Springtails are usually encountered in moist areas when we lift a stone or similar object and they make frantic moves to hide. They are in an Order of their own, the Collembola, as they evolved from a single ancestor. As they did so they never possessed the power of flight, so unlike other flightless invertebrates they have not lost their wings; they are sometimes compared to fleas which have lost wings as they evolved. There are many species which can occur in almost every habitat, from the seaside to high up in the mountains and there is a species, Cryptopygus antarcticus , which survives the extreme conditions of the Antarctic.
The body has three main parts. The head has a pair of antennae, a pair of eyes with up to eight lenses and internal mouthparts. There are three segments in the thorax, each with a pair of legs. The abdomen has six segments, some of which are fused together, but the first one bears a ventral tube used for fluid exchange which is typical of all species and gives rise to their name derived from the Greek 'cole' meaning glue and 'embolon' meaning piston because some use it to attach themselves to surfaces. Some use this tube to groom themselves by extending it over their head to reach their back.
The common name, springtail, refers to the special appendages which are attached to the fourth abdominal segment. This 'furcula' consists of two structures which are fused at the base and at the other ends there are hooks which grip the ground to give the leverage needed to propel the insect at great speed, out of danger.
They are not usually a problem and are involved in the primary breakdown of organic matter such as dead leaves to smaller particles in a similar way as Woodlice and Millipedes. Sometimes there can be damage to seedlings or bulbs.
They require moist conditions with cover such as under pots or debris. Clear away debris and keep surroundings of vulnerable seedlings dry, to discourage the springtails from gathering.
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