Habits and Traits of Springtails
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Springtail. – Flickr user Andy Murray (CC by SA license)
Springtail. Flickr user Andy Murray (CC by SA license)
By Debbie Hadley
The springtails were once considered to be primitive insects, but are now usually classified as hexapods in the order Collembola. The name Collembola means “glue wedge,” a reference to a small structure called a collophore on the abdomen. Scientists once believed this appendage helped the insect adhere to a surface. Today, scientists think the collophore absorbs moisture from the environment.
Springtails have chewing mouthparts that are concealed within their heads, and most species feed on decaying fungi, bacteria, or algae. Some carnivorous species eat other springtails. Additional identifying traits of the springtails include short antennae and simple eyes known as ommatidia (if eyes are present at all). Their bodies are frequently covered in scales. Collembola come in a wide range of colors, though most are tan to brown.
Springtails are so named for the spring-like action of a special structure called a furcula, which folds beneath the abdomen.
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The furcula enables the springtail to jump. When threatened, the springtail will whip its furcula against the ground to propel itself backwards, into the air and away from harm.
Habitat and Distribution:
Springtails live in a broad range of habitats – ponds, grasslands, caves, snowfields, soils, and even people’s homes. The majority of species inhabit soils and act as decomposers of decaying plant material. They are encountered almost worldwide.
Major Families in the Order:
Hypogastruridae – elongate-bodied springtails
Isotomidae – smooth springtails
Entomobryidae – slender springtails
Sminthuridae – globular springtails
Poduridae – water springtails
Species of Interest:
Pogonognathellus flavescens is an unusually large springtail found under logs and leaf litter.
Hypogastrura nivicola, one of the springtails known as “snow fleas,” swarm on the snow.
Podura aquatica is the only named species in the Poduridae family.
Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, by Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman
Collembola – Dr. John Meyer, Department of Entomology, North Carolina State University
Borror and Delong’s Introduction to the Study of Insects, 7th edition, by Charles A. Triplehorn and Norman F.
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Monitor outdoor wooden structures for signs of infestation.
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Facts, Identification and Control
Springtails are tiny insects. Their size ranges from 0.25 to 6 mm. They get their name from a spring-loaded structure, called the furcula, located on the underside of their abdomen. When the insect is disturbed, the furcula is released causing the insect to be flung into the air. One jump can cover 10 centimeters.
Behavior, Diet & Habits
Springtails normally live in damp soil. They eat mold and fungus. They are common in flowerbeds, under logs, paving stones and landscape timbers. Woodpiles are also a common place for springtails to hide.
Springtails lose water through the surface of their body. If their environment becomes dry, they try to migrate to a wetter place. They sometimes enter homes under door thresholds. When they get inside, they go to humid areas. Rooms that offer the needed moisture often are basements, kitchens and bathrooms. They also find areas where there has been moisture damage. Springtails have been found inside walls where a pipe has been leaking. They have also been found in furniture that has become wet and mildewed. Overwatered potted plants and planter boxes are also places where springtails live.
Springtails do not bite or sting people. They do not damage buildings or the contents. They develop quickly. It is common to find springtails in very large numbers. The fact that there can be thousands of jumping insects in an area can be very distressing to homeowners.
When the dampness is corrected, the springtails disappear very quickly. Eliminating dampness is very important in preventing or eliminating springtails. A thorough inspection is the first step.
Springtail males place a sperm-containing structure on the ground called a spermatophore. Females then inseminate themselves with it. Females deposit individual eggs or clusters of eggs in damp locations. Life cycle from egg to adult varies, depending on species.
Signs of a Springtail Infestation
If springtails have been a problem in the kitchen, start inspecting under the sink. Empty the cabinet and check the drainpipe. If it has been leaking, there could be mold or mildew present. Dry the cabinet completely to discourage the springtails.
If springtails have been active in the bathroom, start the inspection under the sink. Also inspect the trap behind the tub for leaking pipes. Examine tile walls carefully. If there is missing grout, mildew can develop behind the tiles.
In the basement, check the walls for dampness. It may be necessary to get a waterproofing compound for the basement walls. The specialists at the home store can point out the right product. A dehumidifier can be helpful to get rid of dampness in a basement.
During the outside inspection, look for damp places where springtails could occur. Stack firewood up off of the ground and move it away from the house. Move mulch away from the foundation. Create a bare zone next to the foundation of 15 cm or more. If the zone is dry and free of leaves and mulch, springtails and other pests will not find it as attractive.
Make sure gutters are cleaned out. Downspouts should drain away from the foundation. If necessary, trim tree limbs that cause damp shady areas near the foundation.
Check exterior doors to be sure they close properly. Replace weather stripping that is missing or damaged. Check crawl space vents to be sure they are open to allow air circulation. Access openings into crawl spaces should have a door that closes tightly.
When the dampness has been eliminated, the springtails will leave quickly or they will die.
How Orkin treats for Springtails
Springtails are very small insects that jump around when disturbed, much like fleas. Their normal habitat is the interface between soil and plant debris, but may be found almost anywhere there is high moisture content. Springtails feed on mold and fungi, another reason why they prefer moist habitats. While usually not a serious pest problem when outside, springtails can become a nuisance if they get inside and infest moist areas within a building’s interior.
If you suspect you have a springtail problem, contact your pest management professional and ask for an inspection and pest identification. If your pest management professional determines the culprits are springtails, he or she will prepare an integrated treatment program designed to provide educational information plus effective nonchemical and chemical control measures.
As mentioned above, springtails usually are not a major exterior problem. However, when their exterior habitat begins to dry, these insects will often move inside. Therefore, your springtail treatment plan will likely focus on what is needed for both exterior and interior springtail treatment.
Exterior treatment if needed may include:
Locating where persistent, excessive moisture occurs and taking actions to reduce the amount of moisture there. For example, your pest management professional might recommend fixing any moisture leaks or areas of excessive water runoff from downspouts, reducing the thickness of moisture holding mulch or leaf litter and removing any wet wood or other debris. In some situations, using a labeled chemical product in areas where springtails are especially numerous and around the locations they use to enter the building may be required.
Interior treatment when needed may include:
Locating, drying out and treating places with excessive moisture, especially if the moist condition harbors mold or mildew growth. Such locations may include dampness around tubs and sinks or inside damp wall voids. In addition, using vacuums to remove adult springtails that are either alive or dead is helpful.