Thursday, June 6, 2013

School malaise findings 4 - the tiny ones

These little highly interesting animals are often undeserving overlooked. Not this time!

Springtails (Collembola)
Springtails are six-legged arthropods (hexapoda) which are closely related to insects, but are not true insects. They are relatively small, generally less than 6 mm long, variously colored, and are either round (globular springtail) or elongate (slender springtail). Most springtails have a long, forked appendage which can ‘spring’ them forward, propelling the creature into the air when threatened. Springtails are usually found in soil, moss, and leaf litter and they occur worldwide, often in very high numbers. It has been estimated that one square metre of soil may possess up to 10,000 Collembola! They are detritivores meaning that they consume decomposing matter, and considered one of the main organisms responsible for the control and the dissemination of soil microorganisms. Because of their abundance, Malaise traps often capture a very large numbers of springtails, but their species diversity tends to be low. Despite this, the School Malaise Trap Program led to the collection of 37 species of them, including two species that were new to our DNA barcode library.

Springtails are admirable little creatures. Have a look at this 2 minute video taken from the BBC's great Life in the Undergrowth documentary series.

Phytoseiid Mites (Phytoseiidae)
Phytoseiidae is a large family of mites, with more than 2500 described species. Phytoseiid mites are tiny, usually light to dark brown, with slightly hardened shells. These mites have very rapid life cycles, moving from egg to mature adult in less than 10 days. Some phytoseiids feed on plant tissue, but most are predators of small invertebrates (such as other mites) and usually live on plants. Since phytoseiids are very good predators, they are commonly used to control pests that attack crops. New species may be able to help protect more crops and the School Malaise Trap Program caught seven phytoseiid species new to the DNA Barcode library. In fact, some these possibly represent new species to science.

Here a video of one mite eating another mite.

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