King of the Polar Desert

    It has been a dream of mine since working with collembola in grad school, to visit Antarctica and find some of these amazing animals. I knew from years of encyclopedia reading as a child without the internet, that collembola were some of the very few organisms that survived on the continent. In Missouri you can find hundreds of species in many shapes, sizes, and colors. In inland Antarctica, maybe two.

    This is the kind of rock springtails be be lichen
    This is the kind of rock springtails be be lichen.

    These weird little animals are also called springtails because they have this mousetrap like spring under their abdomen that flings them to safety when a threat is nearby. This organ, called a furcula, makes them pretty hard to study back home. You so much as breathe on them and they scatter in every direction. Since this is Antarctica, however, is doesn't even have a springing tail. It has no predators. Anything "extra" in Antarctica is a hindrance to survival. In its millions of years of survival in these conditions, the best springtails are the ones that didn't waste precious energy building a useless critter catapult. This is just one thing this species does to help it survive the frigid, resource poor environment of the Antarctic Dry Valleys. In the video we drop into Garwood Valley to take some soil samples and find a few of these amazing dudes. Let me know what you thought would have been the largest terrestrial animal in Antarctica.

    McMurdo Station, Antarctica
    Weather Summary
    Mostly Sunny
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    E @ 8
    Wind Chill


    teo banfod

    do the animals just sit and eat and not so anything or can they kill anything or anyone

    Bill Henske

    Hmmm. Interesting. The collembola are mostly foragers of fungi and lichen I think. One that we caught and put under a microscope immediately perished.... So they are tough where they come from but only in those specific conditions. If its too wet or too warm they arent so tough.

    Henry Poulson

    Hello Mr. Henske! I am writing to you from Mr. Dickerson's class! I wanted to write this comment because I had a question. What do the Antarctic Springtails feed on? What do they eat?

    Thank you for what you do!

    - Henry

    Bill Henske

    Great question. Lots of antarctic species can change up what they eat based on whats available. Collembola in Utah eat mostly fungus and algae. This is probably similar with the antarctic species. They are often found on lichen covered rocks or rock in patches of soil with moss. The rocks we found them on had endolithic alga- meaning the alga was growing in the cracks of the rocks- so my guess for this species would be that they are primary consumers.

    Rhonda Boden

    Mr. Henske, out of curiosity how long do the Antarctic Springtails live for?



    Bill Henske

    No one knows.... In Utah or Missouri they may live several months or even a year but in Antarctica they may live decades. Remember that they only have a month or so of weather and water with which their food can grow. So if they only life 1 month per year but can life twelve months, they might live 12 years.


    Hi! What do they eat?

    Bill Henske

    They are grazers eating alga and fungus but they can eat a lot of stuff. Not sure a tardigrade could escape the jaws of a springtail.

    Lucy Christensen

    Can Springtails swim in the water?

    Bill Henske

    There are some springtails that live on water. Their exoskeleton is hydrophobic- meaning it repels water- like a water strider sitting on a pond. I think the Antarctic species may not have this characteristic since there is little to no liquid water.

    Ammon Ryan

    How many Springtails usually inhabit one patch of lichen?

    Bill Henske

    Well I have only ever seen 3 here in the wild. I know they congregate in certain places and are absent from others. Their distribution is "patchy", meaning there might be 100 living around one boulder and no others for a mile.

    Rachel Hale

    Do they only live on rocks?

    Bill Henske

    Hi Rachel- They feed on rocks and might use them to warm up- like a lizard might bask. They live in the soil around rocks that harbor alga and lichen growth.

    Braylee Tuckett

    What other adaptations do they have to help them to survive in Antarctica?

    Bill Henske

    Great question. The short appendages and antennae are much different from the usual collembola you might see in the US. They are also smaller than most species I am used to which is another adaptation.

    Braylee Tuckett

    Thank you so much.

    Gracie Silverio

    can they live anywhere else?

    Bill Henske

    Hi Gracie- This species can only live in this habitat. We brought a couple back to the lab and they died really quickly. There are springtails living everywhere though! They are really fun to collect. Some are adorable.

    Bill Henske

    Hi Gracie- This species can only live in this habitat. We brought a couple back to the lab and they died really quickly. There are springtails living everywhere though! They are really fun to collect. Some are adorable.

    Stephanie Ordonez

    Are there any different kinds of springtails

    Bill Henske

    Hi Stephanie - there are 3 -6 types recorded from the continent but more if you include islands in the Antarctic circle (it depends how they are identified). The farthest south is from the area around Beardmore Glacier which is only 660km from the South Pole. Worldwide they are a huge group of organisms with 1000s species.

    Stephane Gilchrist

    This might have already been asked by someone else, and been answered, but i wanted to know if you would know how often would/do Springtails eat if they have any sort of "eating schedule"

    -Stephane from Dickerson's class

    Bill Henske

    Hi Stephane- You mean like a springtail brunch? I used to raise springtails in a lab and they seemed to crawl and eat 24/7. They are more controlled by temperature and moisture than time of day because they are "cold blooded" and also day time here (when it's light) is about 4 months of light. They have 6-8 molts throughout their life as they go from juvenile to adult so these are the sequences that are most important.


    Hey I am Gideon one of Mr Dickerson students, what scares the furcula to use their spring under their abdomen.


    sorry scares the collembola

    Bill Henske

    Hi Gideon - Collembolans have sensory organs just like you. Their evolutionary predators would be larger insects like beetles and ants. Since those don't live here, collembola get to be the top of the food chain. They still have a reflex when there is a weird shadow from above (They have primitive eyes) or weird air currents (sensory hairs) strike them.


    Hey! I am in Mr. Dickersons Biology Class. How do the collembolans react so quickly?


    what is the best habitat for a springtail, or are they very adaptive and what do they tend to eat?