Ground dwellers: discover the types of minibeasts that live underground - Earthwatch

Ground dwellers: discover the types of minibeasts that live underground

There are all kinds of minibeasts that live underground. All the bugs, slugs, snails and worms that live in soil, leaf litter and rotting wood.

Read on to discover the importance of these miniature ground dwellers and the different types you might see under leaves or logs.

What are ground dwellers?

When we talk about ground dwellers, we mean the minibeasts that live underground in the leaf litter and soil.

Scientifically, they all fit in the category ‘invertebrates’ meaning creatures without a backbone. Insects, arachnids, molluscs and worms are all invertebrates.

Why are ground dwelling invertebrates important?

Ground dwellers all play an important role in keeping the soil healthy.

Earthworms recycle nutrients by eating organic matter and adding them to the soil. Plants can then use these nutrients to grow. They also improve soil structure by mixing it up when they move and helping air into the soil. Air in the soil supports plant growth.

Other invertebrates such as woodlice help manage waste by breaking down organic matter.

By planting Tiny Forests across the UK, we are providing safe nutrient-rich places for these species and other wildlife to thrive in urban spaces.

Help us track how Tiny Forests are supporting minibeasts that live underground by joining the Tiny Forest Wildlife Count this May.

The different types of minibeasts that live underground


Photo credit: Jane Scott

Often portrayed as cute lazy characters, many of us have a fondness for snails. They are shelled gastropods that can live as long as 15 years!

Snails feed at night and mostly eat decaying organic matter but can also eat plants and other minibeasts. They can be male or female, hermaphrodites and asexual.

As well as their shell, snails have two antennae and a soft long body without a skeleton.


Photo credit: Rudolf-Peter Bakker on Unsplash

Less well-loved than snails, slugs are also gastropods. They have two antennae and a soft long body without a skeleton. They do not have a visible shell like snails.


Photo credit: Southmere Tiny Forest, Lucyna Kaniecka

Charles Darwin was fascinated by earthworms. He said, “Worms have played a more important part in the history of the world than most persons would at first suppose.”

Earthworms are usually found in moist, compost-rich soil, eating a wide variety of organic matter. All earthworms are hermaphrodites.

They have no antennae and no legs. Earthworms have a soft segmented tube body with no skeleton.


Photo credit: Canva

Larvae are a juvenile form of many creatures before they metamorphosise into their next life stage. Many insect larvae live underground.


Photo credit: Canva

Often maligned, earwigs are particularly maternal for insects! They care for their eggs and look out for the young nymphs once they hatch.

Earwigs will often hide in small, moist crevices during the day. They come out at night and feed on a wide variety of insects and plants.

Earwigs have pincers on their body. Like all insects, earwigs have a three-part body with six legs.

Ground beetles and other beetles

Photo credit: Helen Burton

Perhaps the most stylish minibeast on this list, beetles are often colourful or shiny. These eye-catching outfits are actually hardened forewings. Many beetles have a particularly hard exoskeleton.

As a group, beetles have a varied diet with some being omnivores, others only eating specific plants, and some being pollinators. Ground beetles tend to be carnivorous, preying on other ground dwelling invertebrates such as worms.

Ground beetles have long legs and antennae but other beetles don’t. Like all insects, beetles have a three-part body with six legs.


Photo credit: Canva

Ants are the ultimate example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. They are social insects that live in colonies. As a collective working together, they can achieve remarkable things such as building complex nests and farming other species.

Large colonies tend to have a hierarchy of female workers, soldiers and other groups with specific roles. Nearly all ant colonies also have some fertile males known as ‘drones’ and one or more fertile females which are the queens.

Ants have elbowed antennae and a narrow waist. Like all insects, they have a three-part body with six legs.


Photo credit: Josh Kubale

Not everyone’s favourite, spiders are nonetheless fascinating and sometimes beautiful. Spiders are the largest group in the arachnid order. From spinning webs to jumping large distances, their various abilities make them fearsome predators in the minibeast world.

Spiders have a body split into two parts, eight legs and no antennae.


Photo credit: Canva

Centipedes are distinctive with their many legs! They are usually predators with modified front legs that act like pincers to inject venom. Generally, they are fast moving, running to catch prey.

You can tell centipedes apart from millipedes by looking at how many pairs of legs they have on each segment. Centipedes have one pair per segment.


Photo credit: Canva

In contrast to centipedes, millipedes usually eat dead organic matter or plants. They often burrow and are slow moving.

You can tell millipedes apart from centipedes by looking at how many pairs of legs they have on each segment. Millipedes have two pairs per segment.


Photo credit: Canva

Also known as pill bugs, woodlice are essentially little armoured tanks! Some species can roll up in a ball as a defence mechanism. They live in damp and dark places as they need moisture to survive.

Woodlice are crustaceans, related to lobsters and crabs. Easily identified by their shell-like exoskeleton, they also have more than eight legs.  

Count ground dwellers at Tiny Forests this May!

The Tiny Forest Wildlife Count is taking place 18-26 May 2024. The count is a simple wildlife survey across the 200+ Tiny Forests in the UK. We’re calling on everyone to get involved and help track how their local Tiny Forest is supporting wildlife.

Taking part in the Tiny Forest Wildlife Count will help you connect with nature and boost your wellbeing.

By measuring the types of minibeast that live underground at your Tiny Forest, you will help us understand how Tiny Forests are supporting urban spaces. This data will help us bring the benefits to more communities, helping both people and wildlife thrive together.

Join in the fun this May and count the bugs, slugs, snails and worms at your local Tiny Forest!

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