One of our recent projects has taken us to New York City to sample ground dwelling arthropods in parks and street medians. As we began to sort our samples, we came across some of the non-insect hexapod orders. We’ve identified all three of the non-insect hexapod orders in our samples. The first and most common of these groups are the Collembola.
Collembola are also known as springtails. They’re extremely common, and can be found in almost any soil habitat across the planet. Springtails are detritivores and microbivores, which means they feed on decaying material and microbes that are found in the soil. They can be found in extremely high numbers in many soils and are a critical for breaking down and recycling of organic matter to return nutrients to the soil. Springtails earn their name by the fact that most of them have a posterior appendage that they can pull up underneath their abdomen where another structure hooks onto it. Muscles in their abdomen contract, building tension until the appendage pops loose, flinging the springtail into the air. They use this ability to escape predators.
A great thing about springtails and the other critters we find in New York is that you can find them in your own backyard. Go out and turn over rocks or logs. The first things you see will be some slugs or worms, and probably ants too. Look past these ‘big’ creatures for tiny white or grey specks that crawl and spring around. I promise they are there. In addition to the service collembola provide by breaking down organic matter (less leaves to rake!) they are food for many of the larger critters like ground beetles, rove beetles, and spiders.