Common Name: Springtail
Scientific Name: Varies
Insect Order: Collembola
Description: Springtails are small, 0.04 to 0.2 inch long, wingless insects. Color varies, depending on species, and ranging from black to gray to white, yellow, lavender, red, green or gold. Some are patterned or mottled and some are iridescent or metallic due to the scales which cover the body. In addition to antennae and three pairs of true legs, springtails jump with an unusual forked structure (furcula) on the end of their abdomen (fourth abdominal segment). This structure functions like a catapult and is normally underneath the body and held in place with a clasp-like structure (tenaculum). Some springtails can jump 3 to 4 inches.
The garden springtail, Bourletiella hortensis (Fitch) (Sminthuriidae), is a black and yellow species that commonly occur in large numbers injuring flowers and vegetables. When springtails occur in large numbers and search for new suitable habitats, they can enter homes and invade kitchens and bathrooms. Occasionally, large numbers of springtails occur together on surfaces of water such as in puddles, ponds and swimming pools, especially the “water springtail”, Podura aquatica (Linnaeus) (Collembola: Poduridae) which is a gray species.
Springtails are occasionally misidentified as fleas because they can occur in the home and jump. However, springtails are round and soft bodied instead of dark brown and flattened. Springtails have normal hind legs, whereas fleas have hind legs modified for jumping.
Life Cycle: Simple metamorphosis (egg, nymph, adult). There is little difference between immature and adult forms, except size.
Habitat, Food source(s): Mouth parts are elongate and stylet-like, concealed within the head. They feed on algae and decomposing vegetable matter, bacteria and fungi. Springtails possess a tube-like structure (collophore) on the underside of their first abdominal segment that plays a role in water uptake. Springtails prefer dark, damp areas. Look for springtails in natural habitats, like leaf mold, damp soil and rotting logs.
Pest Status, Damage: Occur in soil in house plants and around the home and can be a nuisance when numerous. Occasionally large numbers of springtails occur in greenhouse crops where they can injure young plants. Some species injure sprouting seeds, roots and tender shoots, occasionally causing concern in greenhouses, seedbeds and mushroom beds. They are harmless to man and animals.
Literature: Borror et al. 1989; Cole and Hamman 1984. Reviewed Burke 3/96.