- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Collembola! Watch the springtails spring!
Over the last several days, Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of Caifornia, Davis, has patrolled a UC Davis sidewalk checking out a huge volume of springtails.
"Literally millions of little buff-colored springtails," he related Monday, "have been swarming for the past three days on the sidewalk and adjacent strip under the oak trees on the east side of Howard Way, about halfway between the parking garage and Russell Boulevard, mostly around 7 to 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m. I've never seen such numbers, except for the snow springtails in winter in upstate New York."
I trekked over to Howard Way at 7 a.m. today and it took awhile to find these little buff-colored organisms. That's because they're oh, so tiny! They're less than six millimeters long--that's 0.24 inches in length. And they move fast.
Obviously, Art Shapiro has the eyes of an eagle. I don't.
Springtails (order Collembola) are those primitive, wingless six-legged critters you find in soil, leaf litter, decaying wood and other damp places. Basically, they're known for working the soil. However, some springtails, such as Sminthurus viridis, are agricultural crop pests.
Why are they called springtails? Retired UC Berkeley entomologist Jerry Powell writes in California Insects (a University of California Press book co-authored by entomologist Charles Hogue): "Most springtails are readily recognizable by a forked, tail-like appendage (furcula) which arises toward the rear of the abdomen and which the insect snaps against the substratum, springing itself into the air."
California has about 130 species that spring themselves into the air.
Frankly, it's a wonder anyone can see them, springing or not springing.