Springtails sometimes cause alarm to homeowners when seen outdoors in enormous numbers, appearing as “piles of soot” in driveways, backyards, on mud puddle surfaces, etc. Occasionally, they enter the home where dampness occurs such as in basements, cellars, bathrooms, and kitchens, especially near drains, leaking water pipes, sinks, and in the soil of over-watered house plants. They usually appear in the spring and early summer but can be found all year round. Some are known as “snow fleas,” appearing on the top of snow during late winter and early spring. These very small, leaping insects do not bite humans, spread disease, nor damage household furnishings. They are usually a nuisance by their presence.
Springtails are minute, wingless insects about 1 to 2 mm long. Colours vary from white, grey, yellow, orange, metallic green, lavender to red with some being patterned or mottled. They get their name from the ability to catapult themselves (leap) through the air 7 to 10-cm by means of a tail like mechanism (furcula) tucked under the abdomen. When disturbed, this appendage functions as a spring, propelling them into the air away from the danger source. Young resemble adults except for size and colour. Eggs are spherical.
LIFE CYCLE & HABITS
Springtails occur in nearly every climatic condition throughout the world, such as in high mountain regions, pools, streams, snow-covered fields, forest floors, etc. They live in the soil, in leaf mould, under bark, in decaying logs, on the surface of freshwater pools, in organic mulches, in termite nests, in snow, in greenhouses, in mushroom cellars, etc. Populations are often high, up to 100,000 per cubic meter of surface soil, or many millions per acre. Most feed on algae, fungi, and decaying vegetable matter, and they are abundant only in damp, moist or very humid locations. Others feed on plant roots or nibble on young plant leaves and germinating seeds in hotbeds. Actually, they are beneficial by reducing decayed vegetation to soil (they are good recyclers). For example, they are among the few organisms known to break down DDT in the soil. Some can reproduce at temperatures as low as 4 degrees Celsius. They move by crawling or jumping, followed by periods of rest.
Springtails are commonly found where there are sources of moisture. Any means to provide a drying effect in the home is very effective, such as the use of a fan or dehumidifier, or repairing plumbing leaks and dripping pipes. Avoid over-watering potted house plants and allow the soil to dry between watering, if possible. Outside the home, remove excessive mulch, moist leaves, prune shrubbery and ground cover, and eliminate low, moist areas around the house foundation to permit proper air circulation. Remove wet, moldy wood or other moldy items. Since springtails are attracted to light and may pass under lighted doorways at night, use good light discipline.
Although springtails may cause some damage in the greenhouse or mushroom cellar, they are primarily a nuisance by their presence. Household pressurised aerosol spray cans, containing pyrethrins or resmethrin, will quickly reduce troublesome populations in the home. The dead springtails can be later collected with a strong suction vacuum cleaner. Infested potted houseplant soil may be treated by soil drenches of chlorpyrifos (Dursban) according to label directions. This drench may also be used as a watering solution.
Outdoor residual sprays of diazinon and/or Dursban formulations applied around the house foundation (as a perimeter treatment), in mulched shrubbery, in flower beds, in grassy areas, etc., can be effective in reducing springtail populations. Also, springtails can be treated with bendiocarb (Ficam) 1% dust. Likewise, Safer’s Insecticidal Soap is registered for control of springtails in and around the home. Only the licensed pest control operator or applicator can use chlorpyrifos (Dursban) 2E, 4E, 50W or Empire 20 and fluvalinate (Mavrik, Yardex). Pyrethrins (Microcare) are labeled as a spray on dust. Always read the label carefully and follow directions and safety precautions.
William F. Lyon
Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.
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