Attentive nature walkers can observe a lot walking slowly on a path through the woods, but there is much that is hidden – not visible or audible – that needs to be searched out.
On a recent cold morning, Charon (my collaborator on this project) and I searched for some of what is hidden by turning over a few logs in the woods of Eliza Howell Park.
We selected logs that were well started in the decomposition process, several inches to nearly a foot in diameter. As can be seen here, we rolled them just enough to be able to see what was underneath and what was on the underside.
The animals we found are more likely to be considered “creepy crawlies” than attractive by many, but worth getting to know better, especially in terms of their role in this micro habitat.
The most common were Woodlice.
Woodlice (also called a variety of other names, including “pill bugs,” “sow bugs,” “roly polies”) are crustaceans, not insects. Different from many other crustaceans, they can live their entire lives away from water, but do benefit from the kind of damp environment found under logs.
They feed on decaying vegetation and have a significant role to play in the decomposition of trees, turning the wood back into soil nutrients.
Millipedes also feed on dead / rotting vegetation, including wood, and are at home in the under-log habitat. In our sampling, they were not nearly so common as Woodlice (nothing was), but we found a few.
Millipedes are known for their great number of legs. Though they don’t have a thousand (the meaning of the name), they do have 2 pairs for each segment of the body.
Centipedes are also found under logs at times, but they are likely there for a differnt reason. They do not normally feed on vegetation and might possibly be hunting woodlice. Or perhaps they are sheltering there during the day before their noctural activities.
Centipedes are also named for their many legs. One way of distinguishing them from millipedes is that centipedes have (only) one pair of legs for each segment of the body.
We also found a number of Slugs, noctural feeders on vegetation that are sheltering here during the daytime. We let them get back to rest.
We were very conscious of the fact that we were disturbing these critters and their habitat, so kept our watching time short and rolled the logs back to their original positions after our brief moments of looking and picture taking.
Nature is endlessly fascinating and there is always something more to learn. There are hundreds of logs on the ground in Eliza Howell Park and I wonder, I really wonder, what might be under the next one.