Collembola: India

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This is an extract from
Protozoa to Mammalia
State of the Art.
Zoological Survey of India, 1991.
By Professor Mohammad Shamim Jairajpuri
Director, Zoological Survey of India
and his team of devoted scientists.
The said book is an enlarged, updated version of
The State of Art Report: Zoology
Edited by Dr. T. N. Ananthakrishnan,
Director, Zoological Survey of India in 1980.

Note: This article is likely to have several spelling mistakes that occurred during scanning. If these errors are reported as messages to the Facebook page, your help will be gratefully acknowledged.




Collembolans have derived their name from the Greek word, Colla =glue and Emblon =bar, due to the presence of a barlike structure, the collophore underneath frrst abdominal segment. Another popular name of these insects is 'Springtail' owing to the presen~e of an spring like, forked jumping organ; underneath the forth abdominal segment. These insects are unique in having only six abdominal segments. Some authorities such as Handlirsch (1908) had emphasized their isc;>lated position and accorded them a separate class status of Arthropods. Collembolans are, though, best considered as a specialized side evolutionary line, remote from main line of insect evolution (lmms, 1936).

Collembolans inhabit a wide range of ecological niche. Majority live where organic matter and moisture is present; such as litter, humus and subsoil layer of arable and forest land. These are alsa found localized under log, stones, loose bark" leaf moulds, moss -fungus, lichens etc. There are a few inhabitants of ants and termite nests. Certain others live on the surface of fresh water bodies (ponds, lakes), while relatively few representatives inhabit intertidal seashore. Snow at high altitudes is also known to support certain collem bolans.

These insects are often immensely abundant at a specially suitabl~ patch or stretch of habitat. An acre of meadow has been estimated to support nearly 2,30,000,000 of these insects from the surface to a depth of nine inches (lmms., 1959).

Collembolans playa significant role in the breakdown of leaf litter alongwith certain other micro arthropods and consequently initiating the process of humification. The role acts in increased soil fertility. These are also known to enrich the organic content of the soil in the form of faecal matter. Schaller (1950) has shown that a population of the order of 100,000 m2 produces 103 c.c. of faeces annually. This is equivalent to 0.2 m91 deep layer.

Collembolans are also increasingly getting their due recognition as bio-indicator of soil conditions. These insects exhibit wide range responses to changes in soil factors. On the contrary it is also known that certain collembolans exhibit sustained tolerance against varied strength of pesticides including most toxic DDT.

Some of these insects, though, also have been ranked injurious, e.g. some Sminthurids; specially Sminthurus viridis has been known as pest of clover and lucerne (hence called 'lucerne fleas'). A small gray s{1eCies, Achorutes.armatus is sometimes found destructive to mushrooms in commercial production level (Ross, 1956). In India, there is an example of a collembolan (Sinella curviseta Brook) infesting potato crop in floating land at Srinagar (Bhat, 1987).

Collembolans range in size from 1/5 mm (genus Megalothorax) to 10 mm (Entomobryids and Podurids). The order is divisible into two suborders viz., Arthropleona and Symphybleona. Former represents majority of the collembolan species under families such as Isotomidae, Entomobryidae, Poduridae, Hybogastruridae, Oncopoduridae etc. The abdominal segments of the members of this suborder are all distinct and linearely disposed. On the other hand anterior abdominal segments are -fused with thoracic to form a globular body in the suborder Symphypleona. This suborder comprises of two major families Neelildae and Sminthuridae.

Historical Resume

Perusal of literature reveals that there was no work on Indian Collembola prior to the period of 1900, though contribution on world Collembola exists.

i) 1901-1947

The first account of work on Indian Collembola goes to the credit of Ritter (1910). This contribution includes number of new Collembolans from India (Bombay), besides Ceylon (Sri Lanka); alongwith certain new thysanurans. This was closely followed by Imms (1912), which recorded significantly number of Indian Collembolans besides those from Burma and Ceylon. Four new genera Dicranocentroides, Idiomurus, Pseudocyphoderus and Heteromuricus and new subfamily -Heteromuricinae was established to accommodate last named genus with unique single median cercus to the fifth abdominal segment. This work also includes a catalogue of the Oriental Species of the order.

