Collembolagraphy: Springtails on Film

Filming Collembola (common name: “springtails”) poses a number of challenges. One of the first challenges, if out in the field, would be to locate some, which can prove difficult due to their tiny size (typically averaging 1mm for adults). The size in itself demands a camera of adequate power and focus, which often is a fairly costly piece of equipment. Additionally, your subject may not be quite cooperative; many species of springtails possess a specialized jumping organ, the furcula, which they will use to leap great distances (relative to their body length) when they perceive a threat of some kind. Advancing too close with a camera might qualify as a threat!

Finally, for soil/litter bound species, there is the added complexity of a three dimensional substrate, of which some parts of a prospective shot may become out of focus as one attempts to focus on a particular layer of the substrate. This is a problem I accounted while trying to film an aggregation of a species of entomobryomorpha which we are presently rearing in our lab. Though lab-reared (therefore eliminating the problems of locating specimens), their terrarium has been set up so as to roughly model a natural environment, with soil partially covered by leaf litter and dead grass, such that the problem of focus on a three-dimensional substrate was readily apparent. A short video of this attempt at filming the aggregation is linked below. An Aven Mighty Scope (10x-200x), set close or at maximum magnification, was used to capture the video clips, which were in turn spliced together using Windows Movie Maker 2.6. The whitish masses seen in some of the clips are fungal-covered bits of food supplied to the collembolans (usually granola). At about 32 seconds in, one springtail can be witnessed landing from a jump.

Though the video quality is relatively poor, due to the limitations of the scope and its recording software, in the near future I hope to be able to record higher quality footage (which may be dependent on funding for a better scope or camera). An idea being entertained — and which is certainly an entertaining concept — would be a live-feed of these collembolans, both for the purpose of capturing potentially valuable behavioural observations as well as eliciting some public engagement with soil biodiversity via the Collembola. Despite its implicated role in agricultural sustainability and human health, soil fauna remains fairly understudied, with the exception of some of the more “charismatic”/visible taxa (like earthworms). Finding ways to engage the public with the less-visible groups, like Collembola, may help bolster interest in this vast taxonomic pool, and bringing the hidden lives of these tiny creatures to light with the assistance of video-capturing technologies is a potentially valuable and engaging tool for that end.

 

For some amazing photographs of Collembola from all over the globe, check out the blog “Chaos of Delight” by Andy Murray: https://www.chaosofdelight.org/gallery/

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