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Dr. Maria Minor
Wildlife & Ecology Group
Massey University
Palmerston North
New Zealand

+64-06-356-9099 ext.84833

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Heterojapyx, a large japygid Diplura, New Zealand.

Common name: diplurans, two-pronged bristletails.

Scientific name: phylum Arthropoda, class Diplura, from Greek “diplos”, two, and “ura”, tail — referring to two prominent abdominal cerci.


Diplura are a group of primitive wingless hexapods, sometimes considered a part of Insecta. Diplura are cryptic animals, blind and colourless, usually 0.3-1.0 cm in length, although largest species can reach 3-5 cm.

The body of diplurans is elongate, and subdivided into a head, a thorax with three pairs of walking legs, and a long segmented abdomen. The head bears a pair of long antennae with bead-like segments. All Diplura are eyeless. The ten-segmented abdomen ends with a pair of prominent abdominal appendages – cerci, which gave Diplura their name.

The head of a dipluran.

The pincer-like cerci of a japygid Diplura.

Within Diplura, several body types exist:

Campodeid Diplura, side view.

In japygid diplurans (superfamily Japygoidea) the abdominal cerci are modified into a pair of pincers, which are hardened and darker in colour than the whitish body. Japygid Diplura vary greatly in size, and can be quite large, robust, and conspicuous. The elongated body and pincer-like cerci of japygid Diplura may cause them to be confused with earwigs (Insecta: Dermaptera). Unlike earwigs, japygid Diplura are always eyeless, white apart from darker sclerotized cerci, and have neither wings nor elytra (small hardened wing covers).

Another type of dipluran are the campodeid Diplura (superfamily Campodeoidea). Campodeid Diplura are small, white in colour, and can be recognized by long filamentous segmented abdominal cerci, which break off easily. The third type are the species within superfamily Projapygoidea, with shortened, thick, segmented cerci.

Notes on biology

Diplura possess chewing mouthparts and feed on a variety of live prey and dead organic matter. Japygid Diplura are mainly predatory and use their pincer-like cerci to capture prey such as collembolans, soil isopods, small myriapods, insects and their larvae, and even other diplurans. They may also supplement their diet with fungal mycelia and plant debris. Campodeid Diplura have been found to feed on soil fungi, mites, collembolans, and other small soil invertebrates, as well as detritus. Some dipluran species are herbivorous and feed on plants and plant material.

The sexes are separate and, as in other primitive wingless hexapods, fertilization is external. The males produce packets of sperm (spermatophores) and randomly deposit them on a substrate. In campodeid Diplura, the spermatophore resembles a small globule, supported above the substrate by a short stalk. Females pick up the spermatophores and use them to fertilize their eggs, which they lay in small clusters in soil cavities or crevices in the substrate. Female campodeid Diplura abandon their eggs, but japygid Diplura are known to remain in the brood chamber with the egg cluster, protecting the eggs and the newborn larvae.

Development is direct, without metamorphosis. The eggs hatch into young Diplura, which resemble adults apart from smaller size, incomplete number of body setae, and the lack of reproductive organs. The development is slow, through a series of moults. Diplura continue to moult throughout their life, slowly increasing in size, and over the course of several moults are able to regenerate lost abdominal cerci, antennae, and legs – a feature unique for hexapods. Their life span is relatively short.

Where to find them?

In New Zealand Diplura are common inhabitants of forests, parks, gardens, grasslands, and shrublands. Diplurans can be found in the top layer of soil, in forest leaf litter, under stones and logs and in rotting wood. In other parts of the world, Diplura are often found in caves and have been found in the nests of ants and termites. Although larger species can be seen with a naked eye, smaller campodeid diplurans are often too small and fragile to be noticed and/or caught without damage. These Diplura are best collected using a Berlese (Tullgren) funnel. Diplura can be preserved and stored in 75% alcohol.

Distribution and conservation

Diplura are distributed worldwide, from the tropics to temperate zones. There are around 800 known species, 11 of which occur in Great Britain and 70 in North America. Diplurans are common inhabitants of soil and leaf litter, and are a part of the soil community of decomposers that help break down and recycle organic nutrients.

New Zealand Diplura are very poorly studied, with little information available on their biodiversity, ecology, or distribution. Diplura have no conservation status in New Zealand, although large japygid Diplura are often protected in other countries. A dipluran Plusiocampa fieldingi (Campodeidae) has been placed on the list of rare species by the state of Western Virginia, USA. Some dipluran species pose an agricultural threat. For example, the dipluran Octostigma herbivora (Projapygidae) has been listed as a potential pest species by the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

Included images:

Family Heterojapygidae
Heterojapyx sp. - Ohinetonga Scenic Reserve, TO, North Island
Unidentified species - Wanganui National Park, WI, North Island
Unidentified species - Wanganui National Park, WI, North Island

Further information on New Zealand Diplura:

Ferguson, L.M. 1990. Insecta: Diplura. In: Dindal D.L. (ed.). Soil Biology Guide. J. Wiley & Sons, New York, p. 951-963.

Wise, K.A.J. 1977. A synonymic checklist of the Hexapoda of the New Zealand sub-region. The smaller orders. Bulletin of the Auckland Institute and Museum, No. 11, 176 pp.

Diplura Resources on the Web

Biodiversity Explorer: Order Diplura, brief overview of Diplura biology.

Compendium of Hexapoda Classes and Orders: Diplura, by John R. Meyer, NC State University, includes information on classification, life history and ecology, distribution, physical features, economic importance, major families and links to other sites.

Biology, Natural History and Ecology of Diplura, by Sharmeen Hossain, University of Georgia, Athens, contains information on phylogeny, distribution, identification, natural history, how to encounter and links to other sites.

The Tree of Life: Diplura, description of phylogenetic relationships of Diplura and good source of references and links.

The Diplurans (Diplura) of South Africa, compiled by Martin H. Villet, Rhodes University, lists species of South African Diplura.

Ecowatch: Diplura, CSIRO, gives a brief description of the life cycle, feeding and habitat of Australian Diplura.

Nomina Insecta Nearctica: Diplura, a list of North American Diplura.

Order Diplura - Two-pronged Bristletails, Kendall Bioresearch Services, gives some information about Diplura of the British Isles.

Gordon Ramel’s Diplura Page, contains information on biology and taxonomy of Diplura.

The Orders and Selected Families of Insects: Diplura, by F. W. Ravlin, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, a general fact sheet on Diplura.

Browse our

NZ Diplura

Links and Resources:

Biodiversity Explorer: Order Diplura

Compendium of Hexapoda Classes and Orders: Diplura

Biology, Natural History and Ecology of Diplura

The Tree of Life: Diplura

The Diplurans (Diplura) of South Africa

Ecowatch: Diplura

Nomina Insecta Nearctica: Diplura

Order Diplura - Two-pronged Bristletails

Gordon Ramel’s Diplura Page

The Orders and Selected Families of Insects: Diplura


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