Carpenter (1913, 1917, 1924) contributed on Indian Collembola. These includes a new species from Calcutta, results of Aborexpedition (1911-1912); new species under 6 genera, one genus Cyphoderopsis being new from North East Assam ( Assam-Gam hills) and 4 new species of Entomobryidae. Handschin ( 1929) dealt with several Collembolan species ofSouth India, mainly from the region of Nilgiri and Palini hills and includes 14 new species. Bonet ( 1929 ) dealt with some Indian Collembola, while Denis (1936) dealt with several Collembolans from North India based on material of Yale North India expedition.

Detailed anatomical studies were made by Mukherji ( 1932 ) on a new species viz., Protunura carpenteri. Same year Brown described a new species of Isotomid Collembola.

ii) 1948-1990

Baijal (1955 a &b; 1968) described nineteen species of Indian Collembola, based oli Prof. M.S. Mani's Entomological expedition the Northwest Himalaya -1954-56; 12 species among these were from the 'Nival zone of N.W. Himalaya' Two monotypic genera were also er~ted in above contributions viz., Salmonia and Himlanura.

Salmon (1951-1969) has contributed significantly to our knowledge of Indian Collembola. Some of the important contributions are : a new species of Hypogstraidae ( Salmon, 1956 a) Parafolssomia trioculata while Ceratophysella indica was described in 1956 (b). Both these were from Sikkim ( Gangtok). Two new species of Paronellilnae ( Handischinphysa serrata and Pseudoparonellides bulbos a) were described by Salmon ( 1957). Sa~e year another new species of Entomobryidae (Pseudentomobrya lampreyi) was described by him from Tehri Garhwal (UP) A species of Onychiurid (Spe/aphorura clayee) from Sikkim (Gangtok }in 1958; two new species ( Arropolites spadica and Corynepharia reticulata) in 1963; a new sp. (Paratulibergia indica) in 1965; a new monotypic genus Uchidanurida (U. attitudina), a new Hypogastrurid (Hypogastrura indovaria) and a new Entomobryid (Lepidosira unguserrata) in .1970. Salmon ( 1951, 1956) had provided key to the world genera of Collembola, besides a comprehensive biblilography.

Yosii ( 1966 ) has dealt with a number of high altitude Collembola. These comprised of 38 new species and a new monotypic genus Nepalanura (N. paranuroides), representing 11 families. All these were based on material from Himalaya as the result of 'Himalayan Expedition of the Chiba University 1963' under the leadership of Prof. M. Namata.

Another significant contribution by Yosii ( 1966 b ) of 20 new species was based on material obtained by 'KUPHE expedition -1960', from Bombay and Calcutta. These species represented nine genera.

Prabhoo (1971 a) has dealt with Collembola of the suborder Arthropleona, inhabiting soil and HItter of South India; chiefly from tea plantations, besides various localities in Western Ghats. This is quite significant contribution on Collembola from South India. It deals with 48 species, including 23 new species and a new monotypic genus Indoscopus (I. spinosus). Majority (20: 28) of the species represented Entomobryidae.

Collembola of the suborder Symphypleona from South India is dealt by Prabhoo (1971 b). This also deals with soil and litter inhabiting forms from tea growing ~eas in Western Ghats and certain other localities of Kerala. This contribution deals with 12 species ( 10 under Sminthuridae and 2 under Neellidae). Of these four were new species and five new records from India.

Mitra (1975) synomymised Dicranocentroides with Campylothorax. Later he (1973 a & b) has dealt with a new Paronellinae (Entomobryid) genus Pseudosalina from India, besides 3 new species and revision of Entomobryid genus Salina. Critical study on certain Entomobryid genera Callyntrura (Mitra, 1974) and Dicranocentroides and a new termitophilous genus under Cyphoderinae (Mitra, 1976) are significant contributions. Mitra (1977 a,b, c) has dealt with the status of genera Glacialaea; and Hypogastruridae genus Xenylia

Baijal &Agarwal (1972 a) described a new species under Pararrhoplites; while Baijal & Kohli (1972 b) described a new Sminthurus.•Another new species of Stninthuridae (Sminthurides) was described by Baijal & Vanna ( 1986 ).

