If I can't get outside because of the weather, I can always bring the outside in. I went to the edge of the garden and collected a cupful of topsoil, brought it in and inspected it.
It's still too cold for baby slugs and spiders, but the springtails were swarming. I popped them under a bright light and aimed the camera at them.
This family of springtails, the Onychiuridae, doesn't spring. Most springtails have an appendage at the tail that they carry clipped underneath the body. When they release the bond, it snaps back, popping the owner high into the air. These little guys don't have one, so they just run about.
They are also blind and colorless. (In the photo above, the white balance is off, but I didn't correct it because they became so bright that the segments weren't visible.)
Lack of vision doesn't seem to slow them down any. When I disturb the soil and other tiny soil residents make themselves scarce or freeze in place, these Collembola keep on going, around and about, under and over, back and forth, ignoring me and my works.
And something weird; they float. They bounce up to the top of any amount of water like tiny white corks. Squirming corks, that is. They are unwettable, unsinkable.
I added a litre of water to my cup of soil, and poured it out into a shallow tray. The springtails clumped on the surface, all together, and could be scooped out with a spoon.
On the water, the mass of springtails squirms, moving constantly, but with no grip on the surface, they just jitter from spot to spot. I video'd them at it; check this out:
These aren't the only Collembola in my patch of soil; the Entomobryidae show up sometimes. These do jump, and are not blind.
I was filming a handful of the Onychiuridae on a wet leaf, when a little brown springtail came around the corner. Cute little guy. But I was quite taken aback by what happened next. Watch this video; keep your eyes on the little dark one at the tip of the stick. The big white springtail that attacks him fights rather like a cat, and leaves the poor little one in tough shape.
(Blogger was driving me crazy tonight. It wouldn't accept the good copy of this video. So I loaded it onto my website; here. A blurry, dark, abbreviated copy, all that Blogger would allow, is below.)
Unfortunately, a couple of the beasties in this video are belly up, and others seem a bit disoriented. I had the hot light just a few inches away, and I'd been decanting them from cup to pot to tray to leaf; with that, even a springtail loses his oomph. Can't have that; I carefully put them back in the garden where I found them, with my apologies.