Springtails are normally less than 1/16 inch in length. They are wingless and have very limited vision. Their color can range from yellow to a greenish gray. Most callers are reporting purplish colored springtails this year. There are actually about 700 species of springtails in North America and there is a great variety of colors. Their habitat varies from woodlands to the seashore. In northern regions, they can appear on the surface of old snow banks and are known by the common name “Snow Fleas.” However, this name is misleading since they aren’t really fleas and don’t actually bite.
The word “springtails” sounds like the title of some new Olympic gymnastic event. In fact these insects are pretty good gymnasts in their own right. They have a specialized organ called a furcula on their abdomen. Like a tiny spring, this hinged appendage is folded under the insect and held in place by specialized body structures. When the furcula is released, the insect springs into the air, traveling a distance of up to 100 times their body length. As you can imagine, once they have projected themselves into the air, they have no control about where they land. All they really care about at that point is evading a predator.
Springtails have a thin “skin” covering their bodies. Both air and water are able to pass though this layer directly into the body. This unique feature makes it possible for water to escape easily from their bodies as well. That’s why you will usually find springtails in moist environments. Damp basements, pond edges, and areas of moist leaf litter are especially attractive to springtails. To dissuade them from sharing your living space, the key is to make the environment in your house undesirable. For a springtail – that means dry it out.
When specific moisture and temperature conditions are met, springtail numbers may skyrocket. In fact, up to 50,000 springtails can inhabit one cubic foot of topsoil. These huge numbers can sometimes be found clinging together in clumps. They also can be found in thin layers covering the lower portions of garage doors or house foundations.
Springtails feed primarily on decaying vegetation. Other food items include soil fungi, pollen, algae, and lichens. The action of springtails helps to decompose organic material and release nutrients into the soil. For that reason, they are generally considered beneficial and indicators of good soil health.
Of course, if you have a wave of springtails inhabiting your garage they might not seem very beneficial. They seek out these moist locations when their usual habitat becomes uncomfortably dry. When they are found on sidewalks, garage doors and similar areas, simply wash them off with a water hose. The water will disperse the insects and provide moist condition in the surrounding soil for them to inhabit. If springtails move indoors, you can control them with over the counter indoor pest control products that contain pyrethrins or pyrethroids. Eliminating moisture in the home will help with long-term control. Investing in a good dehumidifier will help eliminate a whole range of problems. Many insects are attracted to moist areas of our homes, not just Springtails! Predators like spiders and other beetles follow for an easy food supply. Drying out your home makes the environment unfavorable for insects, predators and even mildew!
Fortunately, most springtail infestations last only a few days until rainfall or a change in temperatures disperses the critters. By the time you read this, the conditions for a springtail invasion will probably be past. Springtails are just another of the marvels of the natural world.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website, www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee; or contact the Cherokee County Extension Office, 1130 Bluffs Parkway, Suite G49, Canton, GA, 770-721-7803. The Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.