What are Springtail Bugs & How to Eliminate Them
Small and wingless, springtails are primitive insects belonging to the order Collembola. Also referred to as snow fleas, the springtails found in North America contain special proteins enabling the insects to withstand cold temperatures. Springtails are often called snow fleas because of their diminutive size, flea-like ability to jump, and tendency to congregate in large numbers on the surface of snow on sunny winter days as well as during spring thaws. Though generally harmless and typically confined to the outdoors, springtails become a nuisance when the insects occasionally invade structures like greenhouses, buildings/homes, and swimming pools.
Appearance & Identification
What do springtails look like?
While springtails vary in size and color according to species, the ones most often encountered in homes are usually between one and two millimeters long, with purplish or dark grayish-black bodies. The springtail boasts an elongated and segmented body featuring three legs on each side and a pair of antennae at the head. A forked appendage, or furcula, is positioned on the underside of the abdomen and acts as a catapult capable of propelling the insect through the air as if on a spring, hence the origins of the springtail name. Though sometimes mistaken for fleas, springtails have a softer, more tubular body and are not known to bite humans or pets. Prior to reaching adulthood, the tiny insects complete a nymphal stage of development in which immature springtails resemble smaller versions of adults. Springtail nymphs, however, are typically whitish in color.
When springtails invade indoor structures, the insects must quickly seek out the moisture they need to survive. Consequently, springtails often occupy the bathtubs, sinks, and washbasins of indoor bathrooms. Basements, kitchens, potted plants, and areas of cracked/leaking water pipes in wall voids also regularly provide the moist environments required by springtails. The insects may also inhabit greenhouses and swimming pools. Outdoors, springtails typically live in moist soil, piles of leaves, mulch, rotting wood, and other materials with sufficient moisture. At the end of winter and beginning of spring, the insects sometimes congregate on the ground in areas of melting snow. Springtails tend to live and move together in large numbers, with groups often numbering in the millions. The movement of springtails from the natural environment to indoor structures is frequently the result of dry weather conditions or drought.
What do springtails eat?
Though commonly referred to as snow fleas, springtails do not target other animals for their blood. Instead, the insects adhere to a diet of decaying organic matter. Microscopic particles of algae, fungi, mold, and other plant material generally form the bulk of the springtail diet. Springtails may also feed on the corpses of worms and insects encountered in the soil.
Adult female springtails typically lay small batches of eggs in moist soil the insects inhabit. The eggs hatch into nymphs, which differ from adults only in size and color. In ideal temperatures, springtails complete the life cycle and develop into adults very quickly. The rapid rate of development sometimes results in population explosions in which springtails inhabit an area at densities of up to 100,000 insects per cubic meter of soil.
Problems Caused by Springtails
Springtails typically only become a problem when the insects move to indoor areas in search of moist living space. Though harmless to animals and property, a springtail infestation represents a nuisance indicative of high levels of moisture. Furthermore, due to the high numbers in which springtails congregate, an infestation can cover an entire bathtub, drapery, sink, or wall. The insects often fall into swimming pools in large, unsightly swarms, as well. Though rare, plant damage caused by springtails may also occur, as certain species gain access to the moist soil of potted seedlings and chew on the leaves and roots. However, the insects lack the physical ability to damage mature plants.