Insects and their Allies  

Collembola: springtails

Springtails are small wingless soft-bodied hexapods that are usually between 1 and 3 millimetres in length. Most are more easily seen with the aid of a microscope or magnifying glass although some species may grow to 10 millimetres in length and can be easily seen with the naked eye. Their common name comes from the fact they can spring considerable distances when disturbed. They come in a variety of colours and some even appear to have a velvet-like appearance. The following features are common to all springtails:



Katianna australis

Katianna australis (SMINTHURIDAE)

  • 2 main body shapes: either elongate and cylindrical or more compact and spherical
  • Simple eyes consisting of up to 8 ocelli
  • Forked tail-like organ (furca) on the underside of the abdomen, which can flex forward under the body and be held under tension enabling an individual to leap into the air when released. When at rest the furca points backwards

Life Cycle
Springtails reproduce rapidly and a single life cycle may take just 3-5 weeks from hatching to maturity. Little is known of the life cycle of most species in Australia but generally males will attach a tiny packet of sperm to the substrate, which is picked up by a female. Eggs are then laid either singly or in batches in or on the soil. On hatching young springtails resemble small adults and develop through several instars before reaching maturity. Adults continue to moult, up to 50 times but put on little additional growth.

Hypogastrura species
Hypogastrura species

Most species of springtails feed on decaying vegetable matter, although fungi, algae and lichens are also an important food source for many species. Some species within the globular Sminthuridae prefer fresh plant material, and spores and pollen have been found in the gut contents of other springtails. Some species may even feed on decaying animal matter, such as earthworms, dead flies or other Collembola.

Springtails are found almost everywhere in Australia in a wide variety of habitats. They are most commonly found on or near the soil surface, usually associated with decaying vegetable matter, in rotten logs, under rocks or the bark of trees. Some species are even found inhabiting the nests of ants and termites.

lucerne flea or clover springtail
minthurus viridis (SMINTHURIDAE)
(lucerne flea or clover springtail)

The SMINTHURIDAE is a small family in Australia that contains a few injurious species. The best known of these is Sminthurus viridis which is an important agricultural pest in southern Australia as it damages clover pastures and leguminous crops, especially lucerne.