I have received several calls in the past week from households experiencing sudden flushes of tiny purple insects invading areas around their homes, often described as moving in a large mass that looks like a puddle or an oil slick. This description is consistent with springtail activity, and if we continue to have mild and moist periods, we can expect more springtail infestations.
Springtails are tiny insects, usually only 1 to 2 mm in length. They are wingless and have extremely poor vision. They get their name from a tiny forked tail, called a furcula, which they use to fling themselves forward through the air. There are over 700 species of springtails in the U.S., and over 6000 species worldwide. They often appear as small masses with colors of purple, yellow, grey or blue.
Springtails can be found in just about every environment on earth, except underwater. Their normal habitats include soil, leaf litter, fallen timbers, organic material and landscape timbers. They don’t bite or carry disease, and they are not dangerous to humans. They feed on bacteria, pollen, fungi, lichen and algae. Presence of springtails is usually a sign of good soil health, and they are normally considered a beneficial species.
Their small bodies require a lot of moisture and the soil surface most often provides this. However, during periods of very dry or very moist weather, springtails will gather in and around homes. They are also attracted to our homes by light emanating from houses, and their small size allows them to enter under doors and through cracks and crevices around windows.
Because they are attracted to areas with high moisture levels, springtails will most often be found in bathrooms, kitchens, basements and crawlspaces. They are also often introduced to houses through moving house plants indoors. Springtails are known to infest areas of sidewalks, driveways and garages as well.
Springtail management is generally easy. If they are gathered on the outside of your house or driveway, simply rinse them off with a garden hose. The water will disperse them back to the soil, their natural habitat.
Springtails are usually too small to be swept up with a broom and dustpan. It is much easier to vacuum them up. The best way to provide long term prevention of future infestations is to remove excess moisture from your house. Address any damp or moldy areas. Use a fan or a dehumidifier to lower moisture levels. Insecticides may also be used, but are most often not necessary. The springtails will die off if adequate moisture is not present.
If you see repeated springtail flare ups year after year, you may want to remove leaf litter and soil debris from the areas near your house. This will help keep the natural springtail populations away from your home and making an indoor infestation less likely.
Springtails are a common, beneficial, insects which are indicators of good soil health. They are only occasionally nuisance pests and are seldom noticed outside the home. Most infestations last only a short time. Keeping your home free of excess moisture will encourage these tiny critters to look elsewhere.
Clark MacAllister, firstname.lastname@example.org, (706) 265-2442.