Springtails

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The common name "springtail" is derived from the springtails’ ability to “spring” or “jump” away by snapping its tail-like structure against the ground when frightened.

When encountered in large numbers, springtails become an irritation to most homeowners.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE SPRINGTAILS?

  • Homeowners usually encounter springtails in damp basements, kitchens, bathrooms, and garages.

  • Springtails can also be found on surfaces of water, on soil of potted plants, and in other moist habitats.

  • Springtails are attracted to light and may be found in lighted areas at night.

  • Springtails will thrive as much indoors as they will outdoors, if moisture, organic matter, and shelter are available inside the structure.

  • For example, springtails can live a long time on indoor potted plants; or feeding on mold and mildew associated with water leaks, condensation along the plumbing, or in cracks found around a bathtub or shower.

  • When you see springtails in the bathroom, kitchens, windowsills, bathtubs and showers, you should know that they have most likely migrated from overly populated sites in damp and dark areas outside or inside the building.

Look for springtails in the following areas:

  • In mulch, moist leaves or wood chips

  • Under patio slabs

  • Under logs, pine-straw or wood dicks

  • Under kitchen and bathroom sinks, linoleum or water tubes

  • In crawl spaces and in the basements

  • Around Jacuzzis and decking of the pools

  • Any moist and dark area.

WHAT DO SPRINGTAILS LOOK LIKE?

  • Springtails are tiny, commonly between 1/16” and 1/8” in length, and wingless.

  • Springtails are usually light brown to cream in colors, although some springtails are dark-colored, brown, grey, or black.

  • Springtails have oval heads with four-segmented antennae.

  • Springtails have a pair of fork-like appendages (furcula) in the end of their abdomens.

  • When not in use, the furcula is tucked under the body, set like a mouse trap. When it is released, it extends downward rapidly propelling the springtail forward.

  • Unlike the common flea which also “jumps” and is very difficult to crush, springtails are soft-bodied and are easily crushed.

ARE SPRINGTAILS DANGEROUS?

  • No, springtails do not bite or sting humans. Nor do springtails spread disease-causing organisms.

CAN MY HOUSE BE DAMAGED BY SPRINGTAILS?

  • Springtails are just a nuisance pest.

  • Springtails do not damage food products, clothes, furniture, or the structure of your home.

WHY ARE SPRINGTAILS IN MY HOUSE?

  • During dry and hot summer days, springtails often invade homes from surrounding outdoor areas because they are seeking moisture.

  • Most springtails breathe through their skin or cuticle, which is very permeable to water.

  • Due to their breathing system and soft, small bodies, springtails rapidly lose water through their cuticle.

  • Therefore, they usually live in moist, cool, concealed places of soil, moss, as well as ant and termite nests. Some species live on the surface of pools, snowfields, and other similar habitats.

  • Springtail populations can reach as many as 50,000 per cubic foot of forest litter or up to 2,800 per square foot in planted fields.

  • When they reach a high population density, springtails search for new habitats.

  • Springtails can be a problem in newly built structures because of damp building materials and wet plaster.

  • Springtails cannot live without moisture, which is why in older homes springtails will usually be found in the kitchen, bathrooms, basements, or other areas where moisture and high relative humidity is present.

WHAT DO SPRINGTAILS EAT?

  • Springtails feed on leaf litter, decaying plant materials, mold or mildew, bacteria, and fungi.

  • Additionally, their diet may include fine roots in wet to damp soils.

HOW DO SPRINGTAILS JUMP?

  • Springtails are wingless and do not fly but they can jump, using a specialized forked appendage called a furcula, located underneath the abdomen at the posterior end of the animal.

  • Not all species of springtails have a furcular. For example, springtails that live deeper in the soil usually do not have the appendage because jumping is not a practical means for escape.

  • Between jumps, the furcula is held within a ventral groove in the springtail’s abdomen.

  • When it is time to jump, the springtail’s furcula moves from its retracted position to an extended position.

  • After it passes a critical point of extension, an internal “spring” releases all the energy, which in turn causes the furcula to snap out at high speed.

  • If the furcular strikes a hard surface, a force is created that propels the springtail.

  • Many researchers find the springtails’ jumping mechanism particularly intriguing because it is very efficient at a very small scale.

WHAT IS THE LIFECYCLE OF SPRINGTAILS?

  • Springtails have an "ametabolous" life cycle, meaning that they do not undergo metamorphosis.

  • Springtails do not have nymphal, larval, or pupal stages.

  • Instead, springtails develop by going through a number of molts (shed their exoskeleton) as their body size grows.

  • Unlike other hexapods, springtails perform additional molts after reaching adulthood.

  • Springtail reproduction can be complicated, and is dependent on the species of springtail. For example, while parthenogenesis (reproduction without males) is common among females of some springtail species, females of other species require mating in order to lay eggs, and they are picky about which males they desire to mate.

  • These female springtails desire the males to dance for them before they actually mate.

  • Males of other species of springtails leave a sperm packet on the ground that is later picked up by the female.

  • Still the males of other species of springtails place sperm with their hind legs directly into the female's reproductive organs.

  • Females usually lay up to 400 eggs during their life span.

  • Eggs can be laid singly or in large masses.

  • It takes about 10 days for eggs to hatch, and the immature springtails go through three successive molts lasting 7 to 10 days before they change onto adults.

  • The number of generations per year, the longevity of springtails, and the preferred temperatures are species-dependent.

  • Depending on the species, springtails can live from one week to three years.

13 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT SPRINGTAILS:

  1. Springtails are the most abundant tiny animals in the world, and are found in huge numbers in nearly every habitat.

  2. Species of the Collembola can be found above 21,000 feet on Mount Everest, Nepal, in volcanic vents along Hawaii's Kilauea, near the North and South Poles, and from the tops of the tallest trees to the deepest soil layers.

  3. There are about 700 species of springtails in North America, and more than 6,000 worldwide.

  4. In general, springtails survive low temperatures and can appear in large numbers on snow surfaces (hence their nickname "snow fleas"). 

  5. Springtails from the class Collembola have a tube beneath the abdomen, which secretes “glue”; this tube is important in grooming and allows these insects to adhere onto smooth surfaces. Thus, the name Collembola, from the Greek words “cole” meaning glue and “embolon” meaning piston.

  6. Springtails can jump up to 100 times their body length. Springtails have been known to jump over 12” into the air at an initial velocity of 4.6 feet per second.

  7. In general, springtails tire easily so jumping is usually only used as an escape mechanism.

  8. The jump takes the springtail in any direction.

  9. Since the furca is located at the end of the body, directly beneath the center of gravity, the dynamics of the jump cause the springtail to rotate head over end.

  10. Some springtail species jump very high, while others springtails take a shallower trajectory but land farther away from their point of takeoff.

  11. Springtails have "mandibulate" mouthparts (adapted for chewing), which are withdrawn into the head when not in use.

  12. Some springtail species can live without food for up to three years by recycling their own waste, while others can go into a form of dormancy.

  13. Most springtails breathe through their skin or cuticle, which is very permeable to water; therefore, these insects must spend most of their time in very damp locations.