Springtails Do Their Own Stunts | Deep Look

From Deep Look.

Step right up to see tiny springtails spin through the air with the greatest of ease! In ponds and streams, they skyrocket out of the reach of hungry insects like water striders by slapping a tail-like appendage against the water. And you won’t believe how they stick the landing.

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DEEP LOOK is an ultra-HD (4K) short video series created by KQED San Francisco and presented by PBS Digital Studios. See the unseen at the very edge of our visible world. Explore big scientific mysteries by going incredibly small.

Semiaquatic springtails are as tiny as a poppy seed, which makes them a tasty snack to insects such as water striders in streams and ponds.

But springtails have a secret superpower that allows them to evade their predators: the furcula. They use this tail-like appendage to jump off the water’s surface 150 times faster than the blink of an eye. Their explosive jumps can propel them as high as the equivalent of a six-story building for humans. So, once they’re up in the air, how do they land, ready to escape again?

Scientists at Georgia Tech filmed semiaquatic springtails they put in a wind tunnel. The high-speed footage showed that springtails right themselves in the air by curving their bodies into the shape of a U. They land upright with the help of a droplet of water they collect with a tube on their abdomen called a collophore.

“They don’t bounce away,” said Víctor Ortega-Jiménez, of the University of Maine, who carried out the research while at Georgia Tech. “The drop of water acts like a glue.”

— Are springtails insects?

Even though, like insects, they have six legs, springtails aren’t considered insects because they keep their mouthparts tucked away, rather than exposed. Their furcula is another unique feature that sets them apart.

— How small are springtails?

A springtail is 1 to 5 millimeters long, or one-sixteenth to one-fifth of an inch.

— How many springtail species exist?

Scientists have identified more than 9,000 species of springtails, also known as collembolans.

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