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In this outdoor activity, learners dig for and collect isopods (sometimes known as "roly-poly bugs" or "potato bugs" and other names). Learners have fun discovering that there are two species of isopods—pill bugs and sow bugs—with different body structures and self-defense behaviors. One way they learn is by racing the bugs on a circular track drawn with chalk on asphalt or pavement. Extensions include racing the bugs on other surfaces such as gravel or grass and keeping them in a see-through container for a week to observe their feeding behavior. At the end of the races, or the observation week, isopods should be returned to a natural environment.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$10 - $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • clear plastic cups, plastic bags, or baby-food jars
  • data board
  • large felt-tip marker
  • piece of string, 30 cm long
  • several pieces of chalk
  • 8 1/2" X 11" pieces of paper
  • transparent tape
  • digging tools (trowels, spoons, etc.)
  • scissors
  • bug boxes or hand lenses


  • Life Sciences
    • Diversity of Life
      • Animals
      • Biodiversity
    • Ecology
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results

Informal Categories

  • Animals
  • Outdoor Activity
  • Nature and Environment
  • Physical Activity


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • be mobile
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All Rights Reserved, The Regents of the University of California, ©1979


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