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Those Much-Misunderstood Isopods

Woodlice are creepy-crawlies which are hated and loathed to a surprising extent by many people. Woodlice are associated with decay, neglect, rotting, dampness, and the dark, but they are not to blame for these things. Yet there is an amazing superstitious instinct which people have which hates the woodlouse.

Wood Lice don't eat wood!

Well you might assume that with the critter being termed "wood lice" that they would be a virulent pest which gnaws away at wood and destroys wood such that wooden buildings collapse and decay becomes rampant. Such an assumption would be false. Woodlice are seen with rotten wood, as they are simply taking advantage of the conditions. Woodlice eat fungus, and fungus eats wood. Another way this is expressed is that woodlice eat rotten wood. Ie, after the wood has rotted, woodlice eat what's left.

The misunderstanding that "woodlice eat wood" could be one of the reasons woodlice are disliked, but the level of disdain with which people regard the woodlouse is such that it can't be explained purely by that. It's like the way spiders are misunderstood. Irrational fear has developed from primitive times when people lived in caves?

I don't know why there is such a hate or fear of woodlice. It could be what they are associated with, or it might be that there were similar-looking creatures that were parasitic or harmful in some way.

Anyway, to put the story straight:

It is even questionable whether woodlice are a "garden pest", as they are not known to attack living plants.

It's not like rats or mice, which are pests because they cause damage and spread disease.

Looking further at the irrational instinctive dislike of woodlice, maybe it's a bit like the way that people dislike the vulture but consider the lion in high regard. This is strange, because, given an opportunity, lions kill people but vultures do not.

Although woodlice are small, there are larger isopod species, including the Antarctic giant isopod which is harmless but scary as it looks like a foot long woodlouse but with long legs. There are similar-looking creatures from very early geological ages: Trilobites.

Woodlice typically have fourteen legs and are not insects. Spiders are not insects either.

Here are a few sites and pages about woodlice...









Also note: Woodlice are not to be confused with woodworm. Woodworm are tiny things that bore holes in wood (it's the woodworm larvae that do the damage), whereas woodlice are beasties associated with rotten wood.

Woodlice have a practical purpose and are used in museums for cleaning all the little bits off bones and other exhibits. It is much easier to let the critters do the work rather than perform it all manually. Dermestids (museum beetles) are more known for this, but woodlice are more gentle to the relics.

If you have woodlice in your house, it's bad news, but not because the woodlice are a problem in themselves. They are "symptomatic". Ie, if you have woodlice then it's very likely that you have dampness and rotten wood. That is the problem, not the woodlice.