Overview

Brief Summary

Worldwide ca. 6500 collembolan species are listed, belonging to 18 families (Hopkin 1997). For Europe, there are estimated to be ca. 1500 species, belonging to 16 families (taxonomic work is still progressing).

Collembola are the most abundant terrestrial arthropods, colonising all soil habitats that provide enough humidity and food, such as organic matter or microorganisms. Example habitats include root rosettes of high alpine plants, plant debris on the shore, natural soils, as well as microhabitats such as flower pots. Most species are soil or litter dwellers, whilst only few species live on the surface or in the vegetation (mainly Entomobryidae and Symphypleona). In mature soil, abundances may attain values of 50–100,000 individuals/m2. Local gradations in abundance are a well known phenomenon in many Collembola.

  • Hopkin SP (1997). Biology of the springtails (Insecta: Collembola). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 330 pp.
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Introduction

Springtails have the widest distribution of any hexapod group, occuring throughout the world, including Antarctica. They are probably the most abundant hexapods on Earth, with up to 250,000,000 individuals per square acre. They are found in soil, leaf litter, logs, dung, cave, shorelines, etc. There are about 6000 known species.

Devonian-Recent. Oldest fossil is of Rhyniella praecursor Hirst and Maulik from the Middle Devonian of Scotland.

The name "Collembola" is derived from "Colle" = glue and "embolon" = piston or peg. This refers to the belief that the ventral tube has adhesive properties, that is, that it is a "glue-peg". However, the tube's function is primarily for excretion and maintaining water balance.

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Comprehensive Description

Characteristics

Among the prominent derived characteristics of this group are:

  • ventral tube ("collophore") on segment 1 of abdomen (adhesive in some groups, but primarily involved with excretion and water transport)
  • springing mechanism formed from retinaculum on segment 3, furcula on segment 4
  • 4-segmented antennae (segments sometimes subsegmented, giving the appearance of more than 4 segments)
  • 6 abdominal segments

Other characteristics include:

  • indirect sperm transfer with globular stalked spermatophore
  • Some Neanuridae have polytene chromosomes
  • Adults continue moulting throughout life (up to 50 moults)
  • Reproductive instars alternate with feeding instars
  • Cerci lacking

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Distribution

Geographic Range

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

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native ); neotropical (Native ); australian (Native ); antarctica (Native ); oceanic islands (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

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.

Range length: 2.0 to 12.0 mm.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

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Ecology

Habitat

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.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; polar ; terrestrial ; freshwater

Terrestrial Biomes: tundra ; taiga ; desert or dune ; chaparral ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest ; mountains

Aquatic Biomes: coastal

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

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.

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The Collembola fauna function lead us to formation of soil (nutrient cicling) and to feeding habit on litter, clay, fungi, bacteria, and other taxa, even the same taxa, sometimes cited as pantophagous because of this.

The diversity of fungi found in the natural soil was 33 times higher than that in the guts of the collembolan Protaphorura armata (Jørgensen et al., 2005).

Collembolans can preferentially select certain taxa of fungi when feeding in soils, and on the other hand, studies have also indicated that collembolans have an opportunistic feeding behaviour; available resources in the immediate proximity of the animals rather than the specific distributed resources are ingested (Ponge, 2000).

At a lower depth (2–4 cm) springtails ate mainly fungal material, hemorganic and holorganic humus. Gut contents of the species living at the lowest depth were mostly composed of mycorrhizae and higher plant material. In particular, holorganic humus and fungal material dominated the food bolus in bulked Collembola, even in animals found in the first top 2 cm (Ponge, 2000).

Some studies have shown that Collembola prefer saprophytic and pathogenic to mycorrhizal fungi and, among saprophytic fungi, actively metabolizing to senescent mycelia. Feeding of Collembola on active mycorrhiza would be expected to decrease plant growth by inhibiting nutrient uptake. However, if Collembola feed primarily on low vitality and dead mycelia that have already been severed from the plant, this could have a positive effect on plant growth, because of enhanced nutrient release from senescent and dead mycelia (Kaneda and Kaneko, 2004).

  • Jørgensen, H.B., Johansson, T., Hedlund, K., Tunlid, A., 2005. Selective foraging of fungi by collembolans in soil. Biology Letters 1, 243-246.
  • Ponge, J.-F., 2000. Vertical distribution of Collembola (Hexapoda) and their food resources in organic horizons of beech forests. Biology and Fertility of Soils 32, 508-522.

    Kaneda, S., Kaneko, N., 2004. The feeding preference of a collembolan (Folsomia candida Willem) on ectomycorrhiza (Pisolithus tinctorius (Pers.)) varies with mycelial growth condition and vitality. Applied Soil Ecology 27, 1-5.

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

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.

