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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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Several of New Zealand Protura.

Common name: proturans.

Scientific name: phylum Arthropoda, class Protura — from Greek “pro”, first, and “ura”, tail.


Protura are among the smallest of wingless soil arthropods — usually 0.2-2.0 mm in length. Their body is divided into a head, a thorax with three pairs of walking legs, and a segmented abdomen. The first three abdominal segments bear very small appendages (only seen under a compound microscope).

There are no eyes or antennae on the head, and the head is quite small and narrow. The first pair of legs (forelegs) has sensory function, and is typically held extended forward, which can cause the forelegs to be easily mistaken for antennae. Protura are white, but the end of the abdomen and the tips of the forelegs are often light yellow. Some adults can be darker yellow all over, due to stronger sclerotization. Protura are considered to be a sister group to Collembola, and one of the oldest groups of terrestrial arthropods.

Eosentomon dawsoni (Protura) from native forest, Manawatu-Wanganui, New Zealand.

Gracilentulus gracilis (Protura) from Pinus radiata plantation, Manawatu-Wanganui, New Zealand.

Notes on biology

Very little is known about the biology of Protura — their diet, life history, interactions with other organisms and the role in the environment remain unknown. In culture, proturans have been observed feeding on mycorrhizal fungi. The details of proturan reproduction are also unknown. Development is direct, through a series of moults — juveniles resemble adults in general appearance, except for smaller size and fewer abdominal segments. Juvenile Protura also have incomplete sets of body setae and undeveloped reproductive organs.

Where to find them?

Protura can be found in the upper layers of soil, in leaf litter and decaying wood, underneath the bark on dead trees, in moss, and in other similar habitats. Some have been collected from ant nests, caves, and nests of small mammals. Although common, Protura are not routinely encountered in soil samples. Sometimes they are present in large numbers - population density of Protura in New Zealand can reach from several hundred to several thousand individuals per square meter; their distribution is very patchy.

Because of their small size and relative rarity, observing or collecting live proturans in the field is difficult. The most effective way to collect Protura is by using the Berlese funnel. Collected Protura can be preserved in 75% alcohol.

Distribution and conservation

Proturans are found world-wide in tropical and temperate regions; they have not been recorded in Antarctica or the Arctic. About 500 species have been described to date. Fourteen species of Protura are known from New Zealand (Tuxen, 1985). Five of these species are found elsewhere in the Southern hemisphere and are thought to originate from the super-continent Gondwana. Two species appear to have been introduced to New Zealand from Europe and nine species are endemic to New Zealand. In New Zealand, proturans can be found in native forests, in exotic Pinus radiata plantations, and in agricultural soil. Protura are poorly studied, and very little is known about New Zealand proturans, apart from species names. They are not protected.

Included images:

Family Acerentomidae
Gracilentulus sp. - Wanganui, WI, North Island (2 images)
Gracilentulus sp. - Wanganui, WI, North Island (4 images)
Gracilentulus sp. - Wanganui, WI, North Island (3 images)
Family Eosentomidae
Eosentomon sp. - Wanganui, WI, North Island (2 images)
Eosentomon sp. - Wanganui, WI, North Island (2 images)

Further information on New Zealand Protura:

Copeland T.P., Imadate G. 1990. Insecta: Protura. In: Dindal D.L. (ed.). Soil Biology Guide. J. Wiley & Sons, New York, p. 911-933.

Tuxen, S.L. 1986. Protura (Insecta). Fauna of New Zealand 9, 52 p.

Ramsay G.W., Tuxen S.L. 1978. Protura (Insecta) from the Kermadec Islands, and a redescription of Acerentulus nemoralis from Argentina. New Zealand Journal of Zoology 5, p. 601-606.

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 p.

Protura Resources on the Web

The Tree of Life - Protura, includes brief description and a good source of references, including links to other Protura sites.

Australian Faunal Directory: Checklist for Protura, a checklist of Australian species and a list of worldwide literature on Protura.

Japanese Protura, maintained by Osami Nakamura, includes a check-list and a taxonomic key to species of Protura found in Japan and Taiwan.

Nomina Insecta Nearctica - Protura, a checklist of North American Protura.

Protura, CSIRO, a brief but informative description.

Gordon Ramel's Protura page, contains some facts on biology of proturans.

Browse our

NZ Protura

Links and Resources:


The Tree of Life - Protura

Australian Faunal Directory: Protura

Japanese Protura

Check list of the World Protura

The Proturans (Protura) of South Africa

Nomina Insecta Nearctica - Protura


Gordon Ramel's Protura page


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