If you listened to the most recent podcast, you know that a new species of eyeless springtails has been discovered in caves around 6,500 feet (nearly 2 kilometers) below the Earth’s surface. What we didn’t tell you is how springtails got their name or the fact that they are found almost everywhere. We also didn’t tell you that the researchers in the Krubera Cave used cheese as bait to catch them. Now that sounds like a delicious Video Lunch!
When we originally reported the story, we referred to the springtails as insects. We were wrong. (That’s the last time we trust an article from MSNBC.) Springtails do have six legs, but there are a few small differences from insects. Insect abdomens are divided into eleven sections, but springtails have six or fewer abdominal sections. Also, springtails’ mouthparts are internal but insect mouthparts are external (as anybody who has ever been bitten by an ant may have observed if they were not too busy cursing their faces off.)
Also, springtails don’t only live in caves; they live all over the world. Almost everywhere there is decaying plant matter, there are springtails. According to Wikipedia (which is apparently more reliable than MSNBC,) springtails are one of the most numerous of all macroscopic animals, with as many as 100,000 individuals per cubic meter of top soil. So if you know where to find topsoil, moss beds, tufts of grass or woodlands, you should be able to find springtails. But many of them are less than half a millimeter long, so you just have to look REALLY closely.
Oh, and why are they called springtails? Let’s have a look. (And watch for the face-plant at the 1:40 mark.)