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iLabs: Very Odd Little Arthropods

July 4, 2014

A while back, one of our weekend volunteers, Todd Folsom, kindly brought in a sample for our microscope that contained some very odd little arthropods, as he put it.  They are known as springtails.  He wrote up a blog post about them and here it is!

 

By Todd Folsom

Visitors to the Micro World Investigate Lab have occasionally been able to view some springtails through our microscopes. The odd little arthropods have been described as “grotesque” by one scientist, perhaps due to their strange shapes, but also because of the odd jumping organ they possess near the tail end of the abdomen.

This organ is a pair of partially fused appendages that point toward the head. It is called the furcula. There is a catch-like spring holder on another abdominal segment that can release the furcula causing the springtail to fly as much as several inches into the air!  That’s pretty good for an organism so small we need the higher power of our dissecting microscope to see clearly!

Orchesella cincta. Photo: Michel Vuijlsteke.

Orchesella cincta. Photo: Michel Vuijlsteke via Wikipedia.

Isotoma with visible furcula. Photo: User Onychiurus on Wikipedia.com.

Isotoma habitus: on the left side of this picture, the furcula is folded underneath the body, pointing to the head, which has two long antennae. Photo: User Onychiurus on Wikipedia.

Springtails need damp habitats like moss, humus on the forest floor, or the backwaters of lakes and ponds. They stay on the surface film of such waters and are often numerous enough to make noticeable dark patches on the water. When disturbed, they leap into the air and scatter.

They can also be observed as numerous dark specks on snow when the early spring sun has warmed the nearby vegetation. It is quite remarkable to see all these moving and jumping specks against the white snow.

Springtails feed on algae, fungi, decaying plant debris and occasionally dead invertebrates.

I am one of the volunteers in the Micro World iLab and bring in small samples from an earthworm culture bin I have.  That organic material is hopping with springtails.

The scientific name for them is Collembola and they are closely related to insects.  However, they have no wings and don’t go through metamorphosis.

While these tiny creatures are often overlooked, they occur around the world. About 8000 species have been scientifically described.

Justus Watson Folsom was a scientist who specialized in studying Collembola. Another scientist decided to name a particular species after Professor Folsom.  That organism was called: Collembola folsomia.  It is also known as Folsomia candida.

As a distant relative of Professor Folsom, I am pleased to share the Collembola from my worm bin, with the visitors to the Micro World iLab. and especially to  note that the ones I bring in bear a strong resemblance to the one named after my relative!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Linda permalink
    July 4, 2014 9:16 am

    Thanks for sharing! What great pictures, such interesting creatures out there in this amazing place we all call home 🙂

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