BioKIDS home

Kids' Inquiry of Diverse Species

springtails

Collembola

What do they look like?

The springtails are soft-bodied, oval or roundish shaped, primitive insects. Their bodies are made up of six or fewer segments and they lack wings. Although many species have small eyes, some are nearly or totally blind. Their antennae are segmented. They occur in a range of colors including whitish, yellowish, brown, gray, bluish, or black, and they may be mottled.

Collembola have biting mouthparts that are entognathous. That is, the mouthparts are mostly retracted into the head. Some springtails have mandibles with well-developed molars. Others are fluid feeders, having stylet-like mouthparts. For these springtails, on the ventral side of the first abdominal segment, there is a tube-like structure called a collophore. This structure is the site of water uptake.

A forked structure or furcula is located on the ventral side of the fourth abdominal segment. This structure is used to propel Collembola through the air. A springtail that is 3 to 6 mm long can leap 75 to 100 mm. When a springtail is at rest, the furcula is held in place by a clasp-like structure called the retinaculum that is located on the third abdominal segment.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range length
    2.0 to 12.0 mm
    0.08 to 0.47 in

Where do they live?

There are at least 6500 species in this group. They occur worldwide. Seven familiies of Collembola occur in North America north of Mexico.

What kind of habitat do they need?

Springtails are mainly soil animals. They can be found in soil, leaf litter, fungi, caves, under snow fields, under the bark of trees, and decaying logs. In addition, they can be found on the surface of freshwater pools, along seashores, on vegetation, and in the nests of termites and ants.

Springtails can be found in extremely high numbers in a small area of soil or other organic material. For example, 100,000 springtails can be found per square meter of surface soil.

How do they grow?

Development is ametabolous in that the only difference between nymphs and adults is size. That is, appearance is the same among all life cycle stages. In addition, development is epimorphic in that a constant number of segments is present among immature and adult forms. Springtails are sexually mature after five molts, and will continue to molt throughout their lifetime.

How do they behave?

During drought conditions, some species of Collembola are said to build shelters using their own feces.

How do they communicate with each other?

From the family Poduridae, some springtails have the ability to emit light. For some, a continuous glow is emitted, and for others, the entire body glows for 5 to 10 seconds.

Collembola antennae are used as tactile, olfactory, and sometimes auditory organs.

What do they eat?

Although many species are herbivorous, others are carnivorous feeding on other springtails, nematodes and other small arthropods. Those springtails living in leaf litter and soil usually feed on fungi, plant material, feces and algae.

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Springtails use their forked tail to jump away. Some produce toxic chemicals for protection too.

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

There are a few species of Collembola that feed on live plant material, but most are beneficial to plants. Some feed primarily around the roots of plants and keep harmful bacteria and fungi from building to toxic levels that would kill the plant. These springtails also help to transport good fungi and bacteria to the area around the plant. Springtails contribute nutrients to soil because they speed up the process of decay and deposit nutrient rich feces back into the earth.

Commensal or parasitic species (or larger taxonomic groups) that use this species as a host
  • termites
  • ants

Do they cause problems?

Occasionally, springtails cause damage in gardens, greenhouses, and mushroom cellars.

How do they interact with us?

Collembola are important for enrichment of soil.

Some more information...

Collecting: You can find springtails by carefully turning over bark, checking along the edges of ponds, and of course, almost anywhere organic matter is present. Collembola should be preserved in 70% ethyl alcohol. They may also be slide mounted for species level identification.

Glossary

Antarctica

lives on Antarctica, the southernmost continent which sits astride the southern pole.

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

biodegradation

helps break down and decompose dead plants and/or animals

chaparral

mid-altitude coastal areas with mild, rainy winters and long, dry summers. Dominant plant types are dense, evergreen shrubs.

coastal

the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

freshwater

mainly lives in water that is not salty.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

metamorphosis

A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

parthenogenic

development takes place in an unfertilized egg

polar

the regions of the earth that surround the north and south poles, from the north pole to 60 degrees north and from the south pole to 60 degrees south.

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Climbing plants are also abundant. There is plenty of moisture and rain, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

taiga

this biome is characterized by large expanses of coniferous forest, there is an extended cold season and heavy snowfall.

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tundra

A terrestrial biome found in very cold places -- either close to polar regions or high on mountains. Part of the soil stays frozen all year. Few kinds of plants grow here, and these are low mats or shrubs not trees. The growing season is short.

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

BioKIDS home  |  Questions?  |  Animal Diversity Web  |  Cybertracker Tools

. "Collembola" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 24, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Collembola/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
Copyright © 2002-2014, The Regents of the University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

University of Michigan