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Spring Forward with Springtails

One type of very common, but often overlooked, household insect belongs to the order Collembola. These primitive insects may be unfamiliar to many people, but they are abundant and numerous throughout the world. They occur in habitats ranging from freshwater, animal nests, caves, and glaciers and most commonly in leaf litter, under logs or bark, and soil. These tiny organisms are often called “springtails” because many Collembola families have a rear appendage called a furcula that they use to launch themselves into the air. Springtails largely eat fungi and decaying vegetable matter, although some are carnivorous and some consume fluid with sucking mouthparts. Because of their small size (0.25-6mm) Collembola are not often seen, but can be as numerous as millions per acre. If a sample of surface soil or leaf litter is collected, these springtails can be extracted using a Berlese funnel, an entomological device for collecting soil or little arthropods.

Occasionally, residents will notice a large population of springtails in their homes. This usually occurs around moist indoor areas such as sinks, bathtubs, or in the soil of houseplants. Sometimes they will also aggregate on the surface of swimming pools. Large numbers of Collembola may be a nuisance, but are not a public health concern, as springtails do not bite or spread disease. If you suspect you have an infestation of springtails, specimens can be collected using sticky traps for insects, available at hardware stores, and brought to the District laboratory to confirm identification. Reducing moisture in the home is an important component to eliminating an indoor springtail population. Plumbing should be checked for leaks, and indoor plants moved outside until an infestation is under control. Sometimes overwatering outdoor gardens contributes to an indoor springtail problem as the population outside increases and they find their way through entrances into the building. Sealing cracks around the structure and repairing holes in door and window screens can help. Pesticides are not necessary to control springtails as their population will reduce once moisture is removed.

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