Springtails (Order Collembola) are tiny, primitive insects (or insect-like arthropods) with 6-legs and no wings. They are usually 1-3mm long and visible to the eye and come in colors from white, grey, reddish-brown or even purple to black. They are commonly found in soil, compost, mulch, leaf litter, and other moist organic material under rocks or in dead logs feeding on fungi, algae, organic matter and even pollen. Most of us may go our whole lives without seeing one unless you go looking (or digging)! They do not bite or sting. However, they are known for becoming a nuisance in and around homes, windows, doors, patios, and pools when conditions become too hot or too dry for their little primitive bodies to handle. So up and away they jump, seeking the damp. Finding these on our windowsills and in the bathroom can be a surprise and annoyance. There are even some semi-aquatic species that can congregate on the surface of puddles! They are harmless and knowing about their biology can help prevent further intrusion.
Springtails get their name from a tail-like structure that protrudes from the abdomen of many species. This "tail," known as a furcula, acts as a catapult, flinging the small creature into the air like popcorn in an effort to escape unfavorable habitat. If you ever see small white "things" popping up out of your new bag of soil, it's likely springtails! This parlor trick is fun, but also allows them to spring up from under windows and enter through screens and onto our windowsills, for example. They may be found on porches, patios, or around other areas we frequent as they migrate towards more comfortable habitat. Springtails are easily washed off structures or wiped from indoor surfaces with a paper towel, but it does not address the cause of the invasion, which is the larger issue.
Springtails are primitive and rely heavily on their environment to maintain the proper temperature and moisture leading to them largely hanging out where it is damp and humid. To avoid drying out, they must migrate to higher moisture environments. For humans, that means they can be found in basements, bathrooms, around leaks or faulty seals in walls and doors, near pools, downspouts, and other high-moisture areas. And it is never just one. These buggy friends reproduce in number and are often found in large groups. If we are finding noticeable populations of springtails, we might have a moisture problem inside or out. When conditions outside are too hot or too dry (sound like the last month maybe?) they are likely to migrate towards downspouts, moist basements, garages, and even bathrooms and drains where moisture or condensation has accumulated.
Sticky Trap from a windowsill where springtails and other small insects had entered.
TO ADDRESS SPRINGTAIL ISSUES:
Manage THEIR habitat:
- Keep compost, mulch, plant material, and organic material away from the walls and windows of your home.
- Keeping a 1-2 foot bare space between outer walls and the beginning of landscaping is advisable for preventing this and other insect invasions like carpenter ants or termites. Use bare dirt or pea-gravel as a barrier between your landscaping and your exterior walls.
- Avoid excess mulching! 2 inches is a good rule of thumb. Too much mulch stays wet longer and creates a moldy decomposed dreamy environment for springtails.
- Stirring mulch with a rake may help it dry out and disperse springtails.
- Prune back landscape shrubs away from exterior walls to increase air circulation. This also eliminates bridges that ants and other insects may use to climb up and enter the home.
- Decrease irrigation that might create favorable breeding ground or flood them out of their ground habitats.
INSPECT your home:
- Look for leaking spigots, cracked or overflowing gutters, misdirected downspouts, or wet spots.
- Check around pools or decorative ponds for leaks or splash-over.
- Check your basement for moisture, mold on walls
- Use a dehumidifier, attic fan, and other ways to circulate air and reduce moisture/humidity indoors. (also helpful for millipedes if found indoors!)
- Yes, Check CRAWL SPACES TOO.
- Check the GRADE of your yard or concrete pads/patios that may be sinking. Is moisture draining towards the foundation and attracting insects there?
- Caulk and seal cracks and crevices around doors and windows.
- Check your weather seals
- Installing a pool or using a kiddie pool? Keep a good distance away from the home also!
- Vacuuming works! Empty canister or bag and dispose of trash immediately to prevent them escaping the bag!
Check your PLANTS!
- Potted plants and houseplants left outdoors can become infested with springtails and brought indoors.
- Don't over-water plants, especially potted plants. Let the soil dry down before re-watering to prevent suitable habitat for springtails as well as pests like fungus gnats!
INSECTICIDES? Maybe Not...
- It is understandable that a quick fix is often desired. However, insecticides are generally not recommended for springtails. Management of the environment is necessary to subdue any invasion around homes.
- Barrier / Perimeter insecticides outside the home may be utilized in an effort to discourage springtails from migrating towards a home. However they may also be a trigger to encourage springtails to begin jumping away, which may land them on windowsills and other human paths.
- Keep in mind that insecticides also kill beneficial predators that feed on springtails. A loss of predators may lead to rebound populations of springtails due to their high reproduction.
With the glorious rains we've had these last days, we may see less intrusion from these springtails into homes as they settle back into their moist mulchy habitats. While a quick fix is often desired, the best approach is knowing the conditions that allow them to thrive, and correcting issues near the home.
Springtails, OSU Ohioline Factsheet