Posted: Tuesday 14 February 2012
by Richard Jones

I never quite know whether to admire woodlice as tough little blighters, or dismiss them as an evolutionary joke.

Porcellio scaber woodlouse on soil

During the snow, we built a snowman, but to show our contempt for the run-of-the-mill figurative humanoid sculptures attempted by workaday snow artists, we created a two-headed deranged mutant killer monster snow goon (apologies to Bill Watterson). It kept the squirrels out of the garden for a few days.

Clearing up afterwards, I pick up a small piece of fibreboard we’d used as a makeshift shovel and find several woodlice sheltering underneath. Despite the cold, they must have been active in the root thatch of the lawn and congregated here last night.

I never quite know whether to admire woodlice as tough little blighters, or dismiss them as an evolutionary joke. As our only truly terrestrial crustaceans, they are poorly represented here, with only about 45 UK species, and only 4 or 5 that ever turn up regularly. These, braving the frosty ground, were the rough woodlouse, Porcellio scaber. The name, itself, is a joke, meaning ‘scabby little pig’ in Latin. Those early name-giving naturalists were right cards when it came to silly wordplay.

As woodlice go, though, Porcellio scaber can be a handsome beast under the hand lens or microscope. Usually matt slate grey, it can be marked with white or cream, or, as my picture from a few years ago, shown above, even pink. Very daring.

Perhaps it is not such a wonder that creepy-crawlies have been active in the garden. The last two days, during the thaw, the left-hand side of the garden has been sunny, enough for the cats to bask under the ivy hedge. Though the fence-shaded right-hand side kept its crisp snow blanket a bit longer, the defrosted area has been dry and warm. Even for terrestrial crustaceans.

Coal on the lawn is all that’s left of the snow goon. Soon we will burn his meagre remains and mock his cold memory.

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collie_lady 17/03/2012 at 00:53

I have a woodlouse nursery in my garden, beneath a large terracotta saucer which I use as a wildlife drinking water container/bird bath.
When I lift the saucer to clean it, I am always delighted to see woodlice of varying sizes scurrying away to hide.