Home Field and Swamp: Animals and Their Habitats

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Springtails (class Collembola, subphylum Hexapoda, kingdom Animalia, domain Eukaryota)

Springtails used to be grouped with two other former orders in the class Entognatha, but are now in a class by themselves.

Elongate-bodied Springtails (Order Entomobryomorpha, class Collembola, subphylum Hexapoda)

Springtails are not considered to be insects partly because of their forked appendage called the "furcula," kept under the abdomen and used to propel the springtail distances many times greater than its length.  Also unlike insects, they do not have a clearly distinguishable thorax and abdomen; instead, those with elongate forms have six-segmented bodies, while globular springtails have only two basic parts, i.e., a head and a rounded body.  Springtails have soft bodies that expand as they grow and therefore do not need to molt.  Dehydration and being trapped are the greatest environmental threats to them although they can survive in a variety of temperatures and are fairly resistant to poisoning.

Springtails are actually the easiest animals to find, in my experience.  If you lay a watering can on its side on moist soil for a while and then turn it over, elongate-bodied spingtails will often appear on top.  Globular springtails and those in the Poduromorpha order show up in the greatest numbers in very wet environments. Springtails are also common in moist compost heaps and raking will expose them, and a few find their way to flowers.  They are generally very tiny, often 1 mm long or less even as adults, and magnifying lenses are needed to see them well enough to recognize them.  They have moderately long, multi-segmented thick antennae and sometimes profuse body hairs. Some are herbivores, feeding on seedlings, while others are predators.  They have soft bodies and do not undergo any metamorphosis, mostly simply increasing in size without molting. 

Lower taxa IDs of photos taken prior to 2009 were provided by Frans Janssen.

Springtail, Peaks of Otter, Bedford County, VA, 7/18/12. It was ~4 mm long. Adult female and juvenile male springtails (Entomobrya atrocincta, family Entomobryidae), the adult about 1 mm long,  Durham, NC, 5/1/08 Adult female springtail (Entomobrya atrocincta, family Entomobryidae), Durham, NC, 5/13/08. Subadult male springtail (Entomobrya atrocincta, family Entomobryidae), Durham, NC, 5/9/08. Springtail (Tomocerus genus (maybe), Tomoceridae family), Durham, 6/30/08.  This springtail was 2 or 3 mm long.  NOTE: According to the Tree of Life Web, the Tomoceridae are now part of a new (unamed) order. Springtail (Tomocerus genus, maybe), about 4 mm long.  Durham, NC, 9/14/08        


Springtail, on a flower, Durham, NC, 6/20/09 Springtail, Durham, NC, 7/13/07.   It was about 1 mm long. Springtail, showing one antennae and the two-forked furcula, normally kept tucked under the abdomen.  Found in leaf litter, Durham, NC, 11/25/09 Very tiny springtail, Durham, NC, 11/25/09.  It might not belong in this order, but was also found in leaf litter. Springtail, Durham, NC, 11/30/16          

Globular Springtails (Order Simphypleona, class Collembola, subphylum Hexapoda)

Globular springtail (Ptenothrix unicolor, family Dicyrtomidae), seen on a log showing evidence of termite tunnels.  ID thanks to Frans Janssen. Globular springtails, Durham, 4/2/18.  Seen in a drainage conduit. Globular springtail, Durham, NC, 4/2/18 Front view of a globular springtail, and rear views of two others, Durham, NC, 1/19/17          


100+ mostly globular springtails, which accumulated in a drainage conduit.  Durham, NC, 1/19/17 Some of the mostly globular springtails pictured on the left, with an elongate-bodied one (on the far right), Durham, NC, 1/19/17 Globular springtail (Katianna genus).  ID thanks to Frans Janssen, who said it was a member of "a new undescribed species."  Durham, NC, 3/13/18.          

Order Poduromorpha, class Collembola, subphylum Hexapoda

Springtail  (Poduromorpha order), Durham, NC, 4/2/18          


Copyright 2005-2018 Dorothy E. Pugh