let’s talk about woodlice

Do you know, when I leave the house at 6.30 in the morning (in the morning!) to walk 2 miles to the station to spend an hour on a train to catch a bus at the other end to get to the office before 9am, sometimes I’m not feeling all that cheerful about the whole thing.

And then sometimes I turn the corner out of the end of my street, and the sun rising over the city takes my breath away and I don’t mind that much after all.

Anyway, that’s not got much to do with anything, I just wanted to start off with a nice pretty picture, because I’m going to spend the rest of this post talking about woodlice.

Yep, that’s right, woodlice. Bibble bugs, cheese pigs, monkey peas, daddy gamfers, coffin cutters, doodle bugs, tiggy hogs – call them what you will (and there’s apparently plenty more names around the country – what do you call them where you are?)

Round here I’m afraid we’re rather boring and just call them woodlice. Or, more often, Cheerful Woodlice (yes, with capital letters).

Last Thursday we popped into Activity Room 1 at the local museum and listened to a very enthusiastic man tell us lots about woodlice, for no other reason than we felt like it. I’ve always liked woodlice, they seem like friendly little creatures, all hanging around together under stones, pathering about in the compost heap, and hanging round in damp plant pots. Last year we even came across a Woodlouse Strawberry Party (I’m assured they’d never be so mean as to eat my strawberries from scratch, and it was likely that a pesky slug or bird had helped themselves first, and the woodlice had moved in to finish off the rotten bits).

So, we learned all kinds of things, both about woodlice themselves, and about their role in art, literature, religion and music. Apparently woodlice are mentioned in Madame Bovary.  And Lord of the Flies.

And in Shrewsbury there’s a church with a stained glass window with a woodlouse in it.

And Paul Klee painted a picture of a woodlouse (although it looks rather more like a gutted fish).

Obviously that’s my own rendition of it, drawn during the talk. What can I say… I’m a very diligent note taker… (click here for the original – I’m sure you’ll agree my version is pretty accurate!)

I wrote 15 pages of notes (that’s the eternal student in me I think…), so it’s quite difficult knowing which bits to tell you! I could tell you that woodlice have 7 pairs of legs, and like to be in touch with their surroundings, and with other woodlice. Their eggs hatch out under water – but it’s water that’s carried around by the female woodlouse, in a kind of pouch vaguely like a kangaroo (I might have made that comparison up, but you get the idea). They live for 2-4 years (which feels like a long time for such a tiny thing!). Of the 40 species in Britain, only 20 are found around where I live, and none of them round here are the ones that roll up into a ball.

Maybe our local ones are all just a bit idle.

And did you know that 40% of all woodlice that are eaten, are eaten by centipedes?? Well, neither did I.

Apparently there’s a species of woodlouse that only lives in ant nests. Some only live on the edge of the sea. And there’s one species that does something quite disgusting to a red snapper fish – so disgusting in fact that I’m going to leave you to find out for yourself.

How could you not find them fascinating?

We were directed to a few different publications for identification purposes, but the one that stands out for sheer cheeriness and artistic merit is this one. If you know me, and have a small child, don’t be surprised if it turns up in their Christmas stocking…


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3 Responses to let’s talk about woodlice

  1. Robyn says:

    In Devon, they are known as Chuggy Pigs, and my Mum-in-Law is positively phobic about them. Having lived for most of my life in slightly damp houses, I can help her out by getting rid of any she finds though as I have no problem with them at all. Fascinating creatures – I am glad you enjoyed your talk!

  2. Chuggy pigs! What fun! They are indeed fascinating little critters – and they get more fascinating the more you know about them!

  3. christine says:

    Ah, a fond memory ..laundry day, emptying the pockets of a 4 yr old, wondering, what are these little round things he has in here ..?

    Here in Canada we call them armadillo bugs or pill bugs

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