A Glimpse Into Springtails

Springtails are very small (rarely more than 1/5 inch long), pale brown to cream colored insects that seem to hop and disappear when disturbed. The springtail is named for a spring-like mechanism on the underside of its abdomen. When at rest, the organ is folded forward and held in place under tension by a clasping structure. When the mechanism is released, the insect is able to jump a distance many times its own length.

These insects are commonly found in moist or damp places, usually in contact with soil. Homeowners encounter them in damp basements, in sinks and bathtubs, or on the surface of the soil of household plants. The moist, organic soil of house plants provides them the proper environment to live and increase in numbers. Plants that are over-watered during the fall and winter can support a large population of springtails in the potting soil.

Populations are often high, up to 100,000 per cubic meter of surface soil, or many millions per acre. Some can reproduce at temperatures as low as 40 degrees. In fact, springtails have been known to live in snow. These pests can be controlled by letting potting soil dry out or by pouring a liquid pesticide down the sink or bathtub drains.