Pseudosinella immaculata, copyright Andy Murray.

Belongs within: Entomobryidae.

The lonely life of the cave collembolan
Published 13 August 2017

For a few weeks last year, I had the job of sorting and identifying a collection of Collembola, springtails. Prior to doing this work, I had only the vaguest of understandings of springtail diversity: I knew that there were the round blobby ones, the long thin ones, and the ones that look a bit like sausages, but that was about as far as it went. Needless to say, there’s a bit more to it than that.

Pseudosinella immaculata, copyright Andy Murray.

Pseudosinella is the largest genus of Collembola currently recognised, with over 280 described species. The greater number of those species are in Europe and North America, but various Pseudosinella have also been described from other regions of the world (there don’t appear to be any from South America, but then I don’t know how thoroughly anyone’s looked). Pseudosinella species are mostly associated with subterranean habitats, from soil and litter to deep caves, with the highest diversity in the latter. According to a key at, Pseudosinella are distinguished from related genera by having reduced eyes (with six or fewer ommatidia, as opposed to the eight ommatidia of other genera), and a bidentate mucro lacking a projecting lamella (the mucro is the claw-like structure at the end of the furcula, the posteroventral prong that forms a springtail’s ‘spring’). The key also distinguishes Pseudosinella from the similar genus Rambutsinella by it’s not having the fourth antennal segment swollen as in the latter, but Bernard et al. (2015) described the species Pseudosinella hahoteana as also having the fourth antennal segment swollen so I’m not sure how reliable that feature is. Pseudosinella is very similar to another genus Lepidocyrtus, the main difference between the two being Pseudosinella‘s reduced eyes, and more than one author has raised the possibility that Pseudosinella may be a polyphyletic assemblage derived from Lepidocyrtus adapted for life underground.

As well as the reduced eyes, Pseudosinella tend to show a number of other features commonly associated with a subterranean lifestyle, such as a pale coloration and relatively elongate appendages. The claws of the feet also tend to become modified, with the larger of the two becoming longer and progressively narrower (Christiansen 1988). This latter feature is probably an adaptation to movement on the wet surfaces that predominate in caves. At a moderate length, the claws dig into the substrate surface more than those of surface-dwelling forms, allowing greater grip. At longer lengths, the claws are suited to allow the springtail to walk over the surface of the water itself (most springtails float on water surfaces due to their small size and low density, but not all can move with purpose in this position).

Pseudosinella hahoteana, from Bernard et al. (2015). Scale bar = 200 µm.

The aforementioned Pseudosinella hahoteana is worthy of extra attention, as it is one of a half-dozen springtail species endemic to caves on Rapa Nui, the landmass previously known as Easter Island. Many of you will be aware of the ecological catastrophe that beset Rapa Nui following human settlement, as its entire forest covering was cleared away. As a result of this clearing, the native fauna was also all but wiped out; no vertebrates survive, and of about 400 arthropods known from the island only about twenty are indigenous (Bernard et al. 2015). As such, the handful of minute animals clinging to survival in patches of ferns and moss at the entrance to caves represent a significant proportion of Rapa Nui’s surviving native fauna.

