Taking the ‘Spring’ Out of Springtails

Columns - Pest Perspectives

July 13, 2021

Springtails are known for their ability to launch themselves from their resting spots.
Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org

As warmer weather takes a grip on the entire country and summer weather brings rain, there will al-most always be calls about springtails. They get their common name because most species have a springlike structure that allows them to “jump” or launch themselves from wherever they are resting. This structure is called a “furcula.” These common pests often will move indoors when the surrounding lawn, mulch or other landscape is heavily saturated, providing them ample opportunity for explo-sive population growth. Customers with pools have had filters clog as springtails invade.

Invasion

The quantity of springtails that can be in an area may or may not be surprising to you. If you have dealt with them before, you likely know how many there can be. Surveys of soil have them totaling anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 per cubic foot of soil. It’s when the soil dries out a little that they begin to move. As they search for moisture, they will leave the soil and enter structures. Because of their small size, they can enter through most exclusion methods like window screens, door thresholds and even around utility pipes with the smallest of gaps. They are attracted to light, so evening movement towards well-lit structures can be problematic.

Houseguests

Once they are inside, spring-tails will occupy anything with high moisture. They feed on fungi, bacteria, pollen, lichens, decaying plant matter and even feces from other insect pests. Common areas of concern are moisture-rich places such as kitchens and bathrooms, basements, crawlspaces, near leaking plumbing and in wall voids. Furniture in basements that gets a little moldy has supported large infestations of these hoppy house-crashers. Since they feed on molds and mildews, if there are any stale odors or stagnant mildewy spots, springtails likely will find them.

Inspection

Inspecting for springtails can be both easy and challenging. It’s easy when you can immediately identify a condition that is causing the infestation. It becomes a little more challenging when the immediate source can’t be found. Since they are small, you may have to arm yourself with some specialty items. Well, not so specialty. Grab some glue-boards, a magnifying glass, a moisture meter and your flashlight. Dark and damp usually go together! You eventually may need more, but we are just trying to isolate what we can’t find. Use the moisture meter to locate areas indoors where moisture is a little high. Place glueboards in these spots to see if they are infested. Leave them for a few days to see if you get catches.

On the outside, complete an inspection of the building perimeter, noting any moisture leaks or areas of excessive water runoff from downspouts, thick moisture-holding mulch or leaf litter, and any wet wood or other debris. I recommend graphing it like a termite account if the problem is severe enough. This allows you to track the conducive conditions and control efforts that have been implemented. It also gives you something to hand a home-owner to physically show them the conditions supporting the problem.

Control

It is so easy to just say, “Get rid of the moisture.” While it is true that doing so will eliminate the problem, it may be impossible to eliminate all the moisture. It also doesn’t help relationships when you tell customers that the only fixes are a laundry list of things they need to do. Remember, pest management is a partnership! If you have mass numbers of springtails, get out your vacuum. Suck them up. Live or dead, it doesn’t matter. This is quick population reduction and will be a relief to a homeowner.

If you identified wall voids with issues, you could apply a water-repellent dust to the cavity. Residual applications to entry points from the outside and in heavy breeding areas also can limit infestations. Yes, our manufac-turers have provided us products labeled for springtails! Crawlspaces may benefit from en-capsulation and the addition of a dehumidifier. These can be used in basements where you found mildew and mold growth. Lastly, make recommendations to the customer about ad-justing automatic landscape watering systems. If they are having massive springtail problems, they are likely overwatering. These situations have flustered even the most seasoned professionals. Remember that every situation is different. Take a little time to do a great inspection. It may just be a leak somewhere that can be a fairly quick fix. Make sure you check top to bottom, as the moisture may be coming from a roof or gutter leak. Don’t give up! Persistence will evidence the issue and ultimately win the battle.

The author is senior technical services manager at Rollins in Atlanta.