Collembola (springtails)

Fast facts about Collembola (springtails)

  • Small, short, soft bodied, often covered with scales.
  • Abdomen has ten segments with a terminal anus.
  • Biting mouthparts.
  • Wingless.
  • Legs have only 4 segments.
  • Short antennae with just 4 - 6 segments in most.
  • 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.

The spring tail body

Collembola springtail

The springtails range in length from 0.2 - 17.0 mm. Some have globular bodies; others have long bodies. Their distinguishing feature is the furcula/furca (forked jumping organ, see above) 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, the dotted lines show the closed position.

collembola, springtail

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

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 most commonly has 4 or 5 segments.

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

Moulting. Like all insects Collembola moult in order to increase their size, however, Collembola continue to moult even after reaching their full adult size and sexual maturity; this is very unusual in the insect world. The greatest number of moults recorded so far is 52!

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.

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.

Lifespan. In captivity some individuals have lived for 5 years, however in the wild their lifespan is usually much shorter.

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. insect ebook Smith, L. (2014). Characteristics of the insect orders. Amazon.