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Soil Arthropods

What They Are and A Few Interesting Facts

  • Soil arthropods are invertebrates, meaning they don't have a spinal column. Their legs are jointed. If you saw one, you'd probably call them something very scientific, such as "bugs."
  • Soil arthropods can be microscopic or quite large (i.e., large enough to cause a moment of panic if you find one crawling up your pant leg).
  • There are lots of different arthropods:
    • insects, such as ants and springtails
    • crustaceans, such as sowbugs
    • arachnids, such as spiders and mites
    • myriapods, such as centipedes and millipedes
    • scorpions

  • Arthropods perform many different functions in the soil community. Some are shredders, others predators. Some arthropods eat plants, while others feed strictly on fungus.

Why They Are Important

  • They stir up and churn the soil, mixing in air (aerating), which is needed by other organisms in the soil community.
  • They shred organic matter into small pieces, assisting other soil organisms in the decomposition process.
  • They regulate populations of other soil organisms, like protozoa, which help maintain a healthy soil food web and control disease-causing organisms. In turn, soil arthropods make a nice dinner for larger animals such as burrowing mammals, birds, and lizards.
  • They help distribute beneficial microbes in the soil.
  • Through consumption, digestion, and excretion of soil organic matter, soil arthropods help improve soil structure and change nutrients into forms available to plants.

Learn More!

Moldenke, Andrew R. 1998. The soil biology primer, soil arthropods. USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil Quality Institute.

Moldenke, Andy. 1993. Denizens of the soil: small, but critical. Natural Resources News-Special Edition-August, 1993.

Nash, M. H. and W.G. Whitford. 1995. Subterranean termites: regulators of soil organic matter in the Chihuahuan desert. Biolog. Fertil. Soils 19: 15-18.

Whitford, Walter G. 1991. Subterranean termites and long-term productivity of desert rangelands. Sociobiology 19: (1 ) 235-243.






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Microscopic view of Springtail
Photo credit:  SSSA


Male Ologamasid mite
Photo credit:  Dr. David Evans Walter, Department of Zoology & Entomology, The University of Queensland, Australia


Basket mite
Photo credit:  Dr. David Evans Walter, Department of Zoology & Entomology, The University of Queensland, Australia


Ant lion waiting for prey
Photo credit:  Bill Chissoe, SR Noble Electron Microscopy Lab of the Univerity of Oklahoma


Harvester ant mound
Photo credit: BLM


Harvester ants are granivores (they eat seeds)
Photo credit: Jim Munger,
Boise State University


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