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Proturans are rare, small creatures. They undergo anamorphosis, in which they add segments posteriorly during development. No other insects undergo this type of metamorphosis. They are found in most areas around the world, residing in damp, dark habitats and feeding on decaying matter and other insects. Another unique feature is the telson tail, which is common in crustaceans but absent in other insects. The telson tail is used for locomotion and for defense.

Proturans are small in size, less than two millimeters long. They have a delicate and elongate body without pigment. the head is conically-shaped. The eyes and antennae are absent, but there is a pseudoculus (sensory organ) found on the head. The mouthparts are entognathous (exposed) and the mandibles and maxillae are slender. The adult abdomen has twelve segments. The front legs serve as the antennae. The forelegs are enlarged with many sensillae. The legs are made up of five segments. The gonopore is located between segments 11 and 12. The anus is terminal. They lack cerci. (Gullan and Cranston, 2000).

  • Suborder Eosentomoidea
    • Family Eosentomidae
      • Genus Eosentomon- 14 Species
  • Suborder Acerentomoidea
    • Family Protentomidae
      • Genus Hesperentomon- 5 Species
      • Genus Proturentomon- 4 Species
      • Genus Protentomon- 6 Species
    • Family Acerentomidae
      • Genus Acerentulus- 17 Species
      • Genus Maderentulus- 1 Species
      • Genus Gracilentulus- 2 Species
      • Genus Berberentulus- 3 Species
      • Genus Tuxenidia- 1 Species
      • Genus Acerella- 3 Species
      • Genus Acerentomon- 25 Species
      • Genus Tasmanentulus- 1 Species
      • Genus Yinentulus- 1 Species
      • Genus Kenyentulus- 1 Species
    (Nosek, 1973)

"Protura" comes from Greek words "proto-", meaning first, and "-ura", meaning tail. This refers to the absence of advanced structures in the tail end of the abdomen.
Synonym: Myrientomata (Gillott, 1980) Common Names: Proturans, Telson Tails (Wooten, 1984)

Taxonomic Category Scientific Name Common Name
Phylum Arthropoda Arthropods
Class Insecta Insects
Order Protura Proturan

Geographic distribution
N.C. State University Entomology Dept.

North America
Number of Families 3 4
Number of Species 20 ~500

Proturans are found all over the world, with the exception of arctic and Antarctic areas. They probably originated in moist, warm areas and later spread throughout the world. Evolution and distribution of Protura have been very slow processes. (Tuxen, 1985) There are four families and approximately 500 species worldwide. In North America, there are three families and 20 species.

Natural history
Proturans hatch as prelarva and are probably immobile. The prelarva has nine segments and underdeveloped mouthparts. There are three stages: protonymph, deutonymph, and tritonymph. The protonymph has nine segments and developed mouth and legs. The deutonymph has ten segments. The tritonymph has eleven segments, lesser setae and no external genitalia. Development occurs in soil or decaying wood. Immature Protura feed on mycorrhyza, moss and litter. (Tuxen, 1985)

The adult has 12 segments. The ideal habitat for Proturans is old leaf mold along the edge of woods. Adults feed on decaying matter, and may be found inhabiting with the nymphs for most of the year. (Ross, 1982) Some adults feed another insects by capturing prey with sharp claws and sucking out the insides. The telson (tail) may be used for locomotion but also has been used for defense. Proturans have been observed to curve the tail over the head and discharging a sticky secretion on enemies (Wooten, 1984).

Suring mating, the male deposits spermatophores. An unattended female collects the sperm. This is indirect fertilization. (Gullan and Cranston, 2000)>

How to encounter
Proturans can be collected by examining leaf mold and drying it. They can be preserved in 70% alcohol and mounted on slides. (Ross, 1982).

Links to other sites

  • Gillott, Cedric. Entomology. 1980: Plerum Press, New York.
  • Gullan, P.J. and P.S. Cranston. The Insects: An Outline of Entomology: Second Edition. 2000: Blackwell Science Unlimited.
  • Nosek, Josef. The European Protura. 1973: Museum D¹Histoire Naturelle, Geneve.
  • Ross, Herbert H., Charles A. and June R.P A Textbook of Entomology: Fourth Edition. 1982: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
  • Tuxen, S.L. Fauna of New Zealand: Protura. 1985: Science Information Publishing Centre, New Zealand.
  • Wooten, Anthony. Insects of the World. 1984: Blanford Press, New York.

This page written by Kari McLaughlin, Ecology major, University of Georgia, Athens. Thanks to Sabina Gupta, Denise Lim, and Dr. John Pickering for technical and web support in developing this page.

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