Springtails

What Are Springtail Bugs? Eliminate Them in Your Home or Business

General Information

Small and wingless, springtails are primitive insects belonging to the order Collembola. Also referred to as snow fleas, the springtails found in New England 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.

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Appearance & Identification

What Do Springtails Look Like?

While springtails vary in size and color according to species, the ones most often encountered in New England 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.

Habits/Habitat

When springtails invade indoor structures, the insects must quickly seek out the moisture they need to survive. Consequently, springtails often occupy indoor bathrooms in:

  • Bathtubs
  • Sinks
  • Washbasins
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.

Diet

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.

Reproduction

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.

Signs of Infestation

Easy to overlook because of their small size and lack of impact on humans, pets, and property, springtails generally become noticeable only after infesting an indoor area in large numbers.

Indoors, springtails tend to emerge in rooms like damp basements, bathrooms, and kitchens, which all contain ample sources of moisture. When searching for moisture in and around homes, the tiny insects often become trapped in the bottom of:

  • Bathtubs
  • Sinks
  • Swimming pools
  • Washbasins.

Like fleas, springtails also jump through the air when disturbed, thus signaling their presence.

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Prevention

Because springtails require moist environments to survive, preventing an infestation entails the elimination of moisture from indoor areas like kitchens, basements, and bathrooms.

Homeowners should use dehumidifiers or air conditioners to lower the humidity and fans to keep rooms dry by circulating the air.

Residents should also eliminate potential springtail breeding sites and habitats in the yard by moving piles of leaves, mulch, and other moist debris away from the foundation of the home.

Homeowners should avoid overwatering plants, both indoors and outdoors, and allow vegetation to dry out completely before watering again.

When springtail prevention methods fail, contact a local New England pest control service with experience in handling the easily overlooked insects.