Scientists unearth woodlice cousins that roamed Ireland 360m years ago

Researchers built picture from fossil of oxyuropoda found in Co Kilkenny in 1908

Close cousins of the garden woodlouse were crawling around on Irish lands some 360 million years ago, according to researchers in UCC, who have used advanced imaging techniques to indicate what the crustacean looked like long ago.

They developed a new picture of the oxyuropoda – a land-based creature larger than the modern woodlouse – using a fossil found in Kiltorcan, Co Kilkenny in 1908.

The work advances science's understanding of when land-dwelling species of crustaceans roamed the earth, and what they looked like, according to lead researcher Dr Ninon Robin, a postdoctoral researcher at UCC School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

“Woodlice, and their relatives, form a group of crustaceans named peracarids that are as species-rich as the more famous group comprising krill, crabs and shrimps named eucarids,” she explained.



From their ancestral marine habitat some peracarids evolved fully into terrestrial ground-crawling species typically found in gardens. These include pillbugs and sowbugs, which are common in Ireland, she added.

“Using new modern imaging techniques, we determined that oxyuropoda was actually a peracarid crustacean, even the oldest known one; which supports the theory that woodlice cousins were already crawling on Irish lands at that very early time, 360 million years ago,” Dr Robin said.

They are probably considerably older, she confirmed.

The fossil based on which the work was made possible was found on a site internationally known since the mid 19th-century as the location of a number of plant, freshwater bivalve, fish, and crustacean fossils.

Dr David Jarvis, who is also based in UCC, and scientists from University of Lausanne in Switzerland, Harvard University in the US, and Naturalis Biodiversity Center of Leiden in the Netherlands were also part of the research.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times