Friday, March 14, 2008

Greenhouse and Landscape - Springtails

Photo from the North Carolina State University

The following is an article on springtails, a nuisance insect often found in greenhouses and landscapes from the New England Greenhouse Update.

Springtails are very small, wingless arthropods about 1/16 to 1/8 inch (1 to 2 mm) long. Some springtails are known as “snow fleas,” because they appear outdoors on the top of snow during late winter and early spring. They occasionally are observed in greenhouse growing media, especially if plants have been over-watered. Springtails do not bite humans, or spread disease.


Springtails may be white, gray, yellow, orange, metallic green, lavender or red; some are patterned or mottled. They get their name from the ability to catapult themselves (leap) through the air three to four inches by means of a tail-like mechanism (furcula) tucked under the abdomen. When disturbed, this appendage functions as a spring, propelling them into the air away from the danger source. Young springtails resemble adults except for size and color. Eggs are spherical. Growers may occasionally mistake some types of springtails for thrips, however, thrips do not have the characteristic furcula tucked under their abdomen.


Springtails occur in nearly every climatic condition throughout the world–in high mountain regions, pools, streams, snow-covered fields, forest floors, etc. They live in the soil, leaf mold, decaying logs, organic mulches, termite nests, snow, greenhouses, and on the surface of freshwater pools and under bark. Populations are often high, up to 100,000 per cubic meter of surface soil–many millions per acre. Springtails feed on algae, fungi, and decaying organic matter, and they are abundant only in damp, moist or very humid locations.


Springtails have chewing mouthparts, but they rarely damage the roots or leaves of ornamental plants in the greenhouse. Since springtails feed on fungi and decaying organic matter, they sometimes are blamed for causing the decay, if they are present. Over-watering is usually the cause of unhealthy decayed roots and springtails are a secondary organism.

A few species feed on living plants and are occasionally regarded as pests: In gardens or the field, Bourletiella hortensis (the garden springtail) may damage seedlings in early spring. As they feed, small holes and surface scarring develops that resembles flea beetle injury. Roots are also fed on by some species. Most types of springtails are beneficial as they reduce decayed vegetation to soil (functioning as recyclers).

Management: Springtails are commonly found where there are sources of moisture. Avoid over-watering and allow the growing media to dry between waterings.

Information was adapted from the Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Ohio State University Extension and Rhode Island Cooperative Extension.

By Tina Smith in the February 2008 edition of the New England Greenhouse Growers Update

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