Sow Bug Identification

Sowbugs and pillbugs are small pests that survive better outdoors, especially when they find a damp area where they can live and hide like underwood and rocks on the ground. They are seen as occasional invaders because they also enter buildings and homes.

Pill bugs and sow bugs are not insects but are crustaceans. They are actually the only crustaceans with the ability to live completely on land instead of in the water. Due to this, they look like and have more characteristics of lobsters and crayfish than insects.

How to Identify Sow Bugs and Pill Bugs

Sow bugs and pill bugs look almost the same. They have 2 pairs of antennae and 7 pairs of legs. These bugs can be white or dark gray in colour and grow up to 1/4 to 1/2 inches long.

Sow bugs and pill bugs have differences too. The segmented body of pill bugs allows them to roll into a ball. It’s also the reason why the pill bug is called pill or roly-poly.

A sow bug, on the other hand, has 2 tail-like appendages that extend from the rear end of its body. They cannot roll into a tiny ball.


Pill bugs and sow bugs need moisture to live and survive. They can live up to 3 years in the best conditions. These bugs are usually found outdoors under leaf litter, stones, boards, rocks and other things lying on moist ground.

They may also invade buildings and homes at ground level. You may find them in crawl spaces or damp basements. If there is no moisture, they won’t survive. They usually come out at night to find food, unless their refuge is disturbed.

Pill bugs and sow bugs are scavengers. They eat organic matter like logs and leaves. These bugs may also consume young plants. They don’t cause any harm to people, but they can damage seedlings and plants with their feeding.

Sow bugs use tricks to conserve and gain moisture. One of these is by spending most of their time in dark and damp crevices and cracks where there’s plenty of moisture. These areas also protect them from drying sunshine and wind.

Sow bugs usually stay in groups to reduce the loss of water. They’re mostly active at night when the moisture levels are higher and when they can easily move about without drying up.

Facts about Sow Bugs

  • Sow bugs are not insects even though they live in the same environment as insects.
  • They’re known as isopods due to their physical features.
  • Their scientific name is Oniscus.
  • They don’t sting or fly.

Sow Bugs are More Beneficial than Detrimental

Since sow bugs eat decaying vegetable matter and leaf litre, they can be considered as some of the best recyclers of nature. They break up rotting plant matter, which speeds up the return of important nutrients to the soil. You should check at night to determine if sow bugs or pill bugs are the cause of leaf-edge damage or disappearing seedlings in your garden.

If these bugs are really the source of the problem, you can try to reduce their population by eliminating hiding places like grass clippings, stones, fallen fruit and boards. You can also apply garden insecticides such as permethrin or Sevin around the base of potted plants and other hiding places to further reduce their population.

Sow bugs will eat vegetables and fruits such as squash, strawberries and melons that are left lying on the ground. Use a coarse mulch to keep the ground under the fruit or vegetables from staying damp.

Use a trellis to lift vine plants off the ground. This will also help reduce the amount of rotting leaves and stems on the ground. Elevate melons and squash to protect them from sow bugs.

Consider watering the plants early in the morning to allow the mulch or ground to dry out before the sow bugs start to feed. Sow bugs are actually beneficial, so try to reduce their number instead of completely eliminating them.

Keep in mind that sow bugs are part of nature’s natural processes. Most plants outgrow the nibbling of show bugs. When this happens, control wouldn’t be needed.