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 Curled up crustaceans are common in British homes and gardens


June 2018


If you are ever around grandchildren or youngsters, you will know the fascination woodlice have.

Children will potter around a garden or park lifting little rocks and peer excitedly below as these strange little creatures suddenly come to life and totter off to a safer darker resting place.

They are particularly accessible to small inquisitive little people as they feed on decaying leaves and plant matter which means they stay on the ground, hiding under stones and logs. But at this time of year when we are out and about in the garden, we grown ups will also spot them running away as you lift flower pots, in compost heaps or move loose bark from the ground. Also at this time of year they can also be found in a home. As the weather gets warmer and drier, woodlice may have come in looking for somewhere cooler and hopefully damper. They can often be found around windows if the frame is made of old wood or is damp from a wet winter.

Here in the UK there are around 35 species of woodlice and they are very common. They are also particularly interesting little creatures if you study their lifestyles, but nevertheless you don’t really want them in your house. Along with their 14 legs they have an outer shell or ekoskeleton which is sheds every two months or so to allow for growth. First the back half falls off, then a day or two later it sheds its front half. While these are of course tiny, woodlice can be very numerous, so the number of minute shed shells could add up in a house.

Then there is the fact that woodlice get rid of their waste by producing ammonia, a strong smelling chemical which they pass out of their bodies through their shells as a gas. With an infestation of woodlice, you may smell them before you spot them.

But possibly the most important aspect of having woodlice in your home is that it indicates that there is likely to be a damp patch somewhere. It may not be a problem, but it would be worthwhile investigating the source of entrance for the woodlice just in case.

The good news is that woodlice are not dangerous – they don’t bite or sting. One woodlouse particularly common in the UK is the pill woodlouse...easy to spot because it rolls itself up into a ball for protection. This makes it a lot easier to pick up and chuck out of a house rather than chasing it over the carpet or floorboards!

If there are a lot of woodlice scuttling around the you can vacuum them up, but collecting them up and chucking them outside, preferably in a dark dampish place, is by far the better solution because they are useful in the garden. They survive by extracting nutrients from dead, decaying leaves, roots and fruit. This can help clean up your garden and increase fertility in the soil. There are some reports of them eating live plants, but generally they cause very little damage to plants. They do possibly eat young seedlings and strawberry fruits, but the solution here is to ensure greenhouses are kept clear to prevent shaded damp places for woodlice to hide.

Woodlice often occur in large numbers in compost heaps and this can be useful as they help to break down the plant material and assist the composting process.

And one thing that is helpful is that woodlice don’t leave a trail of mess behind them...they generally eat their own faeces!  

It is unusual to get an infestation so large in a home that it becomes a major problem but they can be annoying in greenhouses and other areas of the garden. If you feel you need to control their numbers, a company called Panther Pest Control has some useful information.

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