One of Ten Woodlouse Species in a Family's Garden Project in Belgium - Observation of the Week, 4/6/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Nosy Pill Woodlouse, seen in Belgium by @gillessanmartin!

Ah, the ubiquitous woodlouse, also sometimes known as a roly poly, sowbug, or any number of other common names (and that’s just in English!). These crustaceans (my 8 year old mind was blown when I found they’re not “bugs”) are so common that many of us disregard them, but woodlice are pretty fascinating and sometimes strikingly colored creatures, and one that many of us can commonly find in backyards and neighborhood parks during this time.

Gilles San Martin and his sons Leo and Emile were doing just that when they found the woodlouse you see on this blog post. “Because of the COVID-19 lockdown we are stuck at home with two young boys who are 11 and 7 years old, [and] we are extremely lucky to be healthy and to have a home and a garden,” says Gilles, who is a part-time professional entomologist. So he created a project for the area and encouraged his sons to start exploring and documenting its wildlife. 

We think that iNaturalist is a very beneficial way for them to use their abundant spare time. They go more willingly outside and they learn a lot of useful skills (that they would not have learned at school): the natural world and its taxonomy, of course, but also how to use a camera, how to deal with the files, how to use the computer... They also learn lots of social skills like communicating in a foreign language, using modern tools (eg DeepL) and learning the rules of a social network and online community (at the beginning, they were a little bit too confident about their taxonomic knowledge when they identified observations by other people...)

Gilles had previously found this species of woodlouse in their garden but thought it would be a good subject for his boys to shoot, “[and] in the end I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures myself,” he tells me. It’s one of ten woodlouse species they’ve found in their garden, and Gilles’ favorite is Porcellio spinicornis. He has some tips for finding wildlife in a small setting: “My wife regularly teases me because I can spend a few hours at the exact same spot laying on the ground and not moving an inch,” he says,

I even use now a camping floor mat to improve my comfort ;-) Not moving and waiting allows you to see a lot of insects moving that you would have missed otherwise and they are often easier to photograph because they are less frightened. But I suppose such a static approach is not for everyone. Having your nose at ground level and looking at the base of plants, below decaying plant material, can [also] reveal real treasures. But basically being curious and sharpening your eye to detect the small critters is probably the most important.

iNat’s open source data and philosophy, as well as its global reach, drew Gilles (above, 10 years ago but he assures me he still has the long hair) to iNaturalist last year, and he’s made over 2,000 observations since then, as well as 24,000 IDs. His passion for identifying organisms actually started with a woodlouse he found at age 13, and a naturalist friend immediately identified it. “I was completely amazed that it was even possible to put a name on such a insignificant invertebrate. The guy then showed me the book “Synopsis of the British Fauna” about woodlice and I realized that it is in fact possible to put a name on any animal if you have access to the right documentation (or the right people)...

The combination of digital photography, naturalist observations and online citizen science collaborative platforms like iNaturalist has certainly been a revolution for me. With this combination you obtain a stack of pleasure: the pleasure 1) to be outside in nature, 2) to observe new insects, 3) to take beautiful pictures if possible, 4) to learn about these insects by 5) interacting with a community and 6) last but not least to contribute to a dataset that can be useful for scientific research and nature protection.

By Tony Iwane. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and flow.


- If you’re considering having your children use iNaturalist, we recommend they try out our Seek app first. And keep in mind that no one under the age of 13 can have their own iNaturalist account without obtaining a parent or guardian’s permission. Finally, please monitor their use of iNat.

- Last year, iNat user @gyrrlfalcon documented the first Venezillo microphthalmus woodlouse in the San Francisco Bay Area in decades, which was confirmed by @loarie!

- Have you ever seen a purple woodlouse? It’s likely ailing from the Isopod Iridescent Virus, which causes the exoskeleton to take on a blue or purple hue. 

What have you found in your yard or neighborhood recently?

Posted by tiwane tiwane, April 06, 2020 20:54

Comments

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very cool gillessanmartin - impressive to find 10 woodlouse species in such a small area

Posted by loarie 3 months ago (Flag)
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Loved the story! I will have to try that technique of sitting still to see what new insects I can find :-)

Posted by joemdo 3 months ago (Flag)
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I can agree with Gilles, Porcellio spinicornis is a really striking species and hopefully common. And it's one of my latest animal species seen outside.
It's so cool to find so many species in your garden, good job!

Posted by melodi_96 3 months ago (Flag)
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Very nice story!

Posted by amarzee 3 months ago (Flag)
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Woodlice are great, very cute and interesting! My grandmother from North Devon knew them as "chuggypegs", the peg part of the word meaning pig.

Posted by susanhewitt 3 months ago (Flag)
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Well done, @gillessanmartin, and wonderful to see that people are recording the local biodiversity of their gardens and yards (even if the current trigger is a sad one). I wish iNaturalist would offer something like an umbrella project for these, but more flexible than the current setup of umbrella projects as to allow both old and new project types. I'd be very happy to join such an umbrella with our inventory!

Posted by jakob 3 months ago (Flag)
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Great story.

Posted by dghjertaas 3 months ago (Flag)
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Nice! Until a few decades ago, in central Europe Armadillidium nasatum, originally from the Mediterranean, only occured in greenhouses. Now it's quite widespread outside, although it is still bound to humans and mostly occurs in gardens or other synantrophic places. Global warming probably plays a role here.

Posted by fuerchtegott 3 months ago (Flag)
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Great macro shots Gilles ! Cool story too ! Well done :-)

Posted by defd 3 months ago (Flag)
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@jakob You have, at the time of writing, one species (taxon) more in your backyard then me - this smells like a challenge ;-)

Posted by carnifex 3 months ago (Flag)
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Hey @carnifex, I tried to find your project but failed - could you share a link?

Posted by jakob 3 months ago (Flag)
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There is no such project - it's just the geographically defined region I check :-)

Posted by carnifex 3 months ago (Flag)
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Hm, then this is a rather bold claim you're making ;-)

Posted by jakob 3 months ago (Flag)

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