|Image: Tim Evison|
House plants. Do you have house plants? I have house plants. And every time I water my house plants and that tiny pond develops on the soil only to sink away into the thirsty roots, there is always a sudden flurry of activity. Tiny white specks can be seen milling around in the moist earth and floating on the quickly disappearing water. Those are Springtails.
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Soil is definitely the Springtail's first love. They adore the stuff! If there's soil, there are almost definitely Springtails. Maybe thousands of them. They're not quite microscopic, but if you grab a handful of earth anywhere in the world you'll probably be holding dozens or hundreds of them right there. The power! The POWER!
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I'm sure their minute size is a major help in their success, as it means they can survive in the tiniest of micro-climates. Springtails need moisture since they breathe through their skin and are prone to drying out. They even have this incredibly strange hosepipe thing that can stretch out from their abdomen and be used to take in water. It's a kind of tiny elephant's trunk that can be packed away when not in use.
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With a Garden Centipede. All friends together.
Other Springtails feed on algae and some are carnivorous, preying on tiny worms or other Springtails. The country boy done wrong. There are also some who feed on plants. In fact, they can gather in such stupendous numbers as to become a serious agricultural pest. It's difficult to picture it...
|Image: Grisvert (J-S Bouchard) via Flickr|
Snow Fleas. Lots of them.
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|Image: Biopix: G Drange|
Within Collembola are three main groups:
|Image: Steve Hopkin|
|Image: Gilles San Martin via Flickr|
Do you know what else they might look like? Absolutely nothing at all. As if they were never there. Like you imagined the whole thing in your creepy-crawly imagination. It's not because they're invisible, nor is it necessarily because you've finally gone completely mad. No. Well, maybe that second one, but no. It's because Springtails have a spring in their tail. Who'd've thunk it?
Includes incredibly strange hosepipe thing.
Slung along the underside of most Springtails is a two-pronged fork called the furcula. It's held under tension by a little appendage called the retinaculum. When this is released, the fork hits the ground and our little Springtail is heroically catapulted through the air, leaping over an apportioned skyscraper in a single bound, flying flying and then falling falling.
They have no control at all over where they land, so it's only used in dire straits when they're stuck between a rock and the empty void of the unknown. However, when a predatory mite or giant magnifying glass gets too close, it's a great way of simply disappearing from right under their nose.
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Still others go through a courtship beforehand, which I'm sure is the most romantic part of the whole affair.
But there is yet another group of Springtails who don't bother with any of this. It's mostly the ones who live deeper in the soil, in the darker, more claustrophobic levels. Here, there are those who require no males at all. They have allied themselves with our old nemesis, the unholy, bacterial parasite known as Wolbachia. Now in a symbiotic relationship, that dark Lord of Loins has bequeathed upon thom the ability to produce young via parthenogenesis. And on their own heads be it.
|Image: myriorama via Flickr|