I'm often asked- Andy, where can I get my very own Collembola? Do they make good pets? Do they hum as they stroll along? And do they even know how adorably cute they look? 

Unfortunately, science doesn't know the answers to these questions yet. 

Here's what we do know.

  1. Their favourite season is Spring, obvs.
  2. They like walks in the park and curling up on the moss with a glass of red wine. 
  3. They have no innate fear of snakes, heights or zebras.
  4. They use smell to talk to each other.

Today we'll be briefly concentrating on bullet point 4. 

A Dicyrtomid, Thames, New Zealand, February 2016

In the photo above is a Dicyrtomid from New Zealand. The long white hairs on its abdomen are actually hollow waxy tubes. It's now thought that they aid in the dispersal of certain pheromones and not as previously believed, as an aid to get at the last olives in a jar. 

Collembola use chemicals to communicate quite a few things, a bit like Ecstasy. Using chemicals, those animals that live in groups can synchronise their moults and keep themselves together in one place. They sense the chemicals using antennal chemoreceptors and also often with a PTO, a post antennal organ. Females of some species are also able to use chemicals which encourage the males to produce spermatophores. Which is a cool trick.

Collembola are capable of using chemicals as a defence against predators, either released by glands, in certain species, or through cuticle damage. Any predator puncturing the cuticle results in haemolymph exiting the wound, together with its volatile chemical compounds. This interestingly also has another effect, as it appears to also prompt an avoidance response in the other Collembola.  

It's again worth remembering that many Collembola are around 1mm big. How they can cram so much awesomeness into such a small package is also unknown at this point...