Monday, September 3, 2012
I was just returning my brush to the paper with fresh paint and a groomed tip, when a tiny creature popped from the mossy patch of lichen and landed on my hand. It was large for a springtail - just large enough for me to make out its pair of antennae and the distinctive-looking pattern on its back. Quickly I emptied my water vial, caught the springtail in it, and then poured alcohol into a white basin, treacherously coaxing it out of the container and into the preservative.
Now I'm looking through my microscope, delighted with what I see! A slim-waisted arthropod with a furculum like a powerful seventh leg on the end of its abdomen. All springtails have this for launching them at random when they feel inclined to jump. You can see the knob-like structure under its third abdominal segment, that it uses to hold the furculum tucked up beneath its body in a 'spring-loaded' position, out of the way while it moves slowly about on six legs, feeding on microscopic organic matter in damp moss and leaf litter.
A search on the internet convinces me that this springtail, with its elegant shape, bars and stripes, and hairy head and thorax, is a member of the genus Entomobria which is global in distribution, but is having new species being discovered in all kinds of places. I found photos of several species of Entomobria, but none exactly like this individual, with its distinctly bi-coloured legs, tri-coloured antennae - and with such a dark and exceedingly hairy head. I wonder if this species has been discovered yet.... I am tempted to delve into the taxonomy of springtails to find out!