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Word of the Week: Protura

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Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Friday to amp up your nature vocabulary!

Protura [pro-tu-ra] (noun): very small, soil-dwelling animals.

Sometimes nicknamed coneheads, protura are tiny (<2 mm long) animals that have no eyes, wings, or antennae, and are white or pale brown in colour. They are considered hexapods (meaning they have six legs), and their front pair of legs serve as a sensory function.

Their name comes from the Greek words “proto-“ (meaning first, or primitive), and “ura” (meaning tail). There are nearly 800 species of this animal, but they are so tiny that they were only first spotted in the 20th century!

Protura are often found in soil, mosses, and leaf litter of moist temperate forests, and have also been observed under rocks and in animal burrows. They usually live in the uppermost areas of the soil, and some migratory species will move to deeper layers for the winter.

Though they may be small, protura play a significant role in decomposition by breaking down organic material and recycling the nutrients back into the soil. It’s hard to imagine all the processes that go into creating healthy soil!