Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Snail, the Woodlouse and the Millipede with disgusting but valuable habits...

If this post title sounds like a modern-day Aesop's fable well, in a way it is, because it does have a moral. Not one, but two morals...

Have you ever wondered what millipedes eat? Probably not, but if you have the books will tell you that they are herbivores that sometimes eat gardeners' seedlings and are therefore a pest.

When I found this millipede clinging to the back of a garden snail's shell I wondered what it was up to. Could it be that millipedes attack snails? If so, they'd go up in my estimation.

All was revealed when the snail glided away, almost running over a woodlouse in the process but leaving some tell-tail evidence: snail poo.

Yes, remember you read it here first: millipedes eat snail poo. 

Maybe not the most pleasant addition to the sum total of human knowledge, but there is a moral to the story. 

Millipedes do indeed eat some of the gardener's seedlings but they are also part of a vast community of soil invertebrates that play a role in cycling of minerals. This snail poo might well be all that's left of some lettuce seedlings I planted out a few days ago, but at least I'm secure in the knowledge that, once they've passed through a millipede's digestive system, some of the nutrients will find their way back to the soil and feed the next batch of my seedlings that a snail snacks on....

The second moral is that the only sane way to approach vegetable gardening is to recognise that you are part of the great web of food interactions and nutrient recycling, and to become reconciled to the fact that some of what you plant - sometimes most of what you plant - is going to pass through the digestive system of a snail and maybe a millipede too, rather than your own.

So, I think of gardening as a source of endless photo-opportunities and don't expect to harvest too much. It's the way to reach gardening karma. 

So, on to the next question: if you are a snail, what does it sound like when a millipede walks past? Probably, like this...


  1. Hi Phil, hahaha, i love this post. Yes i read it first here. Now i got a lot of info from here so i will share this post to the My Nice Garden Chat where i am a member. I hope they find it informative and interesting to learn more of the food chain. Next time i see a millipede i will put it near a snail.

  2. Brilliant Phil.
    Just as well I've a strong stomach. It still wasn't the ideal accompaniment to my breakfast.

  3. What a great post Phil. Brilliant.

  4. The Snail, the Woodlouse and the Millipede - sounds like a great title for a book or poem!

  5. A great post, Phil - informative, amusing, and totally unexpected!!

  6. Hi Andrea, I wonder if millipedes appreciate all the publicity....!

  7. Hi Adrian, Hope the image didn't lodge in your brain for every meal...

  8. Hi Keith, it's amazing what you discover when you turn stones over ...

  9. Sounds like a nonsense poem title by Edward Lear, doesn't it Ellen..?

  10. Hi Richard, life at ground level is interesting, isn't it?