The Pillbug Project

My Columbia High School ecology students were priveledged to be one of 13 schools participating in the internet Pillbug Project. The Pillbug Project was created by Stan Smith of Warrensburg Middle School located in Warrensburg, MO. This project is funded by the TAPESTRY grant program. Students conduct a series of observations and experiments on the pillbugs from each participating area. The students compare the resulting data to get a picture of how these organisms are adapted to different environments. After each activity, students exchange via e-mail their data and observations from these activities.

My ecology students created a "Pillbug Video" for the Pillbug Project. In the video, my students and I went to Harbison Forest in Columbia, South Carolina, to collect pillbugs. While collecting pillbugs, we discuss the pillbugs' ecosystem and identify factors that affect the pillbugs' environment. Also in the video, my students in the classroom introduce themselves and show off their knowledge about pillbugs.

After the start of the new year, many pillbug samples died off. Currently, the participating schools are waiting for the beginning of spring to replenish the pillbug populations in order to continue with the next sequence of experiments.

The following is a list of different labs we have completed in the Pillbug Project:

General Pillbug Observations Lab

In this lab, students identified the number of pillbugs and sowbugs from the 13 different location samples. The students identified the major physical characteristics of the pillbugs including the number of legs, body segments, and the location of the cerci. Students also tested the pillbugs' responses to certain environmental stimuli.

Microscopic Pillbug Observations

In this lab, students made very detailed and accurate measurements of a pillbug. Students observed and identified the antennae segments and hairs on their pillbugs. Students examined the compound eyes and recorded the number of different lenses. Students counted and sketched the body segments of the head and thorax of the pillbugs. The legs of the pillbugs were also closely examined. Students observed the ventral side of the pillbug and hypothesized the function of their pleopods. Finally, students compared 4 pillbugs from different locations and identified different characteristics.

The Effect of Habitat of Origin on Invertebrate Diversity of Leaf Litter

In this lab, students tested the following hypothesis: If pillbugs are from a drier habitat, then the leaf litter they live in will have different porportions of major types of invertebrates compared to the leaf litter of pillbugs from wetter habitats. Students measured equal amounts of soil from 13 different locations in the USA and compared the number of insects, arachnids, millipedes, centipedes, worms, and mollusks that were found in each sample.

The Effect of Pillbug Turning Directions on the Direction of Subsequent Turns

In this lab, students investigated the pillbugs' behavior of movement. In particular, the students examined an escape reaction seen in other crustaceans in which they travel in straight lines. The students created a "T" maze to test the effect of a pillbug turning direction on the direction of subsequent turns. Students worked with the following hypothesis: If pillbugs are forced to turn 90 degrees to the right, then they will compensate by turning 90 degrees to the left when they get the opportunity.

The Effect of Pillbug Experience on the Number of Correct Turns in a Maze

In this lab, students explored the effect of pillbug experience on the number of correct turns in a maze. Students created a maze out of plexiglass and Play Dough and tested the following hypothesis: If pillbugs have explored the same maze before, they will make fewer wrong turns to get to a desirable humid site.


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