Fast facts about Collembola (springtails)

  • Small, short bodied, often covered with scales.
  • Soft bodies.
  • Biting mouthparts.
  • Wingless.
  • Legs have only 4 segments.
  • Short antennae.
  • Small or no eyes.
  • Terminal forked springing organ (furcula) folded up under the body when at rest.
  • 6 segmented abdomen with sucker-like glue peg.
  • Found mostly in damp places.
  • Over 8000 species worldwide, around 2000 European species, and 250 in the British Isles.
  • The fossil record stretches as far back as the Devonian.
  • Rhyniella precursor, found near Rhynie in North East Scotland is considered as the earliest fossil insect dating from 380 MYA.

Collembola springtail

The spring tail body

The springtails range in length from 2 - 12 mm. Some have globular bodies; others have long bodies. Their distinguishing feature is the furcula/furca (forked jumping organ, see left)

on the 4th abdominal segment, and retaining hook on the underside of the third abdominal segment; the quick release of this allows the animal to jump great distances. In the drawing above the furcula, or spring is shown open on the drawing at the top of the page, the dotted lines show the closed position.

The glue peg (also known as the sucker tube and the collophore) is capable of absorbing water and allows them to regulate their water balance, and also to grip on to smooth surfaces.

Megalothorax, springtail, collembola

Above is Megalothorax, a globular species around 0.5 mm long and found in leaf litter and rotten wood.

Mydonius, collembola, springtail

Eyes. In the British species the eyes are reduced to 8 ommatidia (facets) at most, and some species have no eyes at all.

Antenna. The antenna commonly has 4or 5 segments.

Springtails are the most widely distributed animal on earth being found from Arctic to Antarctic, and they are the most abundant six-legged creature on earth.

They come in a variety of colours - yellow, pink, orange, green, brown and violet. Those that live deeper in the soil are usually light coloured or white. These feed mainly on fungus hyphae and organic debris. And are important in the soil-forming process, especially in forest soils as they break down the plant fragments that form the littler layer.

Recent work at a molecular level has shown that springtails are more closely related to the crustaceans such as shrimps and copepods. This just points out how taxonomy is never ending.

Food. They feed mainly on organic material in the soil such as bacteria, fungi, decaying vegetation and algae. There are a few species who are predators of rotifers and nematodes. Some species have become very important in sewage treatment works by eating the fungi that would otherwise clog the filters.

They are very sensitive to dryness.

collembola, springtail