Complete Guide To The Potato Bug

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When you hear the term potato bug, you may be unfamiliar with what it is and what it does. A potato bug goes by several different names, especially dependent on the part of the United States where they are dwelling. The good news is that these pests are virtually harmless to humans, but can be quite annoying for farmers or gardeners. Below you will find information on the other names the potato bug goes by, the habitat they are found in, and other tidbits on how to get rid of them and prevent them from returning.

What is a potato bug?

potato bug up close

While you may think a potato bug is an insect, you are wrong. Because it breathes with gills, the potato bug is actually classified as a crustacean. A potato bug has three parts to their body. Their antennae stick out from their head, sometimes making them appear longer than they actually are. With seven pairs of legs, the potato bug can move quickly, but general is very docile unless they are started and fear for their safety. Their eyes are quite simple and do not stand out like some other like species. Color variations occur in these bugs and can range from gray to white. Some potato bugs have patterns some do not. It is interesting because potato bugs aren’t actually insects, though many people would categorize them that way.

Other names a potato bug is called

Sometimes creepy crawlers have various names depending on the region where they are found. The potato bug is no different, known by several names all over the United States. Below you will find the other names the potato bug is common called throughout the country.

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  • Pill bug
  • Sow Bug
  • Pill woodlouse
  • Roly-poly
  • Doodle bug
  • Armadillo bug

Reproduction of potato bugs

The female potato bugs have pouches where the eggs can be held and carried around. The female can hold up to 100 eggs at a time but since they hatch quickly, she doesn’t usually carry them with her for a long time. The molting to sexual maturity happens four or five times for potato bugs, but usually happens within a few months. Molting occurs in two stages, with the back half molting first and a few days later the front half will follow suit.

Where do I will I find potato bugs?

You may be wondering where you can find potato bugs, especially if you are unfamiliar with the name. In fact, you may never have encountered one because they tend to live the majority of their lives hiding under and around things. Most people won’t even notice them unless they come directly into contact with a potato bug in their habitat or one that accidentally got into your home. These are some of the places you may find potato bugs if you go looking.

  • Under logs or under wood piles. Potato bugs tend to enjoy damp, moist areas, so under wood piles and logs are the perfect places to check after it has rained.
  • Under leaf litter. Since the trees don’t usually lose their leaves until fall, these potato bugs try and get into the fallen leaves as much as possible. After it rains check under leaves that have fallen. It is best to wait a day or two so that the potato bugs have found their way to the leaves.
  • Flower pots outside your home. If you happen to have plants on your porch or in your yard, potato bugs may be hanging out in them. It is especially beneficial to check them roughly 24 hours after they have been watered or it has rained.
  • Under stones or bricks used as decorative pieces in your yard. Potato bugs like to hide under things and if you have some of these pieces in your yard, those are ideal to look under. Remove one of the stones or bricks from your path to check for potato bugs. You may not get lucky on the first try but check another brick or stone until you find one of these potato bugs crawling around in the dirt. It is especially important to do it after it rains because if it is dry, the potato bugs aren’t likely to be seen.
  • Outdoor pet dishes. If you leave food out for the strays or your own animals, potato bugs may find their way into and around them. Make sure you rinse out the dishes if you spot one hanging around it. It won’t cause the pets any harm, but it can make the fresh water quite dirty.

Keeping potato bugs as pets

For some reason, it is common for kids to keep potato bugs as pets in places across the country. Some relate it to the same thing as an ant farm, just less potential for the bugs to get loose and possibly infest your home. If you are planning to keep potato bugs, you will need a terrarium and make sure you keep it moist. The less light it is exposed to, the better. You will also need to keep decaying leaves and dead insects inside of the terrarium in order to keep the potato bugs fed. In captivity and if the potato bugs are taken care of well, they can live up to three years though generally they die before that. Many parents opt for this as a first pet or for kids who are learning about responsibility.

How to get rid of potato bugs

Actual extermination is not recommended for something like the potato bug. The potato bugs usually do not enter your home and if you happen to find one inside, it was likely brought in or took a wrong turn on accident. Potato bugs do not harm humans or pets, only crops in the farm field or a home garden. In fact, they are more likely to be found outside and under things than crawling around your home. Below are suggested ways to get rid of a potato bug without using an extermination.

  • Picking the potato bugs up one by one. This is the most recommended method, and the most efficient. It is also suggested that you drown the potato bugs in water as you go, though some recommend relocation instead of death by drowning. If this task seems like it is taking too long or you don’t feel up to it, you can choose one of the other methods below to get rid of potato bugs.
  • Build a fire outside of the garden. The smoke from the fire will immediately scare the potato bugs away. This doesn’t do much for prevention but when the fire is done, you can sprinkle ashes in the garden to prevent their return. It is not a long-term solution but it will buy you enough time to figure out your next move before the infestation returns to eat through the rest of your plants.
  • Use Diatomaceous earth. This product is a powder that is harmless to plants but will dry out the exoskeleton of the potato bug, causing it to slowly die. It will cut into the waxy coat and eat away at the potato bugs. If they are smart they will scatter once the powder is spread out, but sometimes they stick around and are found dead at various places throughout the farm field or garden.

Potato bug prevention

While you may not need to worry about potato bug prevention for your home, your garden may need a little assistance. If there are enough potato bugs damage can be done to your plants, specifically the potato plants. You will need to protect your plants by removing the bugs one by one if you can. Since there is likely an infestation if you are seeing damage, removing them may be easier than you think. Scoop them up and relocate them to a park or forest preserve somewhere nearby. The potato bugs aren’t problem bugs, so relocation is the best option. You can also spray insecticide around the outside of your home if you feel more comfortable, but it isn’t necessary. If you have already dealt with damage from these pests, keep some Diatomaceous earth in your garden shed or farm building. In case a recurrence arises, you will be able to fight it right away. Some gardeners suggest using the powder before seeing the bugs as a preventative measure, but it is unnecessary.

Potato bugs are fascinating creatures. They aren’t incredibly harmful and don’t typically invade your home, which makes them one of the more likeable pests you may encounter. You may find one or two of them inside because they were either carried in or were brought in on accident, but they will die on their own if not found within a matter of a day or two. While your first instinct may be to kill them or use insecticide, they can be handled with less extreme measures like relocation. Potato bugs are located throughout the United States and it appears they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

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