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 Major Groups | Collembola (springtails)

Collembola (springtails) Sminthurididae

Major Group: Collembola
Order: Symphypleona
Family: Sminthurididae (formerly within Sminthuridae)
Collembola generally inhabitat the soil and soil surface, however some species prefer damp or humid environments and an even smaller number prefer the marine littoral zone or the surface of still freshwaters. Obligate aquatic species in Australia are representatives of a single family, Sminthurididae.

Descriptive Features:

  • body divided into a head, thorax and abdomen, lacking wings or wing pads
  • soft bodies, variously pigmented or white
  • antennae normally 4-segmented
  • simple eyes, primitively 8 on each side 
  • mouthparts modified for biting and chewing, consisting of elongate maxilla and mandible, enclosed by folds of the integument, labrum and labium
  • 3 segments of thorax partially fused together and fused to abdomen forming a globular body
  • 3 pairs of jointed legs on thorax
  • legs basically 4-segmented
  • abdomen primitively 6-segmented
  • abdomen ending with a forked appendage (furcula) ventrally on segment 4, often flexed under the abdomen when at rest 
  • abdomen with other specialised appendages ventrally on segments 1 and 3 
  • setae present on body and appendages, sparse to numerous and morphologically variable
  • Total length: small to minute, generally less than 1mm

    Sminthurides aquaticus

    Taxonomic Checklist: Species
    Pygicornides stagnalis Womersley (formerly Sminthurides stagnalis)
    Sminthurides aquaticus Bourlet

    stagnalis WA
    Sminthurides aquaticus SA, Vic, WA

    Sensitivity Rating: SIGNAL grade 1

    Functional Feeding Group: gathering collectors


    Niemur River at Mallan, NSW

    Ecology: Instream habitat: Springtails are surface dwellers in littoral areas of quiet, still waters. Rain events can wash terrestrial species into waterways forming 'rafts' on the water surface.
    Feeding ecology: Springtails are detritivores feeding on the micro-organisms on decomposing organic matter. Sminthurides also grazes on diatoms. In turn, Collembola are eaten by Hemiptera (true bugs), Coleoptera (beetles) and fish.
    Habit: The common name of 'springtail' is derived from their ability to make sudden leaps into the air (up to 30 cm) by releasing, downwards and backwards, the furcula that is usually held folded beneath the abdomen. They have a waterproof skin that prevents them from water logging and sinking. Terrestrial springtails can be accidentally collected in nets when the riparian vegetation is knocked while sweep sampling the edge habitat.
    Life history: Mature springtails display a cycle of morphologically different forms; a reproductive form then a non-reproductive feeding form interspersed by ecdysis. Eggs are laid singularly or in clusters. Juveniles resemble the adult form with instar development a gradual increase in size. Sminthurididae are sexually dimorphic. Males deposit globular stalked spermatophore (encysting sperm) on a solid surface. The males then entwine their antennae around the female's antennae and steer her, often by means of an elaborate dance, over the spermatophore.


    Information Sources: Greenslade 1991, 1994, 2007, Christiansen & Bellinger 1981, Williams 1980, Gooderham & Tsyrlin 2002, Hawking & Smith 1997
    Key to Species: none, use distribution (except for WA)

    Below are some images of terrestrial Collembola often collected in edge samples with the feature that distinguishes these families from Sminthurididae.


    elongate body


    elongate body


    short antennae


    penultimate antennal segment > distal antennal segment


    female with subanal appendages; male without clasping antennae


    female with subanal appendages; male without clasping antennae