Have you ever lifted a pot plant or scraped back some mulch and found some curious little 'Roley Poley' bugs underneath? These are slaters, also known as Roley Poleys, Pill Bugs, or Wood Lice. Just like worms, slaters are great for your garden as they eat organic matter and return nutrients to the soil. Having a few slaters around will keep your plants happy and healthy.
Slaters need moisture and mostly come out at night when the risk of drying out is low. You'll find them under logs, rocks, leaf matter, compost, pot plants and amongst mulched areas of your garden.
You'll recognise the oval-shaped flattened bodies of these bugs, which are about 6 to 12 mm in length and dark grey in colour. Their bodies have 14 segments, 7 pairs of legs and two pairs of antennae, though the second pair is small and hard to see.
Slaters navigate with specialised equipment. They have two tail-like 'uropods' at the end of their bodies which help them to find their way around.
Female slaters don't lay their eggs but keep them in a pouch under their body. The new baby slaters stay in the pouch for a short time after they hatch. Young slaters look like adults except they have one less body segment and pair of legs.
Slaters grow by moulting. A new skin grows underneath their tough, outer skeleton, which splits into two pieces. One half comes off over a few days, with the other half falling off a few days later. The skin underneath then gradually hardens. During moulting a slater is very vulnerable and needs to find a safe place to shelter as it grows.
Slaters will occasionally feed on young plants. Slaters are beneficial for your garden, so you don't want to get rid of them, but you can easily distract them. Put some hollowed out orange halves or seedling punnets filled with potato peelings out in the garden for the slaters to munch on instead. Remove these when full and empty the slaters out away from any seedlings you want them to stay away from.
You can also stop slaters from eating young plants by growing plants like strawberries in pots or on structures that keep the leaves and fruit off the ground. When sowing seed, keep mulch clear of the furrow as slaters don't like venturing far from cover. Older plants with tougher stems are less attractive to slaters than young seedlings.
Avoid using chemicals or baits in the garden as they can affect insects other than the ones you're trying to target, and birds and other animals can get sick if they eat a contaminated insect.
If slaters are taking over, you can easily make the garden less favourable to them. Disturb your compost and mulch by raking it frequently during hot, dry days. Chickens or ducks also love to eat slaters, which provide good protein for egg production.
Did you know?
Slaters are crustaceans and are related to crabs, lobsters and prawns. They are one of only two groups of crustaceans that left the water on a permanent basis, and still need some moisture to survive. They have changed very little since they first moved on to land. Slaters have uropods just like other crustaceans for navigation.
Slaters occasionally come inside the house. They don't bite or sting so just sweep them up and put them back outside if you find one exploring inside.
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