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.
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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!
Love these experiments! They are so creative and thought provoking – kids will enjoy thinking, building, and observing while playing.
Thank you Laura.
They still go and check each day to see if the pill bugs are still living in the same spot near the sprinkler head. I think they have grown emotionally attached to them! : 0 )
Terrific use of magna tiles! This is so creative. I wish I could think of these things!
Thank you Kid Congeniality.
There are so many uses for Magnatiles. We have gotten our money’s worth and then some! : 0 )
So cute!! I totally love this! I always considered pill bugs a “cute” bug, if there are such things. They are really neat little guys and I want to see if The Jersey Momma’s Boy will try some of these experiments with me!
I always thought of pill bugs as cute too. They are in the same cuteness category as ladybugs in my opinion. I hope The Jersey Momma’s Boy will be excited to try some of these experiments with you. : 0 )
I used to love playing with pill bugs when I was little too. Now, I’m not so sure, but my boys would love it.
I used to play with them all the time too. Our kids love them and are so enthusiastic when they see them walking around during the day. : 0 )
Jennifer Corter says
If my little boy did not loathe every single bug on earth, I would totally do this with him! But awesome experiment!
That is funny Jennifer. I wonder if there is a way you could turn his loathing into love. Maybe, maybe not… : 0 )
I love this experiment! Looks like none of them liked their veges 🙂 I’ll have to try this!
Thank you. It was fun to see what they liked and what they avoided. Ever since we did this experiment, our daughter finds pill bugs every day.
Hello, Theresa! Thank you for sharing this online!
Have a quick question – where did you find the cute Roly Poly clip art you used for this page?
I have been looking for a Roly Poly clip art to use but could not find any.
Do you mind sharing him with me for my project in school?
I am in school for Early Childhood as well.
I purchased the cute clip art from Dancing Crayon Designs on Teachers Pay Teachers. It also includes lots of other cute bugs. I imagine, if you decide to get it, you will find many uses for it in your teaching. : 0 ) Here is the link: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Bugs-Clip-Art-Insects-1372991