It's Springtail Season Again!

01st February 2016

My apologies for not adding a blog post since last summer (2015). We've been doing a lot to the house and somehow, the blog has taken second place. I have resolved to do better during 2016. Let's see how that works out!

Followers of my blog will know that I have a particular interest in solitary bee species. They are obviously not active during the autumn and winter, and that's when I direct my interest to photographing springtails. We have several hundred species in the UK and they are very numerous in soil, leaf-litter and on low vegetation and surfaces. They generally go unnoticed because of their small size which ranges from a fraction of a millimeter to several millimeters with the really large ones! The individual above is Dicyrtomia ornata; one of our larger (1-2mm) globular springtails.

I'm particularly attracted to photographing members of the Symphypleona; the globular springtails. My favourite places for looking for them (and for most invertebrates generally) is churchyards. Good places to look are under fallen leaves and branches and on the surfaces of old stonework and headstones. The larger ones are just visible to the naked eye, but I generally scan the area with a 5x magnification hand-lens. I like churchyards because they're generally tranquil, not too managed and offer a range of environments. The black springtail above is Sminthurinus niger and this one was "grazing" on the surface of an algae and moss-covered headstone. At less than 1mm in length, these can be difficult to spot. They are generally rather uncommon and this individual was the only one that I found in the churchyard during that particular visit.

The last decade has seen some interesting additions to the UK springtail list with some "novel" species that were first recorded in botanical and ornamental garden. It's presumed that these were imported on plant material. Above is one of these; Calvatomina nr. superba. The species was first recorded in the UK in 2008. Its designation denotes that although its appearance is similar to Calvatomina superba (a species previously known from New Zealand), it is not that species. It now appears to be spreading and several observers have reported it from gardens. I've found it in a local Staffordshire churchyard, where they seem to particularly favour damp headstones; particularly those shaded by trees (Yew in this instance). It's a rather attractive species with the eye-spot being orangey in colour with black ocelli.

I've also encountered another of the "novel" species locally, but more of that in the next post. I'll also describe the methods I use for getting images of such small subjects and an exciting project to document springtails in the neighbouring county of Shropshire.

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