Investigating the Habitat of Common Rough Woodlice

Investigating the Habitat of Common Rough Woodlice

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Investigating the Habitat of Common Rough Woodlice


There are many species of Woodlice found in the British Isles and
because of their abundance they provide good material for an
ecological investigation into their preferred habitat. Woodlice are of
the order Isopoda which means, "the legs are alike"1. Different
species prefer different dwellings however the Common Rough Woodlouse
(Porcellio scaber) which has been used for this investigation, is
commonly found around residential properties. They can be found under
rocks or around compost heaps where the soil is moist and a humid
atmosphere is maintained. One abiotic factor that affects the habitat
of Woodlice includes damp or moist soil. Compost heaps also provide a
continuous source of dead plants, which is part of the diet of
Woodlice2. This is another abiotic factor. Woodlice are believed to
provide a vital role in the decomposition process as their eating
habits return essential nutrients to the soil3.

Closer examination of the anatomy of the Porcellio scaber may give
more understanding of why they may be found in damp conditions. The
external structure (fig.1) shows a hard exoskeleton, which is shed at
intervals throughout their lives in order that they can grow longer.
The exoskeleton consists of segments and the first section has a
fusion of the thorax and the head4. The uropod at the rear of the
Woodlouse is used for the uptake of water and this is achieved when
they are pressed against moist surfaces5. Woodlice cannot retain water
for long periods of time and because they have a large surface area to
volume ratio they loose water quickly by diffusion6. Their exoskeleton
is not waterproof which means that they will also loose water through

Fig 1. Dorsal View of Porcellio scaber


The ventral view of the anatomy of Woodlice (fig. 2) shows that they
have simple pseudo-lungs as their respiratory surface and this is also
towards the rear4. There is a pore opening that allows the exchange of

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gases in and out of the lungs and this does not close allowing the
continual diffusion of water into and out of the inner surfaces of the

Fig.2 Ventral view of Porcellio scaber


This investigation aims to analyse habitat preference of the Porcellio
scaber and in particular ascertain whether a dry or humid atmosphere
is preferred as this may play a essential role in the choice of
habitat of this particular species.

Null Hypothesis

The Porcellio scaber will not show preference to either a humid or a
dry atmosphere.

Alternative Hypothesis

The Porcellio scaber will prefer a humid atmosphere.


The implementation of this investigation was carried out according to
the plan specified previously.


The controlled experiment showed an even distribution of Woodlice
throughout the choice chamber.

The following results were obtained:























Chi-Squared Test

c2=å (O-E)2
















= 4.232








= 4.232

c2 = 4.232 + 4.232 = 8.464

Degrees of freedom = 2 - 1= 1


The result of the chi-squared test was 8.464. When this figure was
compared against a table of c2 values with 1 degree of freedom it was
shown that the figure fell below the level of significance of 0.05
therefore, the null hypothesis is rejected.


From this investigation I have discovered that the Porcellio scaber
did prefer a humid environment. The control experiment also suggested
this by the fact that there was an even distribution of Woodlice
throughout the choice chamber. Likewise, the anatomy of this species
of Woodlice would propose that a humid environment would be more
beneficial. This is because they are unable to retain water for any
length of time as it is easily diffused out of their bodies. They do
not contain a waterproof outer layer, which is an added disadvantage
in a dryer atmosphere as they are more prone to desiccation. Their
respiratory organs are found underneath their torso and are situated
close to the ground, which would suggest that in a humid environment
there could be an efficient exchange of gases. The diet of the
Porcellio scaber would similarly be more abundant in a humid
environment as this is a suitable atmosphere for the decomposition of
plant tissue.

Although the results of this investigation do favour the alternative
hypothesis there are some limitations and sources of error that should
be considered. The species of Woodlice were selected carefully
however; the age or genetic composition of the individuals could not
guaranteed. I did not choose an equal sample of male and female
Woodlice and different results may have been achieved if the ratio had
been equal. The sample of Woodlice used was also small and could not
necessarily be representative of the overall population. Similarly
there was no guarantee that all 10 individuals came from the same
habitat. Another limitation may be that the Porcellio scaber could
behave completely different in their normal habitat outside in the
garden in comparison to how they behaved under controlled conditions.
If I were to repeat this is investigation I would choose a larger
sample of Woodlice and would increase the amount of repetitions of the
individual trials. I would collect the sample on a previous day and
keep the Woodlice under a controlled environment (i.e. similar
humidity and temperature) for 24 hours to ensure that they have all
received similar pre-treatment. I would also try to ensure that the
sample had a similar ration of males to females.


Apparatus needed:

· 1 clean Choice Chamber

· a piece of gauze wide enough to stretch over the chamber

· Silica gel (self-indicating)

· Cotton wool (soaked in water)

· Cellulose tape

· Stopwatch

· 10 Woodlice

1. I will use a clean choice chamber for this investigation as this
will ensure that there are no odours or chemicals left by previous
occupants as a variable may be created i.e. the behaviour of the
Woodlice may be changed.

2. I will warm the Silica gel in an oven until it changes from a pink
colour to a uniform blue colour. This will indicate that the
conditions will be dry. The silica gel will then be placed into two
adjacent sections in the choice chamber. The cotton wool will be
soaked in water with any excess being squeezed out. I will then place
it into the two other sections to provide a humid atmosphere (see

Flowchart: Or: Silica Gel Cotton Wool (wet) Silica Gel Cotton Wool (wet)

3. I will stretch a piece of gauze over the choice chamber to ensure
that the Woodlice do not touch the contents of the chamber as this may
also affect their behaviour.

4. The upper part of the choice chamber will then be pressed into
position over the gauze to keep it taught. The holes in the top of the
chamber will be sealed using cellulose tape. The chamber will then be
left for 20 minutes to stabilise the internal environment.

5. I will collect a sample of 10 Woodlice from my garden and ensure
that they are all of the same species. They will also be collected
from the same area to eliminate any variations that may be present
between habitats.

6. The Woodlice will all be stored in the same container and once the
choice chamber is ready introduced into the holes on the top of the
chamber randomly.

7. I will observe their behaviour for 5 minutes. After this time I
will annotate the number of Woodlice on either the dry or humid side
of the choice chamber on a results table (see results section).

8. The test will be carried out at least 5 times to obtain sufficient
data and a Chi-squared test will be used to analyse the results. This
is because the chi-squared test will investigate the significance of
the results by comparing the expected results with the observed

9. The control experiment will be carried out by placing soaked cotton
wool in all sections of the choice chamber to observe whether there is
a significant difference in the distribution of Woodlice.

Control of Variables

Variables for this investigation will be controlled in the following

· I will ensure that the choice chamber is kept in a room, which
maintains a constant temperature, and that the light intensity is not
varied for each repetition of the investigation. This will ensure that
the behaviour of the Woodlice should not be affected by changes in
temperature or light.

· The choice chamber will not be moved whilst the Woodlice are inside
as this may change their behaviour and invalidate the results.

· Because I will be selecting the same species of Woodlice and
collecting them from the same area this should ensure that the genetic
composition of the species will be similar and that they are from the
same habitat.

· I will not change the silica gel or cotton wool in between
repetitions as this will mean that the Woodlice are not being exposed
to the same conditions. In addition, I will use the same selection of
Woodlice for each repetition to ensure continuity of behaviour.


1. 1

2. 2 3 4 5 6

3. Baker Further Studies in Human Biology. Hodder & Stoughton.

4. Griffin Choice Chamber. Griffin & George Ltd. 1973
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