Stephen Bambara, Extension Entomologist
CAUTION: This information was developed for North Carolina and may not apply to other areas.
Springtails belong to a primitive order (Collembola) of insects where the adults have no wings. These tiny insects are called springtails because they have a unique structure which allows them to jump for a considerable distance considering their size. Springtails are very common and abundant native insects found all over the world in many ecosystems. They are seldom observed because of their small size and the fact that most of them live in concealed habitats. They range from the size of a flea to several times larger. Most species live in the soil or in leaf mold, under bark and decaying logs, thatch, mulch, etc. They are sometimes found on the media surface of potted plants and in greenhouses. A few species have been suggested pests in greenhouses, mushroom cellars, or on certain crops in other parts of the world, but most of the time springtails are harmless. As decomposers, they are important to the garden and yard ecology. A 1998 article in Wisconson Natural Resources Magazine has more details about this fascinating insect.
Springtails are often noticed in yards during the spring. They require moisture
and are easily found in mulches or areas of decaying organic matter or under
crawl spaces of houses. Population explosions in hundreds of thousands may occur.
They may be especially noticeable on driveways, sidewalks and poolsides giving
them a sooty appearance that may move beneath one's feet. Another name for springtails
is "snowflea" because they are sometimes noticed hopping across a
ground covered with snow. During a population explosion, springtails may become
so numerous that they enter houses causing the unsuspecting homeowner some undue
stress. Springtails do not bite. They consume decaying matter and require moisture,
so they will be short-lived inside a home.
Because springtails do no damage inside or around the home, control measures are rarely needed. Reducing the water to houseplants or changing any surface mulching in a potted plant will usually help. Do not overmulch around foundation plantings. Hosing off hard outdoor surfaces with regular or soapy water may give temporary satisfaction. Patience is a good control strategy that works about the same as most chemical treatments and without the expense or risk.
If springtails are a problem indoors and patience is not your strength, you can consult Residential, Structural and Community Pest Note #33.
Photo credit: SSSA
Published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service
Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Employment and program opportunities are offered to all people regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. North Carolina State University at Raleigh, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.
Prepared by: S. B. Bambara, Extension Entomologist
ENT/ort-123 June, 2002.
Web page last reviewed January, 2011 by the webperson.