Studies, other than taxonomy &faunistics on Indian Collembola are relatively far and few. First complete morphological and anatomical study on an Indian Collembola goes to the credit of Mukerji ( 1932). This was based on a new species, from Calcutta, belonging to genus Protunura (P. carpenter; ) of the family Protonuridae.

Effect of temperature on each phase of life history of three species of Onychiurus (Onychiuridae) was studies by Choudhuri (1963 a); while he contributed on the effect of humidity and desication also on above 3 species.-Choudhuri &Roy (1972 a) has significantly contributed on the Collembola of West Bengal; while he studied (1972 b) correlation between monthly population and certain soil factors on the Collembolans of uncultivated field in Burdwan (West Bengal).

Postembryonic morphological differences including Chetotaxy of an Entomobryid Callyntrura (Handischinphys lineata) was studied by Mitra (1974). Prabhoo (1976) gave ecological observations of certain Collembolans, alongwith soil-microarthropods inhabiting virgin forest floor and adjoining tea fields is Western Ghats (Kemla). Dhalliwal et al., (1976) reported OCCUlTence of an entomobryid ( Seria cinera) on wheat and paddy seedlings.

Hazra (1978 a &b) has ~ontributed on the effect of organic matter and water on the distribution of certain Collembola in an uncultivated field of Burdwan and on_ the ecology of certain Collembolans dwelling in the soil and leaf litter in a deciduous forest floor in Birbhum (West Bengal). Food composition consumed by three Collembolan species co-inhabiting in same ecosystem was observed; along with food preferences by Tanja (1978). Feeding habits of Collembola inhabiting an abandoned field in Kerala was also studied by Murleedharan and Prabhoo (1978).

Ecological observations on the Collembola inhabiting Eden gardens (Calcutta) were made by Mitra et al., (1977). Population dynamics of certain Collembola, alongwith acarina in a grassland ecosyste~ was observed by Mitra et al., (1981). Sinha et al., (1988) also studied population fluctuation vis-a-vis Collembolans in a deciduous forest floor at Ranchi (Bihar). Reproductive rhythm were observed on Onychiwid Collembola by Choudhwi and "Roy Choudhuri (1970).

Studies from Different Environs

On an analysis of the contributions it is evident that this group has been worked mostly on far and few scattered collections from different zones from Himalaya, specially Northwest Himalaya, Pir Panzal Range, Certain parts of NortJt West India above the zone of Gangetic belt are also covered. These are in Uttar Pradesh (Badrinath, Bhowali; Tetui Garhwal). Material from Himachal Pradesh ( Shimla, Kulu, Labaul) and Kashmir (Srinagar) are recorded. On the North-Eastern side certain areas are covered such as Sikkim (Gangtok), Nagaland (Kohima), Meghalaya (Garo Hills and Shillong).

Gangetic belt is only covered by material from U.P. (Allahabad), Calcutta, certain other parts of West Bengal (Burdwan and Birbhum etc.). On the Ea"stern Ghats side only Chilka (Orissa) and on Western Ghats side many places of Kerala and Tamil Nadu (Calicut, Dodabetta, Kanyakumari, Ootacamund, Palghat, Vendiperiyar, Trivandram, Wynaa) and certain parts of Maharashua (Bombay, Nasik) are covered.

Estimation of Taxa

Collembolans are represented in India by approximately 200 species under 86 genera, 8 families and 2 suborders viz., Arthropleona and Symphypleona World over this group of insects are known by a little more than 5000 species, 451 genera, 11 families and, 2 suborders. The suborder Arthropleona are represented relatively, by more families both at India and World level (5:8). The suborder Symphypleona is having lesser family representation at India and World level (2:3). Out of families under former suborder Entomobryidae have maximum representation. Family Sminthuridae has maximum representations under suborder ,Symphypleona.

