There is something about roly poly bugs (aka pill bugs) that make kids smile. I was no exception when I was little and used to love to find roly poly bugs and watch them as they crawled along. Our kids also love to observe them and find if fascinating that they can roll into a ball. Since kids like roly poly bugs, they are the perfect subjects for simple science experiments.
*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
Roly Poly Adventures: Simple Science Experiments With Pill Bugs
You will need:
- Clear plastic box (or another box without crevices for the pill bugs to hide in)
- Magnatiles (or cardboard or anything else you can think of to use)
- Small containers for kids to collect pill bugs. We used re-purposed apple sauce cups and paper cups
- Dryer lint
- Small amount of chopped apples
- Small amount of chopped or shredded carrot
- Pill bugs
Have children collect pill bugs. We found that pill bugs are more active and easily found in the morning. Otherwise, they can be found under things like bark or rocks. In a yard setting, they can be found near sprinkler heads. We used about twenty bugs for our experiments, though you could use more or less depending on availability.
Experiment #1: Darkness Versus Light
- Use the Magnatiles or other material and create a space on one side of the box which has a removable roof and allows for some darkness for the pill bugs. On the other side, make an open enclosure. Place the pill bugs in the center of the two spaces.
- Have the children predict whether the pill bugs will prefer the dark or light space.
- Observe the pill bugs to see where they go.
- After several minutes, count how many pill bugs are in each space.
We predicted that the pill bugs would prefer the dark space as we found them hiding under pieces of bark. Much to our surprise, the majority of pill bugs that went to the ‘light side.’
Experiment #2: How will the pill bugs handle a soft obstacle in their path?
- Place all the pill bugs on the light side of the box.
- Put the dryer lint in their path blocking their exit from that part of the space.
- Predict what they will do. Will they go over it? Under it? Try to squeeze around it?
- Observe their behavior. Were your predictions correct?
Experiment #3: Do pill bugs prefer apples or carrots?
- Place chopped apples on one side of the space and shredded carrots on the other.
- Predict which food the pill bugs will prefer (and for older children, predict why they may prefer one food over the other)
- Place the pill bugs on the other side of the space so that they need to walk to the carrots and apples
- Observe for a while. Give them several minutes to mosey over to their preferred food.
- Count how many pill bugs are on each type of food.
The pill bugs in or experiment were far more attracted to the apples and munched on them for quite some time. Eventually, some took interest in the carrots too. I imagine that the apples were their food of choice due to the moisture.
Finally, return the pill bugs near to where they were found. We put the pill bugs near the sprinkler heads with the food we used in the experiment and covered them with bark mulch. We checked the next day and there were still many bugs there enjoying their food source.
Here is a fun book you can read to the kids before or after your experiments:
Looking for more STEM ideas? Check out the rest of the ideas featured on 31 Days Of Outdoor Stem over at Little Bins for Little Hands!