[Occasional Invaders] Jump to it

Catapulting springtails are nuisance pests that are commonly found in large numbers around structures. Habitat modification and pest control treatments can provide for effective springtail management.

July 15, 2004

Springtails are minute insects that cause concern with homeowners due to their jumping habits and the large numbers in which they can be found. These insects can build up enormous populations in the landscaping areas around our structures and also in damp areas inside of homes (basements, cellars, bathrooms, kitchens, etc.). They usually become problematic in spring and summer, but certainly in some areas of the country they can be found all year-round. These insects are generally not considered medically important since they do not bite humans, spread disease nor damage structures or furnishings.

Springtails, while small, do appear in different shapes and sizes. Colors vary from white, orange and green to the more common gray and black species. They are deserving of their name because of their ability to "jump," or more correctly, "catapult" themselves up to 3 to 4 inches in the air. They accomplish this by the use of a mechanism called a furcula. This is a long appendage that can be tucked and clasped to the underside of the abdomen. When startled, the insect can release the furcula, which functions as a spring and propels (catapults) the insect forward. Observing the presence of a furcula is a definite identifying characteristic of springtails. The furcula can be readily seen with a loop, magnifier or microscope. (I recommend a 30X lens.)

Springtails belong to the insect order Collembola, are distributed worldwide and are the most common of the soil insects. They can be found in soil, mulches, under decks, damp crawlspaces, termite nests, greenhouses, cellars, potted plants, drains and in other forms of damp organic matter. Springtail populations can reach the hundreds of thousands per cubic meter or millions per acre. Most feed on algae, fungi and decaying vegetable matter. They are beneficial because they help decompose organic matter and recycle nutrients into the soil. However, they can become a nuisance pest by entering our structures through screens, windowsills, thresholds and other openings.

SPRINGTAIL MANAGEMENT. Springtail management should be based upon the principles of integrated pest management (IPM). These include inspection, identification, plan development, plan implementation and evaluation.

A thorough inspection of the property should allow for identification of the pest. Also, conducive conditions (damp areas with organic matter) that can provide harborage should be identified. The springtail management plan must include habitat modification recommendations. These may include drying out damp areas with increased air circulation or fixing plumbing leaks and dripping water pipes. Advise customers to refrain from over-watering potted plants. Sealing of excessive gaps around windows and doorways can certainly help. On the outside of the structure, reduce excessive organic mulches and leaves; prune overgrown landscaping; and thin excessive ground cover. Eliminate all continual standing water or damp soil situations. Turf and landscape irrigation schedules may need to be modified to help reduce excessive moisture. Proper light management around doorways and windows can help since springtails are attracted to lights during the night.

Insecticidal treatments can certainly help reduce populations. Aerosols (pyrethrins) can be used to give immediate knockdown of adults which can be vacuumed up afterwards. Dusting void areas in walls where plumbing penetrations occur (drains, bathtraps, tubs, water lines, etc.) and crack and crevice residual applications around windows and doorways can help. Outside perimeter treatments that penetrate into the soil and harborage areas can dramatically reduce pest pressures. Outside barriers around windows, thresholds and light fixtures can reduce pest entry into the structure. I’ve found that wettable powders, suspension concentrates and microencapsulated products are effective in springtail control. Always read the product label carefully and follow all directions and safety precautions. Good Luck!

The author is a market development specialist for BASF Specialty Products, Pflugerville, Texas. He can be reached at ndavis@austintx.net.