The Springtail (Microfalcula delamarei) is a micro-small, wingless hexapod. A hexapod has three pairs of legs (6 legs), but it is not an insect.
It is entognathous, which means that is has internal mouthparts in a gnathal (jaw) pouch. It is in the Collembola class and the Entomobryoidea super-family – like a terrestrial crustacean, because scientists think that it evolved from marine (saltwater) shrimp, crabs, and lobsters. Scientists first thought that it was an insect, but they have now changed the category to an entognathous animal.
The Springtail has three parts: the head capsule, a thorax (with three segments and 6 legs), and an abdomen (with five segments). Therefore, it looks like an insect. It has small antennae, two eyes, and mouthparts. The mouthparts have a pair of jaws. The two eyes are called composed eyes, because they are composed of 8 single eyes. It does not have a throat, so it breathes through a porous cuticle.
The Springtail has projections that enable it to attach itself, or glue itself, to other animals and structures. The ventral projection, or ventral tube, has a fluid that enables it to stick to smooth surfaces. It can walk on the top of small bubbles, called the waterfilm, and when the waterfilm is released, the animal is launched upwards into the air – like a springboard.
It measures 1-2 centimetres (smaller than one inch) long. It is so small that it is difficult to see.
The Springtail is common worldwide. It lives in coastal sands. It is a terrestrial animal, living on the land – it lives in soil and litter, preferring wet or damp surroundings. Sometimes, it moves to tree bark and flowers in the daytime. It is often found in moss, under stones, and in caves, ant nests and termite nests. It has also been found on the surface of lakes, ponds, and even snow fields. It is also found in the soil of potted plants in people’s homes.
It is omnivorous, detritivorous, or microbivorous, eating decomposed matter, fungal spores, plant matter, and pollen. Farmers consider the Springtail to be an agricultural pest, but it controls plant fungi, bacteria, and diseases. It is used in scientific laboratories to help detect soil pollution. This is called a bio-indicator.
It jumps when threatened, a bit like a flea. If the air temperature gets too hot, it can shrink its size to keep cool.
It lives in many numbers in the soil – up to 100,000 individuals per square metre of ground. It is sensitive to dry conditions, and dies during droughts.
There is a male and a female. The female lays eggs in soil. Some eat their own eggs.
Photographer: Martina Nicolls
Martina Nicolls: SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM