Tuesday, December 21, 2010
ABC Wednesday: W is for Woodlouse
I have a special place in my heart for woodlice. They were my first "exotic" pets - I caught a handful in our garden and had a thriving colony for a couple of years. I learned a lot about them and even got to watch a woodlouse birth. Well, not a real birth, but woodlice store their eggs in a pouch under their belly and the babies will emerge from that pouch once they have hatched.
Woodlice (aka pillbugs, roly polies, sowbugs, butcher boy, doodlebug and a host of other names) are crustaceans and they are the only crustaceans that don't need to return to water to reproduce. Some species are aquatic, though, and they all need moisture to breathe.
They moult to grow and will do so in two stages, first the back half and then the front, so if you see a two-coloured woodlouse, it's in the process of moulting. Another curious thing about woodlice is that they pee in gaseous form through their antenna (land hermit crabs do that, too)
The little guy here is a Porcellio scaber, a common rough woodlouse, but there are about 3000 other species worldwide. Some species can curly up into a tight ball if disturbed, but most can't. Sometimes, they are confused with Pill Millipedes like this one
It curled up when I touched it and stayed that way for a few minutes, then continued on its way. I found out only later that this was a pill millipede and how to tell them apart (the millipedes have much smoother body segments for example and they look shiny).
I still keep woodlice because they are very efficient cleaners in my land hermit crabs terrarium and in the poison arrow frog terrarium, both have enough humidity for the woodlice to thrive. They feed on plants matter and leftover crab food (crabs are messy eaters), thus making it unnecessary to change out the coconut fibre substrate in the crabitat.
Woodlice Online has many more fascinating facts about them. ARKive.org has some great videos and photos.
What else does W stand for? Find out with ABC Wednesday