- Last updated on 2008.08.03 by Frans Janssens
Checklist of the Collembola: Note on the first record of Collembola in the World

Frans Janssens, Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, B-2020, Belgium


Rusek (2002:202) discussed an interesting, unusual historical record from the territory of the former Czechoslovakia, that, he claims, is the first record of Collembola in the World.

Fig.1 First record of 'Collembola' in the World (Mollerus, 1673)

This record was made on November 20th, 1672, in Central Slovakia, not by an anonymous observer as Rusek (2002:202) claims, but by... .

Peter Lawrence discovered this interesting record in the Entomological Department of the British Museum of Natural History in London, where a copy of an origninal document was kept (see Fig.1).

Prof. E. Christian in Vienna transcribed the old German hand-written (Schwabach) text into readable text.

With an old, detailed map of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, Rusek was able to locate this record in the vicinity of Banská Bystrica.

The transcribed text on the drawing is:
"Aigentlich und wahrhaffter Abriss der Wirmer, welche bei Neusol gegen Windisch Lipsch den 20. November 1672 mit reinem Schnee gefallen und das ganze Veld bedeckt, so bis am dritten Tag gelebt, in welcher Zeuth die grossen von den Schwachen angegriffen und theils aufgefressen worden."
"Own and true drawing of the worms, which fell with the clean snow near Banská Bystrica facing Slovenská L'upca on November 20th, 1672 and covered the whole field, and lived so to the third day, in which time the larger were attacked by the smaller and partly have been eaten."

Rusek concludes from the text that this was a mass occurrence of Collembola on snow. And from the drawing, he recognizes a larva of a Cantharidae beetle. From the drawing he concludes that two species of Collembola probably occurred on the snow. The thickest creatures could belong to Hypogastrura socialis, and the slimmer ones to the genus Isotoma. In this genus, Isotoma hiemalis often occurs on snow in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Rusek considers it the oldest record of Collembola in the World (???Rusek 1987???).

Prof. E. Christian informed Rusek after the presentation of his contribution at the tenth International Colloquium on Apterygota, Ceské Budejovice 2000, that the original book with the mentioned record of Collembola on snow was written by Mollerus (1673) and is deposited in the showroom of the Austrian National Library at Vienna.

It is also the first known record of springtails on snow (the oldest records of occurrence of insects on snow are known from Aristoteles ca. 320 BCE and Plinius ca. 77 CE, but without closer specification of the group.


In this paper we will challenge Rusek's interpretation of the creatures shown on the drawing.
  1. it is clear from at least 3 specimens represented on the drawing that the mouthparts are distinctly visible in the shape of a beak; this excludes Collembola which have internal mouthparts.
  2. all specimens distinctly have legs with 2 parallel equally sized claws; this excludes Collembola which have only one claw and a smaller empodium opposed to it.
  3. the jaggy legs represent clearly long legs, with lots of segments and long tarsi, not the short legs of Hypogastrura or Isotoma.
  4. some specimens have a tapering pointed posterior termination of the body, while others have a rounded termination. This might suggest Collembola specimens with extended and flexed furca. But the pointed termination can hardly be confused with the extended furca of Collembola, in which case at least 2 parallel pointed terminations would have been drawn.
  5. there are 4 specimens without antennae, 2 specimens with 3 'antennae', and 2 specimens with 4 'antennae'; Collembola have two antennae.
  6. the larva represented on the drawing has 6 pairs of legs, while the cantharid beetle larva has only 3 pair of legs; so it is excluded.

Therefore, we are convinced that the specimens represented in this graphical record are not Collembola.


The full reference to Moller's publication of 1673 according to Dryander (1796:217):
Mollerus Daniel Guilielmus. Meditatio de Insectis quibusdam Hungaricis prodigiosis, anno proxime praeterito ex aëre una cum nive in agros delapsis. Francofurti ad Moen. 1673. 12. Pagg. 120. tabb. ligno incisae 2.

Moller (1673) cited from Gehler (1834:1225) apparently documents an 'insect-rain' in 1672:
"Anno 1672 den 20sten Novbr. ereignete sich bei Neusohl in Ungarn, wie auch um Eperies, ein sehr heftiges Schneewetter, da dann unter demselben eine unzählige Menge abscheulicher gelber und schwarzer, mit ziemlicher Grösse begapter Würmer continuirlich aus der Luft auf die Erde gefallen, dass da weit und breit herumliegende Land zum Erschrecken und Erstaunen der Einwohner damit bedeckt worden. Sie haben gegen drei Tage continuirlich gelebt, sind hin und wieder häufig gekrochen, haben einander feindlich angefallen, also dass endlich die, um ein Merkliches überwältigt, zerbissen und gar ausgefressen worden.
Dan. Guilielm. Molleri meditatio de insectis quibusdam hungaricis prodigiosis, anno proxime praeterito ex aëre una cum nive in agros delapsis. Francof. 1673."
Gehler says further "Eine von ihm hinzugefügte nähere Beschreibung der verschiednen Thierchen übergehe ich." Therefore we need to see the original publication of Moller to learn more about the described creatures in more detail.

