Ten facts about springtails

17 March 2014 by Christopher Buddle, posted in Biodiversity, Ten facts

Here's another in the 'ten facts' series on Expiscor. This post is from Francisca Sconce, a Postgraduate Researcher at Harper Adams University and an expert on these fascinating arthropods!

Here are some facts!

1. Springtails are make up the arthropod Class Collembola, which has over 8000 species worldwide.  As springtails are not widely studied however, diversity estimates have predicted many more species, a recent study predicted over 500,000!

2. Fossil springtails have been found dating from 400 million years ago which makes them the oldest hexapods recorded, older than most groups of insects.

Yes, this is a springtail! Photo by Eddie the Bugman, reproduced here with permission.

Yes, this is a springtail! Photo by Eddie the Bugman, reproduced here with permission.

3. Springtails are closely related to insects but there are some differences: springtails are wingless and have simple eyes, they can continuously moult through their lifetime, they have a ‘furcula’ which is a springing ‘hinge’ used to escape from predators, and they have a ‘collophore’ or ‘ventral tube’, which is used suck up or release fluid and to attach to surfaces.  The name ‘Collembola’ relates to the Collophore as ‘colle’ means glue and ‘embol’ means wedge.

4. Springtails are present in nearly every ecosystem worldwide, from deserts to forests to polar regions.  Springtails breathe directly through their skin, which has complex structures to protect them from getting too wet and drowning.

5. Amongst the soil animals, springtails are grouped in the ‘mesofauna’, averaging a couple if millimetres in length they are bigger than ‘microfauna’ (bacteria, fungi etc.) but smaller than ‘macrofauna’ (spiders, beetles etc.).  There are however ‘giant’ springtail species in New Zealand which can reach up to 17mm.

6. Most springtails live in soil and play an important ecological role.  They munch on dead and decaying organic matter, breaking it up and spreading microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, aiding decomposition and nutrient cycling.

A lovely springtail, Calvatomina nr superba. Photo by Eddie the Bugman, reproduced here with permission.

A lovely springtail, Calvatomina nr superba. Photo by Eddie the Bugman, reproduced here with permission.

7. Some springtails do live in other niches, some species from the subfamily Cyphoderinae live in nests of social insects such as ants and termites.  Others feed on living plant material and the ‘Lucerne Flea’ Sminthurus viridis is a damaging agricultural pest in the Southern Hemisphere.

8. After snowfall you can sometimes see swarms of some ‘Snow Fleas’.  These are springtail species such as Hypogastura nivicola which have antifreeze proteins to help cope with low temperatures

9. Courtship behaviours for some springtail species can involve dancing and head banging!  Springtail mating then usually involves production of a spermatophore by the male, which is then taken up by the female to fertilise her eggs.

10. There are lots of different colours of springtails: RED, ORANGE, YELLOW, GREEN, BLUE, and VIOLET

 

Delicate, beautiful springtail. Photo by Eddie the Bugman, reproduced here with permission.

Delicate, beautiful springtail. Photo by Eddie the Bugman, reproduced here with permission.

Without a doubt, springtails are wonderful and beautiful animals

Thanks to Fran for doing these 'ten facts' and to Eddie the bugman for allowing us to post some amazing photos. More of his work can be found here.

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