Sunday, February 14, 2016

Science experiment: Pill bugs and variables

May 23, 2009 by  
Filed under kid projects and DIY, Resources


Mr. Rollie Pollie

When my children were unusually quiet then squealed with uncontrollable laughter, that was my cue to run and find out what they were getting into, and half expecting to find something smeared across the living room, I was delighted to see that my children were rocking “Mr. Rollie Pollie” on a Weebles chair.  Then it occurred to me that my kids would get a kick out of Lab #11, straight out of the College Board’s AP Biology curriculum.  

I have modified the lab for the preschool and younger elementary aged children.

This experiment focuses on the process of discovery.  Children will learn to collect and identify animal specimens (Armadillilium vulgare), care for the animal until time of experimentation, and be introduced to the idea of variables.  This activity also covers the following Texas prekindergarten TEKS guidelines: language (listening comprehension, vocabulary skills, sentence structure and skills), mathematics (adding to/taking away, classification and pattern skills, counting skills).


  • as many “rollie pollie” pill bugs (Armadillilium vulgare) as the little ones can find (though really one is enough for the youngest kids if patience is tested – just don’t expect statistical significance )
  • a small cup filled with loose, moist dirt to hold the pill bugs
  • a small dessert size plate (clear plastic disposable kind works great)
  • 2 sheets of white paper
  • 1 black or blue marker


  1. Help a young child find pill bugs.  (They are commonly found in dark, damp spaces so try looking under rocks in flower beds.)
  2. Collect the pill bugs, and have the child observe the pill bugs.  How many pairs of legs does the pill bug have?  Does it have antenna?  Do they have wings?  What color is the pill bug? Why does the pill bug curl up into a ball when touched?
  3. Have the child place the dessert plate over the white sheet of paper, and trace the dessert plate.
  4. Color half the circle with the darker marker, and leave the other half of the circle white.
  5. Place the dessert plate back over the half colored circle.
  6. On the other sheet of paper, draw a 2 column chart.  Draw a black dot over one column, and draw a blank circle over the second column.
  7. Place the pill bugs where the two colors meet.  Ask the child to hypothesize about the pill bug’s preference: Does the pill bug prefer the dark color or the light color?  Why?
  8. Observe where the pill bugs go.
  9. Have the child draw a mark in the appropriate column each time the pill bug walks to one color.
  10. Repeat this experiment (as many times as the child delights).
  11. Have the child look at the chart, and use the chart to explain whether the pill bug has one preference of color over the other.  If the child is old enough, connect this to the pill bug’s natural habitat which is dark, damp spaces.
  12. Follow up experiment: Place one half of the dinner plate with moist cotton balls and one side with dry cotton balls.  Repeat the experiment, altering the questioning and data collecting table appropriately.
  13. Release all live animals back into their natural habitat when finished.

Remember to always wash hands after handling animal specimens, even if these isopods do not carry disease!  It is just good lab practice.

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