Ecosystem Impact: biodegradation

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • termites
  • ants

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Predation

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

Known Predators:

  • Opiliones
  • small Araneae 
  • Carabidae
  • anything that eats small invertebrates

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Animal / predator
nymph of Loricula elegantula is predator of Collembola

Animal / predator
adult of Xylocoris cursitans is predator of Collembola

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Known predators

  • K. Paviour-Smith, The biotic community of a salt meadow in New Zealand, Trans. R. Soc. N.Z. 83(3):525-554, from p. 542 (1956).
  • L. W. Swan, The ecology of the high Himalayas, Sci. Am. 205:68-78, from pp. 76-77 (October 1961).
  • R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 393 (1930).
  • R. M. Badcock, 1949. Studies in stream life in tributaries of the Welsh Dee. J. Anim. Ecol. 18:193-208, from pp. 202-206 and Price, P. W., 1984, Insect Ecology, 2nd ed., New York: John Wiley, p. 23
  • V. S. Summerhayes and C. S. Elton, Contributions to the ecology of Spitsbergen and Bear Island, J. Ecol. 11:214-286, from p. 232 (1923).
  • V. S. Summerhayes and C. S. Elton, Further contributions to the ecology of Spitzbergen, J. Ecol. 16:193-268, from p. 217 (1928).
  • Waide RB, Reagan WB (eds) (1996) The food web of a tropical rainforest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
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Known prey organisms

Collembola (collembola) preys on:
dead plants

Salix petiolaris
Salix longifolia
humus
fungi
Decapoda
phanerogams
lichens
Bryophyta
dung
Plantae
detritus

Based on studies in:
Norway: Spitsbergen (Coastal)
Canada: Manitoba (Forest)
New Zealand (Grassland)
Russia (Agricultural)
Tibet (Montane)
Puerto Rico, El Verde (Rainforest)
USA: New York (Dung)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • I. Valiela, 1974. Composition, food webs, and population limitation in dung arthropod communities during invasion and succession. Am. Midl. Nat. 92:370-385, from p. 379.
  • I. Valiela, 1974. Composition, food webs, and population limitation in dung arthropod communities during invasion and succession. Am. Midl. Nat. 92:370-385, from p. 380.
  • K. Paviour-Smith, The biotic community of a salt meadow in New Zealand, Trans. R. Soc. N.Z. 83(3):525-554, from p. 542 (1956).
  • L. W. Swan, The ecology of the high Himalayas, Sci. Am. 205:68-78, from pp. 76-77 (October 1961).
  • N. N. Smirnov, Food cycles in sphagnous bogs, Hydrobiologia 17:175-182, from p. 179 (1961).
  • R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 393 (1930).
  • V. S. Summerhayes and C. S. Elton, Contributions to the ecology of Spitsbergen and Bear Island, J. Ecol. 11:214-286, from p. 232 (1923).
  • V. S. Summerhayes and C. S. Elton, Further contributions to the ecology of Spitzbergen, J. Ecol. 16:193-268, from p. 217 (1928).
  • Waide RB, Reagan WB (eds) (1996) The food web of a tropical rainforest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
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Population Biology

Springtails have been found in everywhere on earth were there is soil and are active under most environmental conditions – unlike nematodes, bacteria or earthworms (Filser, 2002).

A very abundant group of soil hexapods, both in terms of species and numbers. Densities range from about 100 to 670,000 individuals/m2 as many as 60 different species may coexist within a few hectares (Petersen and Luxton, 1982).
  • Filser, J., 2002. The role of Collembola in carbon and nitrogen cycling in soil. Pedobiologia 46, 234-245.

    Petersen, H., Luxton, M., 1982. A comparative analysis of soil fauna populations and their role in decomposition processes. Oikos 39, 288-388.

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

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.

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Life Cycle

Development

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.

Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis

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Reproduction

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; parthenogenic ; sexual ; fertilization (External ); oviparous

These animals have no parental care

Parental Investment: no parental involvement

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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Appendage causes high jumps: springtails
 

The abdominal, tail-like appendage of springtails (furcula) is a pronged fork device causing high jumps when stored tension is released.

       
  Springtails "possess a pronged fork device which is doubled beneath the body and held in place by terminal catches when not in use; when released under tension, the fork strikes the substrate with considerable force, sending the springtail spinning high into the air." (Wootton 1984:146)

Watch Video
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Wootton, A. 1984. Insects of the World. Blandford. 224 p.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records:74291
Specimens with Sequences:58655
Specimens with Barcodes:53980
Species:803
Species With Barcodes:550
Public Records:43211
Public Species:427
Public BINs:3579
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Barcode data

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Collembola are important for enrichment of soil.

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Risks

As detritivores, Collembola are not generally considered as pest species. Exceptions are two species of Symphypleona living above ground in the vegetation layer: the European Sminthurus viridis which became a severe pest in Australia on alfalfa, clover etc, and the ubiquitous Bourletiella hortensis is known to feed on vegetable seedlings when natural food (weed seedlings) is absent. The ubiquitous onychiurid Protaphorura armata also switches food source in the absence of weeds, but only as a secondary pest when feeding on wounds infected by microorganisms.

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