Although they have six legs, springtails are not insects because, among other things, their mouthparts are hidden in their heads. In comparison, the mouthparts of insects are projected outward from the head and easily discernible.
Springtails are very small, wingless arthropods that vary greatly in shape, size and color depending on the species. Most are less than 3mm in length, but some can reach 1cm. They share a common characteristic of a specialized fork-shaped appendage, the “furca”, located under their abdomen. The furca allows them to propel themselves in the air. It is reduced or absent in several species. Another organ specific to springtails is the “collophore,” or ventral tube, which is used to suck up liquids and adhere to smooth surfaces. It also participates in the breathing of the animal.
The head of springtails is oval and has a pair of antennae. One to eight simple eyes are found on each side of the head. The eyes are absent in some species. The mouthparts have very variable shapes. Those used for chewing are always hidden in the head.
The coloring of springtails varies from whitish to almost black, passing through all the shades: yellow, orange, pink, red, green, blue, indigo… Those which frequent the surface of the ground generally sport more vivid colors.
Springtails are a very ancient group of animals. The oldest fossils of these arthropods date from 380 million years ago, during the Devonian period, long before the appearance of dinosaurs. Fossilized specimens aged 33 million years correspond to genera and even species still active today.
High jump aces!
Springtails can jump to heights of up to 50 to 100 times their body length. In some species, the jumps approach a height of one meter. They perform these aerial acrobatics thanks to a system that is triggered like a spring, hence their English name of springtails . The springtail jumps to flee and quickly escape its enemies. For its usual movements, the animal walks on the tips of the claws located at the end of its legs.