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