There are around 250 different species of springtail in the UK, and 6,000 worldwide. One might easily mistake these tiny creatures for insects, and they were once referenced as such in past classification systems, but they are now in their own class of animals called Collembola. Springtails are a primitive species, and occur in vast numbers in soil, leaf litter and fungi, and thousands may be found in a one square metre area. Springtails are unquestionably one of the most abundant arthropods in the world.
During their evolution springtails never possessed the ability to fly, but the furca or furcula, a forked ‘springing’ organ which is attached to the fourth abdominal segment, propels them through the air when they are disturbed or feel threatened. Springtails can be elongated or globular in morphology, with hairs or scales. The body can be divided into three main regions, starting with the head. The eyes are simple, and the antennae usually have four segments or more. The mouthparts retract when not in use. The thorax has three segments each with a pair of legs. The abdomen has six segments, although in some species some of these maybe fused together. Collembola, derives from the Greek words ‘cole’, meaning glue, and ’embolon’, meaning piston. All springtails are defined by the ability to glue themselves to smooth surfaces via a tube called the collophore which appears from the first abdominal segment. Some also use this tube for grooming purposes.
Springtails often go unseen by most people, mainly due to their size.The UK’s largest species Pogonognathellus longicornis is 6 mm long, whilst others can be barely seen with the naked eye and are about the size of a full stop. They can be found in many varying habitats. Peering under rocks and stones, and gently poking amidst leaf litter, humus or soil, these tiny arthropods may be seen for a brief moment before they spring away on their tails. They feed on fungal hyphae and organic detritus in the soil. Some species graze on algae and lichens from the bark of trees, whilst others predate on other Collembola. They go through various stages of moulting before they become adults, and even after sexual maturity they continue to moult.
Many thanks to Stewart Bevan from the Facebook group Soil Biodiversity UK for his expert assistance in identifying and reconfirming species.
For further reference see the links and literature below:
A Key to the Collembola (Springtails) of Britain and Ireland by Steve P. Hopkins.