The Drosera and the Hexapod
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On February 18, 2021, I collected a couple of tiny sundews from a residential lot in my neighborhood for a mid-winter, close-up look at the leaf surfaces. (These turned out to be Drosera capillaris). The first thing I noticed was that the tiny drops of liquid at the tips of the hairs (trichomes) were not in evidence as would be the case in warmer weather (see first image for comparison). As described in a booklet from the Croatan National Forest, “The numerous hairs on the leaves are tipped with glands that secrete a glistening, sticky substance which appears as tiny droplets. This material contains an anesthetic that assists in subduing the victim.”
The second thing I noticed was a very tiny insect that appeared to be struggling to extricate itself from its position on the leaf surface. (Second image.) The struggle went on for a while, until the insect gave up, went to sleep or perhaps was subdued by traces of the anesthetic material. Interestingly for me, The insect turned out to be something other than an insect – a springtail, according to Elsa Youngsteadt of NC State. Springtails are in the class Collembola, under the subphyllum Hexapoda, and are now considered to be very tiny soil animals rather than insects. According to Youngsteadt, they vary greatly in appearance, so some springtails may resemble the one in our image, but many others won’t. Springtails, also known as snow fleas, have a known ability to survive cold temperatures. In our ecosystem they are valuable for helping to break down and decompose dead vegetation.