Saturday, 21 February 2015

Of sphagnums and springtails

I came across a few new species for St Helens today (for me at least). The first was an impressive stand of Sphagnum squarrosum in a birch woodland. Also in the woodland was Polytrichum commune. I don't know of any other site for either of these two bryophytes in St Helens, and it's particularly interesting to me because the place I found them growing was actually a man made habitat which has become over grown and very wet.

I brought a few branches of the sphagnum home with me to confirm the id, and just as I was looking at it under the microscope, out popped a collembola or springtail. A friend of mine is a springtail expert, so I've sent it off to him to identify. This is also potentially a first for St Helens, especially since it's living amongst the sphagnum, although in truth even if it's a very common species in St Helens it could still be the first record because so few people record or even look at springtails.

Sphagnum squarrosum. The English name for this species is spiky bog-moss, and you can see why in these photos.

In reality this creature is only about 4mm long, making it one of the larger springtails, but even so quite a challenge for my camera.

I have only a very basic knowledge of springtails, good enough to say that I think this is an Isotomidae species, but certainly not good enough to narrow it down to one of the 112 species in that family.

The appendage which allows the springtail to "spring" is known as the furca and looks like a tail when the animal is dead, but in life it is tucked under the springtails body, ready for action should the creature be threatened. Springtails also have a ventral tube, which is on their tummy (the first abdominal segment) and this is used to help regulate water and for self-righting when the springtail is upside down.

There can be up to 2 million individuals per cubic metre of soil. 

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