Systematics of Pseudosinella
<==Pseudosinella Schäffer 1897CB80 [incl. Lepidiaphanus Salmon 1949S-AB08, Troglosinella Delamare 1949CB80]
    |--*P. immaculata (Lie-Pettersen 1897) [=Tullbergia immaculata]CB80
    |--P. aera Christiansen & Bellinger 1980CB80
    |--P. alba (Packard 1873)CB80 (see below for synonymy)
    |--P. argentea Folsom 1902CB80
    |--P. attenuata Bonet 1934 (n. d.)CB80
    |--P. cavernarum (Moniez 1893)CB80 [=Sira cavernarumCB80, Lepidocyrtus cavernarumW39]
    |--P. certa Christiansen & Bellinger 1980CB80
    |--P. christianseni Salmon 1964CB80
    |--P. collina Wray 1952CB80
    |--P. decemoculata (Guthrie 1903) (n. d.) [=Lepidocyrtus decemoculatus]CB80
    |--P. decipiens Denis 1925CB80
    |--P. dubia Christiansen 1961CB80
    |--P. duodecimocellata Handschin 1928CB80
    |--P. duodecimpunctata Denis 1931 [=Lepidocyrtus duodecimpunctatus]CB80
    |--P. encrusae Gisin & da Gama 1969DB21
    |--P. espana Christiansen 1961CB80
    |--P. fasciata Womersley 1934W39
    |--P. folsomi (Mills 1931) [=Lepidocyrtus folsomi]CB80
    |--P. gisini Christiansen 1961CB80
    |--P. hirsuta (Delamare 1949) [=*Troglosinella hirsuta]CB80
    |--P. insubricaV73
    |--P. martelli (Carpenter 1895) [=Cyphoderus martelli]W39
    |--P. nata Christiansen & Bellinger 1980CB80
    |--P. octopunctata Börner 1901CB80
    |--P. orba Christiansen 1961CB80
    |--P. pecki Christiansen & Bellinger 1980CB80
    |--P. petterseni Borner 1901CB80
    |--P. rolfsi Mills 1932 [=Lepidocyrtus rolfsi]CB80
    |--P. sera Christiansen & Bellinger 1980CB80
    |--P. sexoculata Schött 1902 (see below for synonymy)CB80
    |--P. spinosa (Delamare 1949) [=Troglosinella spinosa]CB80
    |--P. testa Christiansen & Bellinger 1980CB80
    |--P. unioculata Womersley 1934W39
    |--P. violenta (Folsom 1924) [=Lepidocyrtus violentus; incl. P. folsomi Denis 1931 non L. folsomi Mills 1931]CB80
    `--P. vita Christiansen & Bellinger 1980CB80

Pseudosinella alba (Packard 1873)CB80 [=Lepidocyrtus albusCB80, Sira (Pseudosinella) albaS00; incl. Tullbergia ocellata Lie-Pettersen 1896S00, Pettersenia ocellataS00]

Pseudosinella sexoculata Schött 1902 [=Lepidocyrtus sexoculatus; incl. Entomobrya (Sinella) aglis Harvey 1900, Lepidocyrtus sexoculatus Guthrie 1903 non P. sexoculata Schött 1902]CB80

*Type species of generic name indicated


Bernard, E. C., F. N. Soto-Adames & J. J. Wynne. 2015. Collembola of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) with descriptions of five endemic cave-restricted species. Zootaxa 3949 (2): 239–267.

Christiansen, K. 1988. Pseudosinella revisited (Collembola, Entomobryinae). Int. J. Speleol. 17: 1–29.

[CB80] Christiansen, K., & P. Bellinger. 1980. The Collembola of North America north of the Rio Grande: A taxonomic analysis vol. 3. Family Entomobryidae. Grinnell College: Grinnell (Iowa).

[DB21] Derkarabetian, S., C. M. Baker, M. Hedin, C. E. Prieto & G. Giribet. 2021. Phylogenomic re-evaluation of Triaenonychoidea (Opiliones: Laniatores), and systematics of Triaenonychidae, including new families, genera and species. Invertebrate Systematics 35: 133–157.

[S-AB08] Soto-Adames, F. N., J.-A. Barra, K. Christiansen & R. Jordana. 2008. Suprageneric classification of Collembola Entomobryomorpha. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 101 (3): 501–513.

[V73] Vuilleumier, F. 1973. Insular biogeography in continental regions. II. Cave faunas from Tessin, southern Switzerland. Systematic Zoology 22 (1): 64–76.

[W39] Womersley, H. 1939. Primitive Insects of South Australia: Silverfish, springtails, and their allies. South Australian Branch of the British Science Guild: Adelaide.

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