Springtails, Order Collembola

Habits and Traits of Springtails

Springtail.
Springtail. Flickr user Andy Murray (CC by SA license)

The springtails were once considered to be primitive insects, but are now usually classified as hexapods in the order Collembola. The name Collembola means "glue wedge," a reference to a small structure called a collophore on the abdomen. Scientists once believed this appendage helped the insect adhere to a surface. Today, scientists think the collophore absorbs moisture from the environment.

Description:

Springtails have chewing mouthparts that are concealed within their heads, and most species feed on decaying fungi, bacteria, or algae.

Some carnivorous species eat other springtails. Additional identifying traits of the springtails include short antennae and simple eyes known as ommatidia (if eyes are present at all). Their bodies are frequently covered in scales. Collembola come in a wide range of colors, though most are tan to brown.

Springtails are so named for the spring-like action of a special structure called a furcula, which folds beneath the abdomen. The furcula enables the springtail to jump. When threatened, the springtail will whip its furcula against the ground to propel itself backwards, into the air and away from harm.

Habitat and Distribution:

Springtails live in a broad range of habitats - ponds, grasslands, caves, snowfields, soils, and even people's homes. The majority of species inhabit soils and act as decomposers of decaying plant material. They are encountered almost worldwide.

Major Families in the Order:

  • Hypogastruridae - elongate-bodied springtails
  • Isotomidae - smooth springtails
  • Entomobryidae - slender springtails
  • Sminthuridae - globular springtails
  • Poduridae - water springtails

Species of Interest:

  • Pogonognathellus flavescens is an unusually large springtail found under logs and leaf litter.
  • Hypogastrura nivicola, one of the springtails known as "snow fleas," swarm on the snow.
  • Podura aquatica is the only named species in the Poduridae family.

 

Sources:

  • Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, by Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman
  • Collembola - Dr. John Meyer, Department of Entomology, North Carolina State University
  • Borror and Delong's Introduction to the Study of Insects, 7th edition, by Charles A. Triplehorn and Norman F. Johnson.