Pillbugs, Woodlice, Roly Pollies

by Green Deane

in Critter Cuisine


Armadillidium vulgare: Land Shrimp

What shall we call them? Roly Pollies? Rollies? Pill Bugs? Woodlice? Sowbugs, or a half a dozen other names?

They are not bugs (more than six legs.) They are not lice, and not all of them roll. And their scientific name is a mouthful, Armadillidium vulgare. Land shrimp might be more accurate for these little creatures in the class of Crustaea are closely related to shrimp, crabs and lobsters, whose taste they resemble. There are land versions and water versions including large deep sea ones. In the world there is some 3,500 species of them and they tend to be parasite free.

Let’s stick with Pillbugs for two good reasons. Those are the only ones that roll themselves into a ball, and they are the most edible of the lineup (some non-rolling sowbugs are foul-smelling and tasting.) Look for them in moist places such as basements, under rocks and logs (but also look out of other more harmful creatures.)  They dry out easily so they are never far from moisture.

Besides being edible some people believed — not yet proven — that Pillbugs helped ease upset stomachs and complaining livers. There could be a hint of truth to that in that their shells are high in calcium carbonate, which counteracts stomach acid. To collect a lot of them effortlessly turn half a cantaloupe upside down in the shade near a moist area They will collect under it and feed as they are mostly vegetarians.  Note there can be as many as 10,000 of them per square meter and sometimes they are kept as pets, living up to five years (with good veterinary care no doubt.)

In his 1885 book “Why Not Insects” Victorian Vincent Holt wrote about Pillbugs on pages 58 and 59: “I have eaten these, and found that, when chewed, a flavour is developed remarkable akin to that so much appreciated in their sea cousins. Wood-louse sauce is equal, if not distinctly superior to, shrimp.

“The following is the recipe: Collect a quantity of the finest wood-lice to be found (no difficult task, as they swarm under the bark of every rotten tree) and drop them into boiling water which will kill them instantly, but not turn red, as might be expected. As the same time put into a saucepan a quarter of a pound fresh butter, a teaspoonful of four, a small glass of water, a little milk, some pepper and salt, and place it on the stove. As soon as the sauce is thick, take it off and put in the wood-lice. This is an excellent sauce for fish. Try it.” 

Among other Pillbug features is that they can change sex and do not urinate. They exchange ammonia gas through their exoskeleton and can drink through their anus. And their blood is blue when carrying oxygen, clear when not. Pillbugs are monogamous and dad helps with the chores.

Their scientific names translates into something more mundane than it sounds. Armadillidium (ar-mah-dil-LID-ee-um) means like an Amadillo, and vulgare (vul-GAR-ee) means common. Oh, nearly forgot: When Issac Asimov was a boy he filled his mouth with Pillbugs to see if they would tickle his tongue, giving his mother quite a fight.

In the recipes below Pillbugs were fed potato for several days before cooking, which always started with the desired amount first put in boiling water until cooked. Non-rolling pillbugs — sowbugs — can also be eaten also long as they don’t have a foul smell or taste.

Pillbug Fritters

*  1 egg

* 1/4 cup of creamed corn

* 1 cup of flour

* 2 tablespoons of boiled Pillbugs


Put egg in a bowl, add corn, flour, Pillbugs and milk. Lightly mix. Ingredients should be moist. Add more flour or milk as required to make mixture the correct consistency. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture into a thin layer of hot oil in a frying pan. Turn when brown on the bottom. Tastes like fish cakes.

Pillbug Semi-sushi

*  1 eggs

* 1 carrot

* 1 cup of dry rice

* 3/4 cup of water

*  seaweed sheet

* 2 tablespoons of vinegar

* 2 table spoons of sugar

* 1 teaspoon of salt

* 2 tablespoons of boiled illbugs

Add rice to the water and microwave for 10 minutes or until cooked. Add the vinegar, sugar and salt. Cut carrot into thin lengths. Cook in microwave with a small amount of water until tender. You can also use thin strips of egg omelette to add color. Spread rice in a thin layer over the seaweed sheet. Put strips of carrot, eggs, Pillbugs in the center of the rice.     Tightly roll up the seaweed sheet using a little water to seal the edges. Cut into short lengths with a serrated knife.

