We had a bit of a scare recently finding masses of what appeared to be giant fleas lying dead on the floor of our courtyard.
I asked my ‘brains trust’ friends who identified them as Amphipods, a group of group of Crustacea called ‘Land Hoppers’ (Arcitalitrus sylvaticus), a common species in gardens in Sydney & Melbourne. Tasmania has 15 known species of Land Hopper. They are also known as ‘Lawn Shrimps’ or ‘House Hoppers’ in North America.
It may be that many of you know about these Amphipods, but for us, this was a first. I read up & found out that Land Hoppers were a sign of biodiversity in our garden, so not a bad thing at all.
This species is native to Australia & found in New South Wales & Victoria. Land Hoppers have migrated to areas of the Pacific close to Australia, as well as New Zealand, Florida, California in North America & as far away as Great Britain & Ireland. It is thought that they migrate via nursery plants, potting soil & especially Eucalyptus trees.
They live unseen in moist soil, damp leaf litter, mulch, groundcovers & under pot plants. They love the ground habitat surrounding Eucalyptus trees. Land Hoppers are good for the garden in that they shred & eat the dead organic matter in the soil. They tend to be active at night.
They need to keep moist as they die if they get too dehydrated & can often be found floating in small amounts of water on their search for moisture. One friend told me that they are occasionally seen floating in her dog’s water bowl. They also drown if the soil gets too wet, which is why they surfaced as a mass grave in our garden after a big storm.
Land Hoppers breed several times during the warmer months. The female has a fluid-filled brood pouch under her thorax. She extrudes her eggs into this pouch when the male fertilizes them. Mating can last for an hour or more. The female carries the fertilized eggs until they hatch, fully formed in around three weeks. The young look like small versions of the adult. They are 0.5-1.5 cm in length & they really do look like giant fleas. They have short lives of around 12-months.
Don’t panic if you see their dead bodies in the house. They cannot live in such environments & unlike fleas, will not have eggs ready to hatch & infest your house & bite your legs. Land Hoppers do not bite. Their existence in our garden provides proof that our gardening practices are building on biodiversity, which is always a good thing.