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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Springtails: A Spring Tale....

I attended a tracking workshop in Chesterfield, Mass. yesterday. The class was run by Kent Hicks and organized through the Walnut Hill Tracking & Nature Center . I learned a ton and hope to blog about that soon, but have just enough time to show you something interesting we found while looking for tracks. Perhaps someone out there can help explain what we found.

Springtails (Chesterfield, Mass. 5/11)
Let me start by saying that I seem to have had some sort of mental block when it comes to tracking my entire life. I have decided to tackle that deficiency with a vengeance this past year and have learned tons from the various classes I have attended. This Saturday, Kent led his class of 6 students through various terrains in search of human tracks. We tracked through leaves, over a dirt road and in the grass. I felt like I had to focus the entire 5 hours in order to stay up with the rest of the class! I had noticed a few instances where there were these little black dots on the leaves in the forest. It seemed like each time I saw the black it was under hemlock trees. And each time, the black dots were in a semi-circle, like they were spores or seeds that had fallen from the branches. The black didn't show up as well in this first photo as I would have liked. You are looking for a small arc that is in the upper center of the photo below the moss covered rock.

Springtails (Chesterfield, Mass. 5/11)
At the very end of the class, as we were being called back to trail back, I found one last arc of black dots and decided to investigate. To my surprise, the dots were moving. Nick correctly identified them as springtails. I assume the semi-circle pattern was due to them dispersing from a central location. I could calculate backwards from the curve of the arc where the epicenter was and if I knew how fast these guys were moving I could deduce how long ago they had hatched. Here is the best photo I could manage with my camera. Still, not a lot of detail.

Springtails (Chesterfield, Mass. 5/11)
Here is a leaf as found, covered in springtails. What can you tell me about them? The little I read says they have six legs but are not insects. I also see that there are many species of these critters. Can anyone tell me which species these are? Why have I never noticed them before? The conditions were I found these are different from the Finger Lakes region where I live, so perhaps I was in the right place at the right time. Did the wet spring have anything to do with this? I will have to research some of this when I have the time.

Springtails (Chesterfield, Mass. 5/11)
Here is the same leaf after I poked it a bit with my finger. You can see the response by the springtails. Now, if someone can devise a camera trap that could take pics of stuff this small, I will buy the first one! :)

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