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Insect Identification Key
Order Protura: the telsontails

Enlarged forelegs
Notice the enlarged forelegs on this member of the order Protura. The species is Acerantomon_doderoi. Proturans typically hold their forelegs in the unusual posture shown here. Photo credit: Click here.

Based on your answers to the questions, you have identified your insect as being in the order Protura!

Members of this order include: the telsontails (aka coneheads or simply proturans).

Etymology: Protura comes from the Greek words proto, which means first or primitive, and oura, which means tail. This refers to the lack of cerci or other advanced structures at the end of the abdomen.

General characteristics:
• tiny (less than 2 mm in body length)
• enlarged forelegs
• pale, usually white or off-white, soft body
• cone-shaped head
• wingless
• eyeless
• no antennae
• possess a telson, which is an extra bit of abdomen-like segments at the end of the abdomen.
• small styli (“mini-legs”) on the first three segments of the abdomen
direct development (nymphs and adults nearly indistinguishable)

Number of recognized species worldwide: about 260

Basic ecology: Telsontails live in damp leaf litter and in the soil, sometimes nearly a foot deep. They typically use their forelegs as antennae, holding them up and forward to sense the environment. Telsontails feed on decaying plant matter, fungus and mold.

Kingdom Animalia
   Phylum Arthropoda
      Class Entognatha
         Order Protura

For a list of all of the orders in this key, click here: List of Orders.

Classification note: Like members of the orders Diplura and Collembola, telsontails are not insects. These three orders are sometimes grouped together within a class called Entognatha. Along with insects, which are in the class Insecta, they make up the subplylum Hexapoda, a reference to their six legs.

Formerly, Protura, Diplura and Collembola were grouped with the order Thysanura into the class Apterygota, and you may still come across this old classification system. To make things even more complicated, the order Thysanura is now known as Zygentoma!

The three orders were removed from class Apterygota and put into their own class once scientists determined that they were not in the evolutionary lineage of insects. In other words, these three orders did not give rise to modern-day insects. The class name Entognatha refers to the mouthparts, which are contained inside a pouch that is within the head (ento = inside or within, and gnatha = jaws). Scientists are still working out the tree of life for Protura, Diplura and Collembola. Some authorities have elevated one or more of the three orders into the class level: Class Protura, Class Diplura and Class Collembola.

Oops! If this doesn't appear to be the order for your insect, go back through the key and look more carefully at your insect while answering the questions again. Your perseverance will reward you!

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Photos at the top of this website are (from left to right): potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) — photo credit: Scott Bauer, U.S. Department of Agriculture; ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)— photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; sweat bee (Agapostemon splendens) — photo credit: Natalie Allen and Stephanie Kolski, U.S. Geological Survey; preying mantis, monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), hellgrammite (aka toe biter) larva and eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) — photo credit: Leslie Mertz; Halloween pennant (Celithemis eponina) — photo credit: Kay Meng, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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