Recording the Gammer Zows, Hardy Backs and Cheese Logs of the UK

What are Billy Bakers, Monkey Peas, Gammer Zows, Parson's Pigs, Chiggy Wigs, Cheese Logs, Daddy Granfers, Granny Grunters, Slate Cutters, Hardy Backs, Penny Sows, and Cheesy Bugs? And what do they have in common?

If you said that they are all UK regional common names for woodlice, you would be absolutely spot-on! Researchers have already found 250 different names for woodlice from across the UK, and they would be interested to know more about their different names– you can contribute to this research by completing a very short online survey here.

It is of great interest to us that there are so many different names for these fascinating creatures. Some people believe that it is because they are commonly encountered by children looking under dead wood and stones, leading to various evocative names being drawn upon. We think there may be some truth to this, but I think it has more to do with the fact that woodlice can be encountered in almost any habitat across the UK and that they can be found all year-round. This means that if you were to look, you would most likely find woodlice, making them a common sight and, as such, have become a part of our vernacular.

Despite (or because of) woodlice being so abundant and often encountered, we tend to overlook them, yet they are truly remarkable. Belonging to the order Isopoda, woodlice are crustaceans like lobsters and crabs. However, woodlice (suborder Oniscidea) are the most successful group of terrestrial crustaceans, with many morphological and behavioural adaptations that make this possible. Even to the extent that some species have made their homes in desert habitats!

Woodlice essentially have a segmented, flattened body with seven pairs of jointed legs and specialised appendages for respiration. Females carry fertilised eggs in a brood pouch (in some ways not unlike marsupials), and some species show further maternal care for their young. Important detritivores, woodlice feed on decaying organic matter, breaking up vegetable matter into smaller pieces so aiding decomposition. 

In the UK, there are around 40 different species of woodlouse across 10 families, making them a manageable group for people new to invertebrate recording. This is further helped by the fact that there are 5 very common species found across the UK and known as "the famous five". They are:

Easy-to-find, regularly seen in parks, gardens, and even on Gino's 4th floor central London balcony; we just don't understand why this group are under-recorded in the UK. 

Rachel's tips for finding Woodlice, Millipedes and Centipedes

Finding woodlice (and the other myriapods: millipedes and centipedes) requires very little specialist equipment, which helps make them an accessible group to work with.

  1. The easiest way to find them is to go outside and turn over logs and stones to see what is hiding underneath.
  2. When doing this, it is useful to look at the ground beneath the object, plus the underside of the object itself. Sometimes you need to be quick - some species can run pretty fast!
  3. To find some of the smaller species, such as the pygmy woodlice, you can sieve through rotten wood and leaf litter. This can be done by hand, or you could use a kitchen sieve to process your sample quicker - a white sheet or tray can be helpful when sieving.
  4. Lastly, as woodlice are nocturnal, you can also search for them at night using a torch. This can be great fun to try in the garden during the winter months as it can produce quite a few individuals in a short space of time - and don't forget to check underneath plant pots!


 Identifying & Recording Myriapods

The Woodlouse and Waterlouse Recording Scheme has been running since 1968, is organised by Steve Gregory. He will lead woodlouse, millipede and centipede ID courses this year, following some very well-attended training courses on myriapods at FSC Bishop's Wood last year.

The following courses will be running in the West Midlands and the South East in 2022:

If you are interested in recording woodlice, millipedes or centipedes, take a look at the British Myriapod and Isopod Group (BMIG) website. BMIG is free to join and has some great resources, including an annual field meeting, which in 2022 will be held at FSC Preston Montford. Alternatively, you can check out the Facebook group 'Isopods and Myriapods of Britain and Ireland'.

Whether you call them Gammer Zows, Chiggy Wigs, or Cheese Logs, we think that woodlice are pretty cool crustaceans and need a lot more appreciation.