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Woodlice are crustaceans which can be a common household problem in the UK. In small numbers, woodlice do not pose much of a threat, but an infestation can be difficult to manage. The common woodlouse is small and oval-shaped. They are usually brown or grey in colour and have numerous horizontal ridges.
What are woodlice?
Woodlice are creatures belonging to the order Isopoda.
They shelter in dark and damp spots, where there are accumulations of decaying plant materials.
These plants feed on this material and are an important part of nutrient recycling in the garden.
Woodlice produce eggs in spring which are retained inside the female’s body until they hatch.
The newly hatched woodlice are kept in a brood pouch on the underside of the female woodlouse for a few days before they disperse.
These young woodlice are similar in appearance to adults and will shed their outer shells several times as they grow larger.
The woodlice will become adults by late summer and overwinter before they begin to reproduce in spring.
Woodlice are generally considered to be beneficial in your garden because they produce compost and overturn soil.
Generally, woodlice feed on decaying plant material.
However, in large numbers when there is a lack of sufficient food sources, they can turn to your cultivated plants.
They can damage seedlings, bedding plants, peas, beans and carrots, as well as soft tissues, including cucumber plants, strawberry fruits and tomatoes.
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Woodlice tend to nibble stems, aerial roots and growing points.
In cold weather, woodlice like to shelter deep in the soil, but they also like to climb trees and walls.
They tend to roam gardens at nighttime when the day is at its coolest in search of food.
There are many different types of woodlice found in British gardens, with most being up to half an inch long and often grey in colour.
Gardener Richard Jones told BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine: “There are anecdotal reports of woodlice supposedly nibbling at tiny seedlings, but really they only eat dead plant material like grass cuttings, fallen leaves, compost or rotten wood.
“Their tendency to huddle in groups is not a sign of them reaching pest proportions, it is actually a defence against drying out.
“They are about our only terrestrial crustaceans which is a vast group of mainly aquatic organisms, prawns, crabs and the like.
“Although woodlice can occur abundantly, they still find it difficult on dry land because it is very dry.
“During the day they hide under logs and stones, in damp corners and only come out to feed at night, usually when it is cooler and moister.”
How to discourage woodlice from reaching pest proportions
Woodlice are usually kept in check by predators such as toads and ground beetles.
Good garden hygiene will cut down on the number of woodlice in your garden.
Removing plant debris, pots, seed trays and other areas where woodlice will likely stay will cut down on the number attracted to your garden.
You should also try to keep compost areas away from growing aways.
Indoors, the warm, parched atmosphere of the home will be too dry for them to survive.
But if you have any issues with damp inside your home, woodlice may be attracted and invade your home.
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