are minute, wingless insects about 1/16 to 1/8 inch (1 to 2
mm) long. They sometimes alarm homeowners when seen outdoors
numbers, appearing as "piles of soot" in driveways, backyards, on
mud puddle surfaces, etc. Occasionally, they enter the home in damp
areas 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," because
they appear on the top of snow during late winter and early
spring. Springtails do not bite humans, spread disease or damage
may be white, gray, yellow, orange, metallic green, lavender or
red; some are patterned or mottled. They get their name from the
ability to catapult themselves (leap) through the air three to four
inches 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 color. Eggs are spherical.
occur in nearly every climatic condition throughout the world--in
high mountain regions, pools, streams, snow-covered fields, forest
floors, etc. They live in the soil, leaf mold, decaying logs, organic
mulches, termite nests, snow, greenhouses, mushroom cellars, and
on the surface of freshwater pools and under bark. Populations are
often high, up to 100,000 per cubic meter of surface soil--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. They are beneficial in that they
reduce decayed vegetation to soil (functioning as recyclers). They
are among the few organisms known to break down DDT in the soil.
Some can reproduce at temperatures as low as 40 degrees F. They
move by crawling or jumping, followed by periods of rest.
may become a pest because of their abundance or because they invade
homes through doorways, screens or other openings. Buildings with
constant high humidity may be overrun with springtails. Springtails
have chewing mouthparts, but they rarely, if ever, damage house
plants (roots or leaves). Frequently, plants begin to decline and
homeowners blame the springtails. Over-watering is usually the culprit
for the unhealthy appearance of plants if springtails are present.
Springtails are commonly found where there are sources of moisture.
Any means to provide a drying effect in the home provides effective
control--using a fan or dehumidifier, for example, or repairing
plumbing leaks and dripping pipes. Avoid over-watering potted house
plants and allow the soil to dry between waterings. 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. Springtails are attracted to light and may pass under
lighted doorways at night.
Infested potted houseplant soil may be treated by soil drenches
of Safers soap according to label directions.
from the Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Ohio State Unviersity