What better way to recuperate after minor surgery than a spot of light gardening and wildlife watching. Fresh air, sunshine and gentle exercise certainly take your mind off things; you end up feeling incredibly virtuous and may even pick up new knowledge along the way. So it was that, after a day’s garden pottering, I discovered on returning home that, according to the Natural History Museum, the UK has some 37 species of woodlouse. In all, there are over 3,000 species and some of them even live in the sea. Bet you didn’t know that.
Anyway, it was after helping someone to remove a clump of pampas grass (actually, all I did was cut back the foliage) that I looked down into the hole left after rolling the root ball out of the way and saw an especially large and fine looking woodlouse. It was one of the biggest I’d ever seen and, unlike many other woodlice I’ve come across, this one had a pale fringe around its shell and spots of the same colour along the length of its body. It was beautiful, a tiny living work of art.
The ground here was damp and shady – not a good place for a pampas grass and the plant wasn’t thriving; in fact, half of it was rotting and quite smelly, so it wasn’t surprising that woodlice had set up house there.
They breathe through gills, so a soggy, rotting plant would be ideal. I thought back to other woodlice I’ve seen and dug out a picture taken a few years before of a smaller, brown one that I’d seen in a compost bin, which had appeared to be in discussion with a slug. They were quite different.