springtails everywhere!

Last Sunday, while hiking at Baird Woods in Lanark, we found countless numbers of Springtails (Collembola) hopping about on the snow. The greatest concentrations were beneath the Red Pines in a section of plantation forest. They looked like tiny flecks of very dark-coloured ash. Their concentration was probably at least 1 per square inch over the snow, but with huge clusters inside depressions left by deer hoofprints. Most of the Springtails were crawling over the surface of the snow, but there were always a few springing about. The above photo was taken another day in another forest, but the appearance and the concentration of Springtails was similar to that seen last weekend. When conditions are just right — temperature slightly above freezing — Springtails often make their appearance on the snow.

Springtails belong to the Order Collembola. There are approximately 7,500 species of Springtails in the world. They’ve been around for awhile — fossil records indicate that they’ve been around for at least 400 million years. They are very plentiful in most parts of the world, and feed on algae, fungi, and most forms of decaying organic materials.

To the human population, Springtails are all but invisible unless you know where to look for them. A couple of years ago, on a balmy winter day, I found thousands of Springtails grazing on algae on a wooden park bench (see above). I doubt that any of those humans seated on the bench had even the slightest idea that they were sitting upon perhaps hundreds of these voracious little creatures! Of course, I was fascinated to find such a nice group out and about on a winter day, so I spent several minutes observing and taking photos as they went about their feeding.

Also on mild winter days, I have found Springtails wandering between the gills of frozen clusters the oyster-type mushrooms that grow on trees (see above and below). When the sun comes out and there’s a bit of thawing, Springtails are often out in full force, taking advantage of the situation as they munch on softened fungi and other tasty morsels.

Springtails get their common name due to their ability to “spring” several centimeters in the air using a special appendage referred to as a furcula. When walking about or feeding, the furcula is held forward against the lower abdomen. When released, the furcula springs back, catapulting the Springtail several centimeters. There are some good diagrams of Springtail anatomy on this factsheet from the University of Missouri website. Incidentally, I find it quite amusing that Springtails appear in the “Pests” section of the website.

If you live in a place where snow falls in winter, be sure to watch for Springtails on the snow surface on mild days. If you’re in a snowless area, Springtails can be found in leaf mulch, bark or soil. They are also often found in huge aggregations on the water’s surface in streams, puddles and ponds. I reported an excellent aggregation in one of my earlier posts back in April. By the way, Frans Janssens of the Collembola.org website identified the earlier Springtails as Hypogastrura nivicola. If you’re curious about Springtails and want to know more, you’ll find plenty of information and photos on that site.

Tags: ,

  • Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Trackback URI:
  • Comments RSS 2.0

10 Responses to “springtails everywhere!”

  1. robin andrea Says:

    I’m trying to imagine how small these critters are that people would be sitting on them and not know! That’s pretty tiny. The close-ups make me think they’re as big as sow bugs, which of course they can’t be.

  2. burning silo Says:

    robin – they’re tiny. When you see them on the snow, they look like little black specks of soot. You really have to look to see them, but once you’ve had a look at them, you’ll probably find them all over the place.

  3. Cathy Says:

    I remember seeing these years ago in Colorado and being clueless. You must have very supple joints in order to get down and focused on these shots. What great photos! Wow.

  4. Duncan Says:

    Wish I could see some springtails right now Bev, it’d mean there were puddles of water on the ground, we’ve forgotten what that looks like!

  5. Ontario Wanderer Says:

    I’ve always found springtails in late winter spring skiing situations. I haven’t even looked for them at this time of year. Sometimes my ignorance amazes me. Thanks for helping me wake up and smell, (oh, er, look for) the springtails.

  6. burning silo Says:

    Cathy – Well, they are pretty small, so you have to be very close to them to get a decent photo!

    Duncan – I guess the weather continues to be dry there — or at least, that’s what I’ve been hearing. Let’s hope for some rain, some puddles, and some Springtails!

    OW – I always think of Springtails as a late winter thing too, but they’re around all the time. Last winter, I began paying a lot more attention to very tiny arthropods on the snow during various kinds of weather and it’s absolutely *amazing* what’s out and about some days. I’ve found spiders, springtails, firefly larvae, caterpillars, stoneflies, caddisflies, midges, and all sorts of things wandering about on reasonably mild days. Quite fascinating!

  7. Cindy Says:

    aha, so that’s what they’re called!! amazing macros Bev.. amazing insects for that matter. Thanks for this most informative post, as I’ve viewed them before but couldn’t id them out. I’vee missed your posts and will try to return again soon (sans sunglasses).

  8. burning silo Says:

    Cindy – Always nice to see that you’ve been by for a visit! Yes, springtails – interesting little creatures. I always enjoy seeing them when I’m out and about as I miss the rest of my insects and spiders in the winter!

  9. Wayne Says:

    Bev – these are certainly wonderful photographs, but more importantly, close observations along the same lines as the snow spiders!

    I’ve noticed them, as you did, in the gills of mushrooms. But I’d hever have predicted springtails to be so velvety, nor that they’d look quite so much like herds of herbivores.

  10. burning silo Says:

    Wayne – I get a real kick out of watching springtail moving about over surfaces. They very much look like little herds of velvety black sheep or cattle. I didn’t want to post too many photos with the piece, so I left this one out — but it’s one of my favourite “pastoral scenes” — reminds me of a herd of cattle grazing on fresh spring grass. They move quite similarly too — a couple of steps forward, then munch for awhile, then another couple of steps. Great fun to watch through the LCD screen on my camera! (-: