Monday, August 29, 2011

Springtails, and their relationship to fungi - Part One of a continuing, informational series
Springtails are one of over 6000 different insect-like, prehistoric parasites belonging to kingdom Animalia (Arthropoda: Hexapoda: Entognatha).  They are tiny, wingless creatures - most less than 6 mm long.  Though closely related to insects, they are not considered “true” insects.  Their scientific name, Collembola is derived from the Greek “coll” which means glue, and “embol” meaning wedge, because of a peg-like structure that is found on the underside of their bodies, which, at one time, was thought to act like an adhesion device. A small, forklike jumping organ called the furcula, also located on the abdominal region, is how these creatures came to be known as Springtails, for this structure literally acts like a spring when used, propelling the parasite
upwards of four feet in any given direction, helping them to avoid predation. The mouths of Collembola, which are actually located in a special “pocket” inside their heads, are actually needlelike devices used to extract fluids (much like mosquitoes).  They also have specialized grinding surfaces for chewing.
The habitats of Collembola are diverse, spreading throughout the United States and spanning the globe.  More than 20 different Families of Collembola are found worldwide, with seven of those in the United States.  Out of the 6000+ different species, 677 can be found throughout the various climatic regions of North America.
Collembola may be found in extremely abundant numbers in tropical climates.  Their population densities are highest in regions with lush grasslands.  In these regions, researchers have documented upwards of 300 million Collembola per acre of land.  To put this into perspective, compare those numbers to Manhattan, New York’s population of 1,585,873 per 23 sq. miles/59 sq. kilometers (United States Census Bureau, 2010 Census).
Collembola are also found in abundance in harsh, cold climactic regions where they are theorized to have evolved.  One such species is the Snowflea (Hypogastrura nivicola), which can be found perched atop piles of melting snow in late winter and early spring. Certain species have even been found on the surfaces of glacial ice in more northerly regions.--Nellina Fejh 2011

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