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February 2024

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Photo By Franco Folini - San Francisco, California, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=789616

The Day in the Life of a Roly-Poly

Photo by Vanette Harris

Armadillidium Vulgare, aka Roly-Poly, is an isopod, a type of non-insect arthropod also known as a terrestrial crustacean. It is sometimes called a roly-poly due to its ability to roll into a ball when disturbed.

It had happened to my brothers and sisters, my mother and father, my cousins, aunt, uncles. I just never thought it would happen to me, but one day IT DID.

That day started out like any other. It had been raining. The ground was wonderfully muddy and gooey. The forest was cool. I had been crawling around most of the night. I love the nighttime with its quietness and spookiness. The trees look like giant art sculptures, and the animals are always creeping around like sneaky detectives. And the sounds those animals can make. Oh my goodness, I’m always wishing I could have my own special sound. Guess I’ll have to be satisfied with the soft squishing sound that my tiny little feet make as they ever so slightly touch the ground. It’s hardly a sound at all, but I know it’s there and I love it! It makes me feel special.

Sometimes I have to make a run for it—under a rock or a leaf or an old hollow log. Mr. Toad hops by, or Mrs. Spider with her eight legs tip-toes within a few feet. Thank goodness, I have a bunch of legs, 14 to be exact. I have 12 other appendages, too, that do a bunch of other stuff, eliminating waste (yuck), making babies (yuck, again), and feeling things. I’m actually a very complex crustacean. My very, very distant cousins include shrimp, crabs, lobsters, and crawfish. Bet you didn’t know that.

Of course, everyone knows that I can roll up in a ball. That really aggravates and confuses my predators. I feel like the “cat’s meow” when I do that roly-uppy thingy. I can’t see very well, because basically I roam around at night, just old nocturnal me, but I can definitely detect an enemy.

EXCEPT this one day. It was cloudy. My light-detecting cells were malfunctioning. I thought it was nighttime… so BAM. Before I could say “Jack Robinson,” a giant human hand came down out of nowhere and grabbed me. I knew about humans from my parents. Oh, the stories they could tell. Of course, I immediately went into defense mode. I can still hear my mom saying, “Roll, Baby, Roll.” I was rolling so fast it made my head swim. I rolled and rolled and rolled. I even rolled out of the hand, but still not fast enough. Up I went again. I could sense sounds, loud sounds, coming from all different directions—a boy and a girl and their grandparents. Then there was walking. They were on the move. I could slightly hear the girl tell the boy to put me down. My tiny brain was being flooded with ALL those stories from my mom, dad, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Dad had said, “Human kids LOVE us. They pick us up, they play with us, they take us on walks, they share us with friends, but never let them put you in a jar with grass in it and holes punched in the lid. It might be fun for a few days, but you will never grow to a ripe old age living in a jar. Somehow, devise an escape. Kids are quick, so you have to be quicker.”


  1. Stay rolled up. The boy will get tired of seeing you rolled up all the time and will let you go free.
  2. Just keep rolling around. The boy might loosen his grip, and you can roll between his fingers to freedom.
  3. Stay alert. If the boy drops you by mistake, roll under anything you can find: an old paper cup, an old virus protection mask, a brightly colored leaf, a broken bottle, a wildflower. ANYTHING!
  4. If number 1, 2, or 3 don’t work, unroll. Your little legs can tickle his hand, and he will drop you.
  5. Call for help. No phone, no loud voice… no, this is not a viable step.
  6. Pray that the boy listens to his grandparents.

“Put that bug down, it might have diseases.” (I don’t, but let the boy think I do.)

“We do not have any jars at home to put that thing in.”

“That bug will be so much happier in the forest.”

“You are not putting that thing in our truck.”

“We’re going to say this for the last time, PUT THAT BUG DOWN.”

I tried every one of these. Nothing seemed to be working. Even the boy’s little sister kept telling him to put me down.
The boy continued to hold tight to me. Thank goodness, I like moist sweaty environments. Truth be known: I breathe through gills. Strange, but that’s just the way I’m made. I even used numbers two and four in my escape plan several times, but the boy always found me. I wasn’t quick enough with number three. I was beginning to realize that number six was my only hope. “Please, Lord, help those grandparents be persistent, and give that boy some empathy for all living creatures in the forest.”

Oh, the journey was long and hot and filled with unknown adventures. The trail was wet and bumpy and curvy. It went uphill and downhill. All the sounds of the forest kept whispering, “Don’t give up hope… Don’t give up hope.” The boy, the girl, and the grandparents stopped to look at wildflowers. They explored waterfalls. They tested the temperature of the old creek with their feet. They laughed and giggled. They told stories and sang songs. They were having a blast.
But the boy continued to hold tight. He was the sweetest thing. He would talk to me. He was careful with me. He even petted me like a dog. But my mom’s words kept coming back to me, “Don’t let them put you in a jar.”

The hike was over. They were headed to the truck. I was getting more and more nervous. But then it happened. The grandfather speaking to the boy said, “I know you love that Roly-Poly, but it is going to be so much happier staying in the forest. Its home is here. It has a smorgasbord of food, lots of soft decaying plants like grasses and leaves. Its friends are here. Roly-Polys can live for two or three years, but if we take it home to put in a jar, it will not live that long. What’s your plan?”

The boy (to himself): My plan???… hmmm.

I was filled with excitement. Was it going to happen? Was I going to get to stay in the forest? The boy is thinking… and thinking… and thinking. The boy, the girl, and the grandparents were all silent… waiting… waiting… waiting.
And it happened. The boy knelt down at the edge of the trail where some old leaves were scattered around. He opened his sweaty hand. Slowly and carefully he slanted his hand so that I tumbled as if in slow motion under a big oak leaf. Oh, what exhilaration I was feeling. I could once again feel the damp mossy forest floor. The air was humid and shady under the leaf. I could smell the dirt and the decaying grasses. I WAS HOME. I WAS FREE.
Speaking to the boy, the grandmother said, “I’m so proud of you.”

The grandfather, “I like your plan.”

The sister, “I told you a long time ago to put that thing down!”

The boy: (No words) A tiny smile showed on his face. He knew he had made the right choice. He felt good.


  • Vanette Harris

    Vanette Harris lives and works (and volunteers for the Questa del Rio News) in northern New Mexico for the summer. She and her husband, David work part-time at the Caribel Condos in Red River. They live in their 1977 Airstream at the Gonzales RV Park in Questa. This “grandparent” story was written after enjoying a hike with her grandchildren in Austin, Texas.