Springtails are generally tiny, almost invisible to the naked eye and therefore live largely unnoticed all around us. The largest springtails, known as Giant Springtails (Holacanthella) are found only in New Zealand and can measure up to 17mm. Here in the UK, however, the largest springtails are around 6mm with most being much smaller.
There are thousands of different species of springtail with around 250 found in the UK and around 700 found in North America. Springtails tend to live in soil, leaf litter, and dead wood where they feed on decaying plant material, fungi, moulds and algae. The winter months are a great time for finding and observing springtails when they become extremely abundant.
Springtails have been divided into several groups, the three main ones being Symphypleona, Entomobryomorpha and Poduromorpha. Scroll down to find out more about each of these groups.
Globular springtails are distinguished from other types of springtail by their body shape, which as their name suggests is rounded. They can be wonderfully patterned and coloured with groups of simple, ocellated eyes and large antennae making them instantly endearing. Beneath the abdomen resides a forked, tail-like appendage called a furcula, which can be used to spring them away from danger.
With a keen eye and plenty of magnification it's possible to obeserve some of the many reproduction strategies employed by springtails. I regularly find tiny spermatophores, which are mounted on stems and contain spermatozoa protected by a shiny coating. Springtails reproduce quickly, going from egg to adult stage in as little as four to six weeks on a number of occasions I've been lucky enough to observe a female laying an egg.
Entomobryomorpha are an order of elongate springtails with bodies that are typically long and slim.
Poduromorpha are an order of springtail that tend to have short legs and a plump body that is oval in shape.