Crus­taceans in your gar­den?

Science Illustrated - - CONTENTS -

The Earth is ab­so­lutely crawl­ing with bugs, but at least we can take one thing for granted: if you stay out of the sea, and away from the beach, you can avoid those pesky crus­taceans. Right?

Of course, evo­lu­tion’s “try any­thing, sev­eral times” ap­proach to life means there is at least one group of fully ter­res­trial crus­taceans, who have adapted to al­most ev­ery pos­si­ble habi­tat on the planet. Tra­di­tion­ally called “woodlice”, most Aus­tralians would call them “slaters”... un­less you’re from Mel­bourne where you might call them “butchy boys” for some rea­son.

Slaters are isopods, and look pretty much the same as their marine cousins. With a flat, seg­mented body and seven pairs of legs, the slater has proven its mas­tery of our planet, with 3710 con­firmed species liv­ing pretty much any­where there’s a de­cent pile of rot­ting plant matter to munch on.

Some slaters have the abil­ity to roll up into a de­fen­sive ball - th­ese usu­ally get called “pill bugs” or “roly-polys” - while oth­ers have de­cided ter­res­trial life isn’t for them, and have gone back to be­ing am­phibi­ous.

To breathe air in­stead of wa­ter, slaters evolved their pad­dle-shaped pleopods (hind limbs) into struc­tures called pleopo­dal lungs. They’re also not all that crash hot at re­tain­ing wa­ter - their cu­ti­cle, or ex­oskele­ton, doesn’t hold mois­ture very well, and they wee a lot.

This means most slater species must live in moist con­di­tions, which for your gar­den means un­der rot­ting logs or for­got­ten flowerpots.

De­spite their some­what hacky adap­ta­tions for ter­res­trial liv­ing, slaters are among the mi­nor­ity of arthro­pods who care for their young af­ter hatch­ing.

The fe­male lays her eggs into cham­ber formed from spe­cialised ap­pendages, called a mar­supium. The ba­bies hatch and moult sev­eral times be­fore they emerge, look­ing like tiny pale ver­sions of the adults. Many species of slaters then fuss over and de­fend th­ese ba­bies, or at least try to shield them from preda­tors.

If you have an es­pe­cially damp or shaded gar­den, it’s pos­si­ble to end up with hun­dreds or even thou­sands of slaters scur­ry­ing around un­der ev­ery loose ob­ject. But woodlice - de­spite the name - are rarely re­garded as se­ri­ous pests, be­cause they mostly just churn through dead or­ganic ma­te­rial.

Of course, some­times they’ll de­velop a taste for your straw­ber­ries, and any ris­ing damp inside your house.

SPECIES: Wood­louse/Slater SCI­EN­TIFIC NAME: sub­or­der Onis­cidea, 5000+ species DIS­TRI­BU­TION: Global, from deserts to lakes to moun­tains and more. ICUN CON­SER­VA­TION STA­TUS: Not as­sessed (com­mon)

Slaters carry their young in a sort of pouch called a mar­supium.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.