I’ve always assumed they are harmless, but don’t actually know.

    Just sic some of your super-gastropods on them if you’re worried. They’ll eat either the “potato bugs” or the potatoes; either way, end of problem.

  6. #6 Sarah
    June 18, 2009

    For the first time in many years, my vinca plants are shriveling up and dying. It’s not lack of water. I pulled some of the dead ones up, and the roots are almost gone. I have noticed a very high number of pill bugs (or roly polies, as I call them) in the soil – more than I’ve ever seen in one place. I don’t know enough about them to decide whether they’re the cause of the sudden death, but evidence suggests that they are!

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