Community Wildlife Area – November 2020

View from The Wildlife Patch

As the Year moves further into Autumn much of our wildlife moves to winter mode. Most insects hibernate at this time either as adult, larvae, pupae or egg form depending on species whilst other groups of “Mini Beasts” remain active throughout the year. I like to look for easily observed species that remain active throughout the year.

Woodlice fall into that category and are a favourite group of mine. Last week I decided to hunt a few out on “the Patch. I was disappointed to find far fewer both individual woodlice and species than I would normally expect when grubbing about in a similar situation. Has anyone else noticed a decline in Woodlice?

Woodlice must be one our most familiar “Mini Beasts”. They are not insects but Crustaceans ( Crabs and Lobster family). Being one of only two Crustacean orders that spend their whole lives out of water. Science calls the Woodlouse order “Isopoda”. “Isopod” means “even footed”. This being because all species have similar feet.

Most people are surprised to find that we have over 40 Woodlouse species in The UK However only about 37 species can breed outdoors. Woodlice have featured prominently throughout history in recipes including one for Woodlouse Sauce, (it’s just a White Sauce with woodlice in) and in the past Woodlice were often carried in a leather pouch round the neck to be taken as cure for stomach aches and minor ailments.

All UK Woodlouse species are vegetarian. Despite their reputation as pests they rarely eat living plant matter or healthy wood. Preferring to eat vegetation which has already begun to decay. Woodlice play a very important part in the recycling of dead and dying plant matter into nutrients for reuse by other plants.

One tiny white species of woodlouse lives exclusively in Ants Nests. With the unsurprising name of “Ant Woodlouse” it is common in this area and lives on our Wildlife patch.

The outer shell of a woodlouse comprises a series of segments. The lower part of this shell is described as the Skirt. In one my older woodlouse books “The Painted Woodlouse” is described as having Black eyes, two lemon coloured lines down it’s back and a pink skirt. Disappointingly it does not look very different from our most numerous woodlouse species.

There is one pink Woodlouse not surprisingly called the “Rosy Woodlouse” that lives in dark moist places and is present in this area.

Woodlice live 2 to 4 years and are predated by Centipedes and one species of spider that specialises in hunting Woodlice exclusively.

All woodlice lay eggs which are retained in a pouch under their shell. The young hatch inside this pouch and stay there until they are big enough to care for themselves. When these young are ready to leave the shell the female contorts itself in a move which has been described as turning itself inside out. I have never observed this so can’t comment. A female may breed up to 4 times in it’s lifetime depending on species and living conditions.

Woodlice can be encouraged into a garden by leaving bits of old wood, roof tiles and slates etc. lying around in areas not too wet and not too dry.

Dave Musson

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