Plants and Animals

Hidden Housemates: Springtails Are Everywhere, Even In Your Home

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You’ve probably never heard of them, let alone seen them, but it’s likely you have some in your home. Springtails are only 1-2 mm long but are ubiquitous, found in every habitat except the oceans.

Springtails are closely related to insects – they have six legs and a head, thorax and abdomen – but are not insects because they lack wings and have soft bodies and hidden mouthparts. Springtails are known scientifically as Collembola.

Collembola are unique in carrying a jumping organ beneath the abdomen, held in place with hooks. When released, the jumping organ springs free, hitting the ground and forcing the animal to leap into the air, hence their common name.

In the wild, springtails can be found in leaf litter, soil, under bark, in sand, under stones, in tree canopies and even in caves and ant and termite nests. In termite nests they may control fungal growth. Most importantly, springtails have been shown to be useful bioindicators of environmental change.

Some male springtails perform a complex mating dance to attract the female. Other species are carried by insects for dispersal or feeding purposes.

A springtail mating dance as shown in David Attenborough’s Life in the Undergrowth.

In Australia, there are several thousand species, most found only in this country. In any garden compost heap there will be millions of individuals belonging to about ten species. Native springtails may be brightly coloured and patterned; white, if living in soil; or black if living in exposed habitats such as mountain tops, beaches or coral reefs.

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