Collembola and Morgellons
Collembola and morgellons Information
None of the images presented in Altschuler et al. (2004), except possibly the “enhanced” version of Figure 2 (p. 91), bear the slightest resemblance to any springtail or springtail body parts, nor can the pieces in Figs. 1 and 3 be reasonably construed to represent a part of any particular organism. Having examined many Collembola from Canadian and Burmese Cretaceous amber, as well as thousands of preserved pitfall trap and Tullgren funnel-extracted specimens, we can categorically state that the fossils and collected specimens are far more recognizable as Collembola than are these photographed scrapings.
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Collembola and morgellons Review
Figure 2 is purported to represent a springtail, but this image received contrast enhancement to bring out a springtail-like blob. The authors also stated that “Identification of Collembola in scrapings…required intensive scrutiny of the photographs and was initially very difficult” (p. 89). Collembola simply are not that difficult to detect and if present should have been readily visible. Collembola are arthropods and have exoskeletons composed of a head and usually nine distinct
body segments; the mouthparts, especially, are sclerotized and should have been easily visible at the magnifications mentioned in the paper. The mere labeling of a vaguely recognizable blob, as in Fig. 2, does not validate the identification of the parts, which in this case is more similar to identifying animals by looking at clouds. Berenbaum (2005), referring to the Altschuler et al. paper, recognized
this mistaken identification as an example of pareidolia: a type of illusion or misperception involving a vague or obscure stimulus being perceived as something clear and distinct (Carroll 2008). Therefore, neither the original nor enhanced Figure 2 can be accepted as proof of springtails inhabiting human skin lesions.
Collembola and morgellons Cases
There are many records of Collembola found on humans (Janssens and Christiansen, 2007). Almost all of the validated cases have involved Collembola 538 ENTOMOLOGICAL NEWS in head hair. In most but not all of these cases, the people involved have been associated with horses, and it has been suggested, although never proven, that fungi associated with horses were growing on the hair and that Collembola were feeding on the fungi. In another interesting case in Sweden, a number of springtails were reported to inhabit the genital region of a woman experiencing a “nervous disorder,” including weak but annoying itching (Bryk 1955). Bryk’s review of the case suggests that the initial source of this infestation was poor hygiene or housekeeping, as the floor of the bathroom was damp and “the toilet brush was teeming with these parasites;” and Bryk himself discounted the ability of springtails to bite people. In all the above-mentioned cases, the springtails involved were one or more members of the family Entomobryidae, several members of which are often found in drier environments, including homes and hospitals, than most Collembola prefer.
There is a single clearly validated case of a biologist, who had been actively aspirating springtails in the Arctic, getting an infestation of Collembola in his nasal passages. In all of the cases mentioned above, large numbers of active Collembola were seen and could be collected easily. (The nasal passage infection became apparent when Collembola appeared abundantly
in nasal discharge.)
Other apparently dispassionate reports have lacked the necessary scientific rigor to be taken seriously. For instance, Amin (2003) presented an image (Fig. 5) of a supposed springtail from a human lesion, but this arthropod does not seem to have been examined by a specialist in the group, and certainly is no springtail.
If live Collembola are involved in the various infections, then the springtails should be visible to the unaided eye on the surface. To our knowledge, there is no recorded case of a Collembola burrowing in anything, anywhere, or found imbedded in any tissue. Only a few species of Collembola are known to live even commensally with other animals: two species of Coenaletidae with hermit crabs in the spaces between the animal and the adopted shell (Bellinger 1985); Cyphoderidae, commensal
with bees, ants, or termites (Hopkin 1997); and Axelsonia johnstoni (Isotomidae) from the gill chambers of a land crab on Java (Jordana 1997). Collembola are morphologically and physiologically ill-suited for burrowing.
Their respiration requires gaseous exchange through the cuticle, impossible if the specimen is surrounded by tissue. If there were forms burrowing in human tissue, they certainly would be highly specialized in form. Those that live in the soil are limited to the interstices of the soil between soil grains; those living on plants restrict themselves entirely to the surfaces.
Where soil particles have very small spaces between grains (e.g. some clays), Collembola do not occur. Thus, if Collembola were in fact the cause of the crawling sensation, they should be on the surface of the human skin, visible to the naked eye, and collectible. We have been deeply involved with analysis of these supposed infections for years.
Between us, we have studied hundreds of photographs and received over 200 samples of specimens and allegedly infected tissues; many of our colleagues here and overseas have had similar experiences. The samples have only one thing Volume 119, Number 5, November and December 2008 539 in common: none involved whole Collembola or, among the specimens and tissue samples, even springtail fragments. The photographs in Altschuler et al., supposedly of Collembola, require considerable imagination and cannot be taken as definitive evidence of human infestation by Collembola.
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