by | Mar 4, 2021 | Invertebrates, Wildlife


Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we’re twenty years into the Information Age so I’m pretty sure everyone in this courtroom knows that, to quote a famous New Yorker cartoon, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” The anonymity baked into the the interwebs means we’re all free to be whatever, or whomever, we want to virtually be… even if we want to be someone else.

Identity theft may seem like a new and viral meme, but I assure you, creating a counterfeit profile is a prehistoric trope. It’s older than Dick Whitman snagging Don Draper’s dog tag in Mad Men (2007).  Older than Mrs. Doubtfire’s dad-turned-nanny (1993). Older than the King of Ruritania’s body-double in The Prisoner of Zenda (1894). Older, even, than the sibling-switch of Esau and Jacob in the Book of Genesis (6th century BC).

No, we need to travel even further back in time—way, way back—to the Pennsylvanian epoch over 300 million years ago, and what must surely be the first, the most diabolically devious, the most indelible stolen guise in the entire history of Planet Earth.

I intend to demonstrate, beyond any doubt (reasonable or otherwise), that the defendant—Armadillidium vulgare, aka “pillbug”—is an imposter!

You already know he’s a shape-shifter. Thanks to a body composed of overlapping plates he’s a skilled conglobator—transforming at a moment’s notice from a scurrying, nearly two-dimensional, thumbnail-sized oval into an almost perfectly symmetrical 3D sphere. This is no parlor game, folks.  Crumpling to the size of a baby aspirin is a prescription for prevention of detection by those who would expose his true nature. (It also limits dehydration, but I digress).

Don’t be fooled by this roly-poly fellow’s non-threatening demeanor and diminutive stature. His rap sheet is a phone directory’s worth of aliases: pillbug, wood bug, pea bug, potato bug, and doodlebug, to name only a few… but he is NOT a bug.

That’s right, this armored charlatan may claim to be kin to bedbugs, ladybugs, mealybugs, spittle bugs, stinkbugs, and other insects whose identities he has appropriated, but take a closer look and even without a DNA analysis the evidence is indisputable.

Exhibit #1:  Insects have a single pair of antennae. If the defendant would untuck enough to show his face to members of the jury, you would see that he has not one, but TWO pair of antennae.

Exhibit #2:  Insects have 3 pairs of jointed legs, clustered on the thorax. The defendant has 7 pairs of jointed legs—one pair for each of the 7 segments that constitute his torso. But don’t take my word for it—count them yourselves.

Exhibit #3: As adults, insects breathe using a system of apertures and tubes called spiracles and tracheae, respectively. The defendant—who, while not aquatic is clearly in some legal hot water here—breathes using gill-like structures.

Exhibit #4:  True bugs have piercing and sucking mouth-parts that place them in an insect league of their own. The defendant has no such anatomical features.  Just look—he’s not even able to use a straw!

Exhibit  #5:  Speaking of drinking… insect have a waxy, water-resistant epicuticle that deters desiccation. The defendant does not, which leads me to wonder if his repeated requests for a glass of water are due to the dry air in this courtroom, or a case of nerves born of a guilty conscience?

Exhibit #6: No courtroom drama would be complete without a reference to sex so let’s talk about reproduction. Insects employ a diverse set of parenting strategies, including: oviparity (eggs are deposited and develop outside the female’s body); ovoviparity (eggs develop inside the female’s body and hatch immediately after being laid); and even viviparity (young gestate inside the female and are born, not hatched). But the one strategy insects do NOT use is the marsupium. That’s right, a pouch tucked under the thorax in which newly hatched young develop until they are old enough to venture out into the world on their own… a pouch just like the one you would find on the defendant’s own mother!

Members of the jury, the facts speak for themselves. The phony before you is not a bug. He has far more in common with a shrimp, a crab, or a lobster than any insect. Literally. Because this common pillbug is, in reality…

…a terrestrial CRUSTACEAN!!

[Audible gasps from the courtroom audience]

Your Honor, the prosecution rests.

© 2010 Next-Door Nature. Thanks to the photographers who granted permission to use their photos, and to those who made their work available through the Creative Commons license: Alan Howell, Andy Purviance, Brian Gratwicke, and Dany Sternfeld.