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Primitive insects, springtails are minute, wingless members in the order Collembola. As the common name implies, springtails can leap or spring using a forked tail-like structure known as a furcula. A 5-millimeter springtail can jump up to 100 millimeters in one bound. Many springtails are beautifully colored and display a beautiful array of metallic greens, lavenders, and reds, but because of their minute size, largely go unnoticed.

Harmless to humans, springtails feed in the leaf litter on decaying plant matter, fungi, and bacteria helping to enrich the soil. Even though there are over 6,000 described species of Collembola worldwide, of which about 700 are found in North America, almost none exceed 1 millimeter in length.

Restricted to moist soil and litter conditions, springtails do not survive drought conditions. One species lives in the surface film of ponds and streams and occasionally is found in drinking water derived from wells or cisterns. When terrestrial populations boom in or near houses, they may alarm homeowners or create a visual nuisance, appearing as piles of "soot" in driveways, backyards, or basements. Some species are known as "snow fleas" since they are seen leaping about the top of snow during late winter or early spring.

Contributing Authors

Cynthia D. Kelly, Thomas J. Fellers and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.



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