Woodlice are also known as grammerzows, chiggy pigs, bibble bugs, cud worms, coffin cutters, monkey peas, and tiggyhogs.
In Holland they are called pissebed (literally piss-in-the-bed). This is because they don't urinate: their porous shell also allows them to expel their waste as ammonia vapour rather than liquid urine. They produce more nitrogenous waste for their size than any other animal.
Although they don’t urinate, they do use their bottoms to drink. Small tubes called uropods suck water into their anuses.
They’re not fussy eaters either. They prefer rotting vegetation, but in lean months their own faeces will do. There’s a New Zealand species, the sand beach woodlouse, that survives mostly on drowned honeybees. Their odd personal habits make them good news in a compost heap.
Woodlice carry their young in pouches like marsupials, moult regularly and live for about two years. It’s tough being a male woodlouse. Not only can females give birth without mating (parthenogenesis), but males infected with a certain bacteria turn into females.
They’ve been around for 160 million years.
A baby woodlouse is called a ‘manca’ (from Latin mancus, incomplete).
Woodlice have blue blood.
Woodlice are land-based crustaceans, and, despite appearances, are much more closely related to shrimps and lobsters than they are to millipedes or centipedes. They are perfectly edible. In his polemical pamphlet Why Not Eat Insects? (1885), Vincent M. Holt considers their flavour superior to shrimp:
‘Collect a quantity of the finest wood-lice to be found (no difficult task, as they swarm under the bark of every rotten tree), and drop them into boiling water, which will kill them instantly, but not turn them red, as might be expected. At the same time put into a saucepan a quarter of a pound of fresh butter, a teaspoonful of flour, a small glass of water, a little milk, some pepper and salt, and place it on the stove. As soon as the sauce is thick, take it off and put in the wood-lice. This is an excellent sauce for fish.’
Thomas Penny (1532-89), the first English entomologist, recommended crushed woodlice mixed with wine as a cure for asthma. Woodlice were eaten as a cure for stomach upsets, rather like Rennies. Their shell is made from calcium carbonate which would neutralize the acid in the stomach.
Blowfly larvae burrow into woodlice and eat them from the inside.
Woodlice have gills.
The woodlouse spider (Dysdera crocata) lives on nothing else and has specially adapted fangs for piercing their shells.