Current Studies

Systematics of Collembola is mainly worked in Z.S.I. by Mitra, who is engaged in Collembolan fauna of West Bengal under State Faunal resource study and Hazra has been engaged on certain aspects of ecology of these insects. Singh of B.H.U. Varanasi, Choudhuri and his team at University of Burdwan, and Prabhoo of Kerala University, at Trivandram, have been engaged on bio-ecological studies of Collembola Baijal and Vanna of Agra University, Agra, are engaged in faunistic and taxonomy of certain Collembola

World over the order is worked out by various workers attached with different universities and institutes. Various aspects covered are taxonomy, faunistic,zoogeography, revision at various level of taxa; besides their ecology, biology etc. Some' of the significant contributors are Bellinger, Christiansen, Dallai, Ghilarov, Lawrence, Rapport~ Uchida, Yossi etc.

Expertise India


S. K. Mitra, Z.S'!., Estuarine Biology Station, Hill Patna, Berhampur ( Orissa ).

A. K. Hazra, Z.S.I., M-Block, New Alipur, Calcutta -700 053.


S. B. Singh, Banares Hindu University, Varanasi (U.P).

D. K. Choudhuri, University ofBurdwan, Barddhaman (West Bengal).


P. F. Bellinger, San Fernado Valley State College, 18111 North off Street, Northridge, California (U.S.A.).

J. M. Betsch, D. Deboutteville Delan1are, Z. Massoud, J.M. Thibaud,all of the Laboratoire d' Ecologie,4 avenue du Petit chateau, 91800 Burnoy (France).

K. Christiansen, Department of Biology, Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa (U.S.A.).

M. Ghilarov, Academy of Science~ of USSR, A.N. Severtsov Institute of Animal Morphology, Lenin Avenue 33, Moscow W -71 (U.S.S.R.).

P. N. Lawrence, Department of Entomology, British Museum ( Natural History), Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London, S.W.7 (Great Britain). H. Uchida, Yamanotera 37-730, Nanakita, Ijumi City, Miyagi Pref., 991-31 (Japan).

R. Yosii, Biological Institute of the Yoshida College, University, KyotQ (Japan).

Selected References

Baijal, H. N. 1958. Entomological Survey of Himalaya, pt. XXVln, Nival Collembola from North West Himalaya. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci India, (B) 29 (5): 349-360.

Choudhuri, D. K. 1963. Temperature and its effect on the three species of the genus Onychiurus Collembola Proc. Zool. Soc., Calcutta, 16 (1) : 97-117.

Denis, J. R. 1936. Yale North Indian E~pedition; Report on Collembola. Mem. Com. Acad. ArtS' and Sci., 10 : 261-282.

Imms, A. D. 1912. On some Collembolan from India, Burma and Ceylon with a catalogue of the oriental speCies of the order. Proc. Zool. Soc. London, 1 : 80-125, pIs. vi-xii. Maynard, E. A. 1951. A monograph of the Collembola of the New York State, Ithaca. : xxii + 339 pp. Comstook Publising Company Inc., Ithaca, New York. Mukerji, D. 1932. Description of a new species of Collembola and its anatomy. Rec.lndian Mus., 34 : 47-79. Prabhoo, N. R. 1971. Soil and litter Collembola of South India I. Arthropleona. Oriental Ins. 5 : 1-46; n. Symphypleona, Oriental Ins." 5 (1) : 243-269. Richards, W. R. 1966.

Generic classification, evolution and biogeography of the Sminthuridae of the world (Collembola). Entom. Soc. Canada, No. 53 : 1-54. Salmon J. T. 1951. Keys and bibliography to the Collembola. Zoology publication, Victoria

Univ. College, New Zealand, 8 : 1-SO, First supplement-(1956) : 1-35. Yosii, R. 1966. Collembola of Himalaya. Jour. College of Sci. Chiba univ. Nat. sci. series, 4 (4) : 461-531.

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