- Last updated on 2019.03.11 by Frans Janssens
Checklist of the Collembola: Paleontology

Kenneth A. Christiansen, Department of Biology, Grinnell College, PO Box V3, Grinnell, IA 50112-0806, USA
Frans Janssens, Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, B-2020, Belgium

Fig.3. Grinnellia ventis
Christiansen, K. & Nascimbene, P., 2006
The remarkably few fossil records of the Collembola extend geochronologically from the Lower Devonian (Hirst & Maulik, 1926) to the Pleistocene (Yosii, 1974) (Christiansen & Nascimbene, 2006:318).

Two extinct species are reported from the Paleozoic: Rhyniella praecursor Hirst & Maulik, 1926 from the Lower Devonian Rhynie Chert of Scotland (Siegenian period 397-391 mya (Westoll, 1977, cited from D'Haese, 2003:563), and Permobrya mirabilis Riek, 1976 from the Upper Permian of South Africa.

27 extinct species are reported from the Mesozoic:
Grinnellia ventis Christiansen & Nascimbene, 2006:320, Sminthuricinus deceptus Christiansen & Nascimbene, 2006:323, Mucrovirga incompleta Christiansen & Nascimbene, 2006:326, Sminthurconus grimaldi Christiansen & Nascimbene, 2006:329, Villusisotoma brevis Christiansen & Nascimbene, 2006:335, Villusisotoma longa Christiansen & Nascimbene, 2006:336, Proisotoma pettersonae Christiansen & Nascimbene, 2006:340, Burmisotoma lamellifera Christiansen & Nascimbene, 2006:342, Protoisotoma burma Christiansen & Nascimbene, 2006:343, Propachyotoma conica Christiansen & Nascimbene, 2006:344, Protodesoria granda Christiansen & Nascimbene, 2006:346, Protodontella minicornis Christiansen & Nascimbene, 2006:350, Praentomobrya avita Christiansen & Nascimbene, 2006:356, Cretacentomobrya burma Christiansen & Nascimbene, 2006:357, from Mid Cretaceous amber of Myanmar (Burma);
Pseudosminthurides stoechus Sánchez-García & Engel, 2016:4, Cretokatianna bucculenta Sánchez-García & Engel, 2016:7, Sphyrotheciscus senectus Sánchez-García & Engel, 2016:9, Archeallacma dolichopoda Sánchez-García & Engel, 2016:12, Katiannasminthurus xenopygus Sánchez-García & Engel, 2016:16, from Mid Cretaceous amber of Spain;
Protentomobrya walkeri Folsom, 1937 from Cretaceous amber of Canada;
Oncobrya decepta Christiansen & Pike, 2002, Entomocerus mirus Christiansen & Pike, 2002, Protoisotoma micromucra Christiansen & Pike, 2002, Pseudoxenylla fovealis Christiansen & Pike, 2002, Bellingeria cornua Christiansen & Pike, 2002, Brevimucronus anomalus Christiansen & Pike, 2002, Keratopygos megalos Christiansen & Pike, 2002 from Upper Cretaceous amber of Canada.

Fig.Sm. Sminthurus sp. in amber
from unknown location
Henderickx, H. © 2012.02.13
Fig.Pog. Pogonognathellus sp. in Baltic amber
from unknown location
Klug, G. © 2019.02.28
Four fossil deposits from the Cenozoic are known: the middle Eocene Baltic amber, the lower Miocene amber from Chiapas in Mexico, the lower Miocene amber from the Sierra Septentrional of the Dominican Republic, and the Pleistocene amber from Mizunami in Japan. All Cenozoic records have been assigned to extant genera (Christiansen & Pike, 2002:165-187). From the Eocene Baltic amber, 19 epedaphic species are known, with representatives of the extant genera Allacma, Entomobrya, Hypogastrura, Isotoma, Lepidocyrtus, Orchesella, Podura, Sminthurus, and Tomocerus (Weitschat & Wichard, 2002:86).

Fig.1 Seira sp. in Miocene amber
from the Dominican Republic
Christiansen, K. © 2008
Fig.2 Grinnellia ventis in Cretaceous amber
from Myanmar (Burma)
Christiansen, K. © 2008
While the specimens from the Cenozoic are generally very well preserved (see fig.1) those from the Cretaceous are almost all badly distorted (see fig.2) but can be reconstructed by optical sectioning and viewing from different angles (see fig.3).

Direct fossil evidence of Collembola before the Devonian is lacking (Lehmann & Hillmer, 1983 cited from Hopkin, 1997:23). The discovery of coprolites (fossil faeces) in Upper Silurian rocks of 412 million years in age, which could be derived from springtails (Edwards, Selden, Richardson & Axe, 1995), suggests that Collembola were an important component of the earliest terrestrial ecosystems (cited from Hopkin, 1997:23).

Rhyniella praecursor Hirst & Maulik, 1926, the oldest known collembolan fossil from the Devonian red sandstone Rhynie chert beds, Scotland, resembles extant Collembola up to such an extent that this might be an indication that Collembola reached their evolutionary climax already 400 million years ago. Tillyard (1928) concluded that Collembola are primary, ancestral, and archaic terrestrial arthropodans and not forms readapted by retrograde evolution as claimed by Handlirsch (1908) (cited from Handschin, 1955:41,49).
Collembola are living fossils (Handschin, 1955:49; Thibaud, 1970:188), relicts with halted or slowed down evolution (Thibaud, 1970:188).

Fig.Ps Pseudosminthurides stoechus in Cretaceous amber from Spain
After Sánchez-García, A. & Engel, M.S. 2016 Fig.1C
Mucro with distinct lamellae
There is good reason to believe that Collembola preserved in amber represent arboreal species. This includes the fact that most groups of specimens are found with amber containing tree parts and the fact that the samples from the Eocene on bear taxonomic resemblance to modern arboreal faunas. But this believe is challenged by Sánchez-García & Engel, 2016:21 given their discovery of the semi-aquatic Pseudosminthurides stoechus Sánchez-García & Engel, 2016:4 (fig.Ps).

There are a number of puzzling things about the fossil record of Collembola but three stand out.

The first is the rarity of Collembola in amber deposits. In studies with extant arboreal arthropod faunas, Collembola are usually found in both temperate and tropical forests and typically in great abundance. Strangely no Collembola have been found in many insect-rich amber faunas the world over. This includes a French deposit which consists mostly soil and litter organisms. In spite of this, as of the last compilation, the number of known extinct genera of Collembola found in the Cretaceous (24) is quite comparable to most groups of insects and is larger than many (Carpenter, 1992).

The second is that while all save one of the genera known from the Cretaceous and earlier are extinct, none of the genera from the Eocene on are extinct.

The third is that while Entomobryoidea are a very minor part of the Mesozoic arboreal fauna they are a very dominant segment of the Cenozoic and modern arboreal faunas (See Table 1).

GroupMid CretaceousLate CretaceousEoceneMiocenePleistoceneAverage Recent arboreal
Poduroidea26, 24%13, 15%5, 1%02, 13%5%
Symphypleona41, 38%6, 7%60, 14%2, 2%1, 7%14, 4%
Entomobryoidea4, 4%1, 1%284, 65%95, 78%6, 40%73.9%
Isotomidae36, 33%58, 69%13, 3%25, 20%4, 27%3.9%
Tomoceridae1, 1%3, 4%36, 8%01, 7%2.8%
Table 1. Identifiable specimens of Collembola of different suprageneric categories found in different periods (number, percentage)


We would like to thank the following authors, in chronological order, for the usage of their macrophotographs as illustrations : Hans Henderickx, and Günther Klug.