Nature on our doorsteps: Wonderful woodlice

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures

Every autumn, tonnes of leaves fall from thousands of trees onto the ground, down to the army of recyclers that will return their organic nutrients back to the soil.

One of these invaluable recyclers is the little woodlouse.   

Woodlice are crustaceans and are related to crabs and lobsters 1

Woodlice are crustaceans, and are related to crabs and lobster

Woodlice are small, flat, oval-shaped creatures with an outer skeleton that looks like a segmented shield.

This ‘exoskeleton’ has seven segments, each with a pair of legs.   

Woodlice are not insects but are instead related to lobsters and crabs. 

This makes them crustaceans, and like crustaceans, Woodlice breathe through gills on their legs.  

Because Woodlice do not have the typical waxy shell of an insect, they are always at risk of drying out.

The Woodlouse has 14 legs 7 pairs per body segment 1

The Woodlouse has 14 legs, 7 pairs per body segment

 

For this reason, they are usually found in damp, cool locations under stones, flower-pots, rotting leaves, and decaying wood. 

Females carry their fertilised eggs under their bodies in a little pouch, and when the young hatch out, they stay in this pouch until they are old enough to survive on their own. As they grow, they need to shed their skin. They do this by first shedding the back half of their exoskeleton and then, a day or so later, they shed the front half.

The ultimate recycler, Woodlice eat fallen leaves, decaying wood, and even the bodies of other dead Woodlice.

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