Kildare's Wildlife Watch: Nature’s decomposers get to work in autumn

With the Irish Peatland Conservation Council

Kildare's Wildlife Watch: Nature’s decomposers get to work in autumn

The woodlouse. Picture: IPCC

With the leaves quickly falling from the trees, autumn is a time of year when nature’s decomposers get to work.

As we retreat indoors, earthworms, fungi, soil bacteria, slugs and snails, just to name a few, are beginning their annual breakdown of these leaves returning valuable nutrients to our soils after the summer growing season.

One decomposer is the woodlouse (lus na coille as Gaeilge) which you can find in most habitats — in particular those close to home, in your gardens, parks and even inside our homes on occassion.

Like many invertebrates (an animal without a backbone) they love dark and damp spaces so if you overturn a flower pot or check under a log you are sure to find them.

A woodlouse has 14 legs and is typically grey/black in colour. They also have antennae which guide them. As they live in dark spaces their eyes are not as useful as the antennae to the woodlice.

The are related to crabs and lobsters as they are members of the crustacean family.

As we grow, our skin stretches — however, for woodlice without the presence of a backbone and skin they have what is known as an exoskeleton. This is a hard layer covering their bodies and as they grow, they need to shed this exoskeleton before growing a new one to accommodate their larger body.

As mentioned, they are important decomposers in our communities but one interesting fact I read online about woodlice is that they don’t pass urine! Waste liquid from their bodies is actually released through their exoskeleton in the form of ammonia.

One particular species of woodlice found in Ireland is the pill woodlouse. When it feels threatened, it can roll its body into a ball to mimic that of a stone to hide from nearby predators.

As we are all limited to our local areas for the next few weeks, why not take a walk in your local area or explore your garden and see can find the woodlouse as we all stay at home and stay safe.

If you would like help identifying or to learn more about a wildlife species, contact me via e-mail at bogs@ipcc.ie.

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