Official Description: Pill Bugs (or Mealworms)


The 2018 Pill Bugs (or Mealworms) event will follow the rules for the standard Pill Bugs event listed in the official Elementary Science Olympiad Competitive Tournament Rules Manual from the National Science Olympiad, with the variation that all responses will be submitted online.

Number of Students

Up to 15

Insuring Student Work

Any members of the Elementary Science Olympiad team from the school may participate in this event. Participation is not limited to three students. You may list up to three students if desired. The coach is responsible to ensure and validate that the work done is the work of the students on the team.


All necessary materials are provided by the school/team.

Clarification: Mealworms Permitted

Students may experiment with either pill bugs or mealworms. In order to facilitate obtaining specimens for observation, mealworms are added as an option. Mealworms are commonly available at bait and pet stores.

Organism Clarification

Pill Bugs, in this case refers to terrestrial isopods that may also be referred to as “sow bugs,” or “roly polies.” They are available from science supply houses, such as Ward’s Science or Carolina Biological.

Mealworms, refers to the Tenebrio larvae and may also be known by a variety of names. They are available from science supply houses, such as Ward’s Science or Carolina Biological. They are also available from pet stores, which may facilitate obtaining specimens for observation.

Safe and Humane Use of Animals in the Science Classroom

In keeping with common laboratory animal protocols, animals used in experimentation must be treated humanely. Coaches should be familiar with state and district guidelines concerning animals in the classroom. Links to the California Science Safety Handbook and the National Science Teachers Association position on animals in science education are provided below. Coaches are expected to review and supervise student work with the pill bugs or mealworms. As part of the online submission of student work for this event, teachers may be required to certify that students have followed appropriate protocols.

Here are links to helpful resources:

NSTA: Safety in the Science Classroom

NSTA: Responsible use of live animals

California Science Safety Handbook, 2014

Ward's® Live Terrestrial Isopods (Pill Bugs and Sow Bugs)

Ward's® Live Mealworm Larvae, Pupae and Beetles (Tenebrio)

Carolina Biological Mealworm (Tenebrio) Assortment, Living

Carolina Biological Terrestrial Isopods (Pill Bugs/Sow Bugs)

Note: have your students collect pill bugs or sow bugs. They can be found in moist, dark, garden spots or under logs. Mealworms can be purchased at local stores where fishing supplies or bait is sold.

Online Submission Link

A link will be posted on the website prior to the due date. Check the Rules/Updates tab.

Online Submission

Students will submit evidence of their work online for scoring, including several mandatory deadlines in advance of the Science Olympiad tournament date. This is a significant variation from the rules described in the manual. Note that the due dates are well in advance of the date of the Science Olympiad tournament dates.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

On or before this date, students will submit the name of their project, the question they have determined to investigate, a description of how they will house and care for the pill bugs or mealworms, and the procedure they plan to follow.=

Friday, January 12, 2018

On or before this date, students will submit a summary of their observations, along with any changes to the procedure or protocols that may be required by their initial observations. A photo of the students and the experimental set-up may be required.

Friday, February 2, 2018

On or before this date, students will submit their data, observations and conclusions.

Scoring priorities include

  • Appropriate and reasonable experimental design protocols.
  • Collection and communication of observations, including multiple observations when appropriate.
  • Observations and data are clearly and carefully recorded.
  • Ideas, explanations, conclusions, new questions, etc. are clearly communicated, reasonable, and based on observations made.


Download a printed copy of the official description of Pill Bugs.