In the photo above, a large group of springtails is feeding upon an orange jelly fungus (Dacrymyces palmatus). Springtails are detritivores, which means that they consume decomposing organic matter. Other examples of detritivores include earthworms and crabs.
They differ slightly from decomposers such as fungi and bacteria because they ingest rather than absorb the nutrients from their food. Never the less, the end result is that they do contribute to the process of decomposition.
For springtails that live in the leaf litter, they mainly subsist on fungi, plant material, feces and algae. A few species are predatory and live on a diet of nematodes and other small arthropods. However, springtails do not bite, and are harmless to humans.
The photo above shows springtails not only devouring the jelly fungi, but also some mosses, lichens and rotting wood. There are around 6,500 species of springtails. Some have the ability to emit light, while others contain toxic chemicals as a defense against predators.
Although the photo above contains only a few of the smaller springtails, there are also two larger springtails of a different species.
There is some dispute as to if springtails are insects or not. Not long ago they were widely categorized as being an order within the insect class. But now they are more commonly accepted as being in the same subphylum, hexipoda. This small group is distinct from other arthropods by the fact that the adults have only six legs.
They’re quite beautiful, the orange jelly fungi! Wonderful photos here. I enjoyed all of the facts you included about the springtails. Thank you for this fantastic post!
Thanks Melanie! It is amazing to me how many times, when I review my nature macros on the computer, I find various small arthropods on the images, that I could not see when I took the photos. Well I had no trouble seeing these springtails.
I’ve got to agree with all Lemony’s comments. ‘btweenblinks’ is rapidly becoming the go-to blog for funky fungi and lichen pictures! I really like this post. FIne pictures and interesting notes about the springtails too.
Were the fungi heavily shaded by the tree canopy? I’ve spent many hours crawling around, nematode like, in the leaf litter, trying to photograph fungi, often without success due to low light. If they were lurking in the crepuscular conditions of the forest floor you’ve really captured the vibrant colours well. Gorgeous.
Thanks Finn, for your generous comments! I do seem to be attracted to things that are a bit out of the ordinary.
Finding proper lighting in forested areas is something I constantly struggle with as well. The branch with these jellies on it had fallen from a tall alder tree during a recent wind storm. Just this last year a wooded area to the east of here was cleared. So a mid-morning shot allowed enough light through to do a decent job, however, that is not always the case. Many of the coolest mushroom I find are so deep in shade that I just can’t get a good photo.