Springtails form the largest of the three lineages of modern hexapods that are not longer considered insects. Springtails are omnivorous, free-living organisms that prefer moist conditions. They usually appear in the spring and early summer but can be found year round in moist environments. They do not directly engage in the decomposition of organic matter but can indirectly through the fragmentation of organic matter. In a typical lawn 100,000 individuals may occur per cubic meter where they innocuously feed on fungi and dead plant matter. The most common springtails are gray or purplish, about 1/20-inch long. The coloration of most Colorado Springtails is produced by protective scales that cover the body.
Springtails are wingless and crawl slowly, but have a unique means of locomotion. Their “spring tail” is a fork-like structure tucked under the abdomen. Because of this jumping habit and their small size, springtails are sometimes described as “jumping dirt”.
Springtails sometimes move into buildings during hot weather because homes are cooler and more humid than outdoor conditions. While migrations are upsetting, they are of short duration. Springtails will not feed on anything in the home, don’t bite, won’t reproduce in the home and die out within a week. Another unusual event involving springtails is their occurrence as “snow fleas” found on the surface of thawing snow.
Springtails occasionally develop in the soil of houseplants. Most often they are noticed just after watering, when they move temporarily from the saturated soil to the surface. Springtails function in houseplants as they do outdoors and do minimal damage to the houseplant. Problems can be minimalized if the soil is allowed to dry between watering.
Migration problems can be reduced by eliminating all sources of moisture around the home such as leaking faucets. Windows and other entrances should be sealed. Drying dusts such as diatomaceous earth, baby powder or baking powder sprinkled around the perimeter of the home will probably be an effective barrier to further block movement indoors. Soap or detergent sprays can kill springtails on contact.
Dry out the indoor infested area with a fan. Water leaks should be repaired outside the house, eliminate breeding sites by removing excess mulch and moist leaves around the foundation. Do not overwater mulched landscape plants and let the soil dry slightly between watering. Pesticides should not be necessary and won’t provide long term control. They are no more effective than sweeping or vacuuming.
For more information, see the following Colorado State University Extension fact sheet(s).