London (change)
Today 9°C / 8°C
Tomorrow 12°C / 3°C

In praise of woodlice

by Richard Jones

I'm always slightly perplexed when I hear someone talking about woodlice as if they were garden pests. My garden is full of the critters, but I've never even had need to raise my voice at them.

WoodliceI'm always slightly perplexed when I hear someone talking about woodlice as if they were garden pests. My garden is full of the critters, but I've never even had need to raise my voice at them. They crowd around the flowerpots, under logs and stones, up against the fence and they trampleaudiblyinside the compost bins. But they never get into any trouble. I wonder if I'm asking for trouble by wondering what all the fuss is about?

It's the time of year when they start coming indoors. Always an odd decision I feel. They inevitably end up tucked into the edges of the carpet around the skirting board, dry, dusty and very dead. They just haven't learned that central heating is all the rage nowadays. They come indoors to avoid the excess moisture and damp, a painful irony given they are nearly the only terrestrial crustaceans alive today, and that in the normal course of events they need cool damp places, otherwise their rather inefficient cuticle lets them dry out too quickly. Unlike insects which have a virtually water-proof skin based on the carbohydrate/protein mix of chitin, woodlice are still using an evolutionarily rather antiquated formula based on calcium carbonate, the main constituent of chalk.

The smooth woodlouse, Onsicus asellus, moultingMy pictures are really just an excuse, because I think these creatures are rather beautiful. The normally grey rough woodlouse (Porcellio scaber) sometimes takes on a lovely rose tone; if it were a plant it would be given its own special cultivar name. And I'm always thrilled to find a woodlouse in the middle of moulting. Unlike insects and spiders, which rid the whole outer skin at once, woodlice remove first the back half, then, a few days later, the front half. This is the smooth woodlouse, Oniscus asellus, just slipping off its pullover to complete the change.

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: In praise of woodlice
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 26/11/2008 at 16:42

How do I ensure that my cuttings from roses will live to grow in these cold temperatures. Do I keep them in grit, sand, compost and lime? in the garden or in a suitable pot?

Gardeners' World Web User 27/11/2008 at 17:30

Cant share the enthusiasm for woodlice, but I think of the Sal-bug with affection. These are a creature we knew as children and watched them roll up and unroll in our hands. Roses are hardy so outside in a v shaped trench filled with sand. Push cuttings well in, at least a third and back fill the soil and 'heel' them all well in.

Gardeners' World Web User 27/11/2008 at 18:32

I have a citrus Clementine grown on dwarf rootstock, it is about 3ft high and has lots of little oranges on it, they are about the size of a golfball, it has been outside for until the early frosts of last week when I brought it indoors, I have noticed that a number of the fruits are starting to split their skins from the blossom end, has anybody any ideas what is causing this and how can I prevent it - thanks.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2008 at 00:26

What a lovely photo - the pullover looks quite diaphanous. My grandmother used to call them cheeselogs, but I never discovered why.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2008 at 13:17

I cannot find much pleasure in woodlice themselves but the rather sadly uncommon common brown lizard eats them and having discovered the lizards in my garden and admired thier chequer board beauty the woodlouse is catered for with woodpiles and damp corners who knows maybe one day i will have a moment of revelation and appreciate it in its own right

See more comments...