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Turning behaviour of woodlice

Is the behaviour of a woodlouse influenced by what has happened before?

Experiment

The idea of this experiment is to force a woodlouse to make a turn (left or right) and then to give it a choice, of turning left or right, at the next junction.

Does the direction of the forced turn influence the next turn? If you force the woodlouse to turn left does it turn left or right at the next junction?

Apparatus

You will need:

You need to create the maze on a flat surface. We used wooden blocks but you could use Lego bricks or any other blocks on a flat surface. The gaps in the maze need to be large enough for a woodlouse to walk in but not wide enough for it to turn around.

An illustration of the maze used in the experiment

An illustration of the maze used in the experiment.

Method

Block gap A, i.e. make a right turn.

An illustration of the maze with part A blocked.

An illustration of the maze with part A blocked.

Release woodlouse number 1 into the maze (use the paintbrush to move the animal into position if necessary). The woodlouse is forced to turn right by the block at A but which way does it turn at D? Left or right? Note down your results and then try another four woodlice in the maze (one at a time).

If a woodlouse stops, tries to go backwards or to climb out of the maze, try again with a different one.

Now remove the block at A and place it at B, i.e. make a left turn. Place another woodlouse at the start of the maze. This woodlouse is forced to right by the block at B but which way does it turn at C? Try the remaining four woodlice in this maze.

An illustration of the maze with part B blocked.

An illustration of the maze with part B blocked.

Results

Record your results in a table like this one:

Woodlouse NumberDirection forced to turnDirection turned at next junction
1Right (block at A)
2Right
3Right
4Right
5Right
6Left (block at B)
7Left
8Left
9Left
10Left

Conclusion

Is there any pattern in your results?

If you force the woodlouse to turn left, which way does it turn next?
Does it turn left again? Does it turn the other way (i.e. right)? Or does it turn randomly, i.e. sometimes it will turn left and sometimes it will turn right?

Imagine the woodlouse in its natural home (habitat) amongst the leaf litter on the woodland floor. How important is this turning behaviour?

Do all species of woodlice have this turning behaviour?
Try different species in your maze to find out.

We tested lots and lots of woodlice and found that most of them turn right after being forced to turn left, and turn left after being made to turn right. This behaviour keeps them moving in ultimately the same direction when moving around obstacles such as twigs and leaves. If they always turned left they would end up going round and round in circles!