 Pillbug Scones

*  1 ounce of butter

* 2 cups of flour

* 2 teaspoons of baking powder

* 2 strips of bacon

* 1 small onion

* 3/4 of a cup of milk

* 2 tablespoons of boiled Pillbugs

Mix flour and baking powder in a bowl. Add butter and rub into dry ingredients. Add bacon, onion and Pillbugs, mix in and then add all the milk. Mix. The dough should be soft enough to roll out onto the bench top. Add extra milk or flour as required.     Roll/press out into serving squares, 425F for 10-15 minutes.

Scrambled Pillbugs

Add cooked Pillbugs to scrambled eggs. The amount varies with your taste for them.




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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Terri F House December 28, 2016 at 09:06

This is a very interesting article. I never knew they could be eaten and tasted like their water bound counterparts i.e., crabs, lobster, shrimp. I don’t know that I could ever do such a thing as I’m not the kind of person that eats bugs but it is an interesting thought. If ever I do decide to eat something like this it would be these over ants, roaches, crickets etc.


Bianca June 26, 2016 at 04:42

My son is in love with these Rolliepollies I know he’s two n on the hunt for them as soon as he wakes up he’s been eating them n not having no problems should I be worried


Green Deane June 27, 2016 at 09:23

Well… cooked is better, reduces bacterial possibilities.


Lee Rose August 28, 2013 at 21:09

Thanks for the article, I never knew they were edible. I would imagine these have more nutrients than crabs because the exoskeleton is eaten also. Time to get cooking…


Local Malcontent August 7, 2013 at 05:52

This is one of the most interesting articles I’ve read in some time; for some reason, I thought of these roly polies today at work, thinking that I’d heard somewhere that they were edible. Could I have permission to reprint this article at my blog, with proper credit and a link to this page, please?


Green Deane August 7, 2013 at 10:18



Mary Meyer June 4, 2013 at 18:47

Well, I don’t think I would do this again. I blanched a batch of pillbugs and then saute’d them in butter. Then, I consumed them. They smelled like oyster mushrooms when I saute’d them but the taste…. more like the dust in the attic. I would have thought that they would have tasted more like a mild crab or shrimp or ….. but they tasted more like dust from the attic. I had kept them for 24 hours on raw potatoes so that they would expel that which they had eaten previously….still…. It think I’ll let this little bugger go on to live a nice life under the deck… BTW, I live in the south….at the moment….. maybe northern bugs are better. They aren’t yuky if you are planning on tasting them but truly, not really worth your while.


Erik May 31, 2013 at 04:48

So, can I just go to my backjard, collect the pillbugs that roll, cook them and eat them like that?
I would love to try out insects, but this life of buying stuff in a supermarket and being told nature is full of harmful parasites and such, I’m kinda scared I’ll get a disease or something :s
Are my worries grounded, or am I just fussing about nothing? Of course I’d always cook/boil/fry the insect before eating it.


cb29 April 7, 2013 at 19:08

Can they be eaten raw?


Green Deane April 7, 2013 at 21:34



Chris Phoenix March 20, 2017 at 18:06

If a toddler ate one or two raw, would they be poisonous, or just dirty?


Green Deane March 21, 2017 at 07:54

Just dirty though the ground or detritus they are in might contribute something.


Squeakin January 14, 2013 at 01:59

Do you happen to know the nutritional content of pillbugs??


Green Deane January 15, 2013 at 09:55

I have read it is similar to crab.


tamron November 22, 2011 at 00:03

Hi Greene Deane
I played with Roly Pollies when I was a kid. I have never seen a roly pollie that was more than a half inch in size. How big do they get in florida?


Green Deane November 22, 2011 at 05:58

no larger… one eats them whole… cooked of course….


WS November 15, 2011 at 20:40

Missing part of Holt’s quote on cooking:

“and drop them into boiling water, “


Green Deane November 15, 2011 at 21:03

Thanks… I didn’t know I left it out.


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