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Nebline Newsletter Article

Springtails can jump
This article was submitted by Barb Ogg, PhD, Extension Educator, University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County. The article appeared in the Nebline Newsletter. Date January 1996

springtailSpringtails are minute, wingless insects that get their name from the fact that they have an unusual locomotor organ. The main locomotor organ is a forked, tail-like structure (called a furcula) which is folded forward under the abdomen when the insect is at rest. The furcula is held in place by a clasp-like structure, called a tenaculum. When the tenaculum is released, the furcula thrusts downward and backward against the substrate, allowing the springtail to jump consider able distances. A springtail 5-6 mm in length can jump 75-100 mm and floating springtails can even jump on water! Many springtails are beautifully colored (white, gray, yellow, orange, metallic green, lavender, red) but, because these insects are so small, this detail goes unnoticed by the general public. 

The usual habitat of these small insects is in soil of woodlands, in decaying vegetative matter, or on the surface of stagnant water. For the most part they are innocuous creatures and are seldom even noticed. Most soil-inhabiting springtails feed on decaying plant material, fungi and bacteria, and thrive in an environment that is moist or high in humidity. Because springtails infest decaying organic matter, they can infest soil of potted plants and become a nuisance in greenhouses or mushroom cellars. They do not injure living plants. 

Because these insects do not cause any real injury, persons faced with a springtail infestation should try to reduce the population by eliminating moisture and humidity in the area that they are found. Outside, they cause no problem and are an important component of the ecosystem. 

If there is an infestation in a greenhouse area, avoid standing pools of water under plants by draining the saucers. In addition, over-watering may be causing growth or fungi and decaying organic matter; plants should dry out well before rewatering. Repotting plants may help reduce a springtail population; after repotting, use sterile potting soil. Insecticide treatments are probably not necessary although an aerosol insecticide sprayed on the surface of the potted soil might be useful. Check with a garden store regarding a spray that will not harm plants. Don't forget to read and follow label directions when using any insecticides. 

Occasionally, springtails can be found floating on sewer drains or stagnant water. If possible, drain the water. If not possible, a small amount of dishwashing liquid squirted in the water should break the water tension and drown the insects. Insecticides should never be dumped down the drain. 


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