Who was this Moller? From his biography in Frères (1861:905-906):

"MOLLER (Daniel-Guillaume comte), érudit allemand, né à Presbourg, le 26 mai 1642, mort à Altorf, le 25 février 1712. Fils d'un joaillier, il étudia à Wittemberg, fut reçu maître es arts en 1662, parcourut la Hollande, l'Angleterre, la Pologne et la Prusse, et alla suivre en 1664 les cours de théologie à Strasbourg. Il visita ensuite la Suisse, la France et l'Italie. De retour à Presbourg en 1670, il y fut nommé sous-co-recleur au gymnase; envoyé l'année suivante à Vienne par les protestants, ses coreligionnaires, pour y réclamer auprès de l'empereur contre les vexations des autorités, non seulement il ne réussit pas dans sa mission, mais il se vit forcé de quitter l'Autriche. Il se fixa à Altorf, où il obtint en 1674 les chaires d'histoire et de métaphysique. Il reçut de l'empereur Léopold le laurier poétique et la dignité de comte palatin.
Parmi ses nombreux écrits nous citerons :

Moller a aussi publié : O. "

Collembola hypothesis

Brauer (1855:22):
"Bekanntlich ist die Erscheining dieser Thiere auf Schnee nichts Neues und das älteste mit darauf hindeutende Abbildungen versehene Werk ist das von Moller 1673. Meditatio de Insectis quibusdam Hungaricis prodigiosis anno proxime praeterito ex aere una cum nive in agros delapsis. Frankfurti ad Moenum apud D. Fieret."
Brauer seems to interprete the record of 'snow-worms' of Moller (1673) as Collembola...

Alternative hypothesis: Boreidae

Fig.2. Female Boreus hyemalis from the UK.
2008.07.15 © Key, R.
Although Collembola are known to cover snow fields and may turn them from white into black fields, there is at least one other alternative 'snow flea' that can explain what the observer in 1672 recorded, and that are Boreidae. Boreidae is a family of wingless Mecoptera that are active on snow.
  1. Boreidae have a distinct beak
  2. female Boreidae have a pointed ovipositor (see Fig.2)
  3. Boreidae have long thin legs, with 2 claws
  4. Boreidae have antennae and maxillar palps
  5. the larva of Boreidae are catterpilar-like with many pairs of legs

Snow scorpionflies (Boreidae), also known as snow fleas, are a very small family of Scorpionflies, containing only around 30 species, all of which are boreal or high-altitude species in the Northern Hemisphere.
These insects are small (typically 6 mm or less), with the wings reduced to bristles or absent, and they are somewhat laterally compressed, so there is in fact some resemblance to fleas. They are most commonly active during the winter months, towards the transition into spring, and the larvae typically feed on mosses. The adults will often disperse between breeding areas by walking across the open snow, thus the common name. The males use their bristle-like wings to help grasp the female while mating.

Some European members of the Boreidae

Winter Scorpion Fly or Snow Flea - Boreus hyemalis
Description. Adults wingless, usually under 3mm long, and dark glossy brown in colour. Wings reduced to two pairs of bristle-like structures in the male and to one pair of scale-like structures in the female. The female has a prominent ovipositor at the end of the abdomen and resembles a minute cricket.
Biology. Adults appear in autumn and winter. They are most often seen on the snow. This feature and their jumping ability, is responsible for the common name of 'Snow Flea'.

Fig.3. Boreus hyemalis
2008.07.15 © Key, R.
Distorted image
Fig.4. "Begapter Würmer"
After Mollerus D.G. 1673
Visual pattern matching image analysis.
In Fig.3, the picture of the female specimen with long ovipositor has been digitally postprocessed: the image of the female specimen in Fig.2 has been compressed width-wise and is left-right mirrored. With this distortion the image matches well with the thickest specimens of the "begapter Würmer" (=?worms with beak?) on the drawing of Mollerus (1673) (Fig.1). In the distorted image, the specimen appears to have no antennae, and 6 long jaggy legs, as represented on the drawing of Mollerus (see Fig.4 for a cut-out of such a specimen). Note also the matching distinct beak, eyes and pale venter.

Alternative hypothesis: Chionea

Chionea is a genus of wingless limoniid crane flies. It consists of two subgenera, the holarctic Chionea and palaearctic Sphaeconophilus. About 40 species are currently recognized in the northern hemisphere, but there are probably several undescribed species. They are commonly called snow flies.

Adults occur during winter, where they can be observed walking over snow. Male C. alexandriana are about seven millimeters long.

Some European Chionea


I thank Robert Key for his contribution.