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Pest: Springtails

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                                               Pest: Springtails

 

(Order: Collembola, Protura, and Diplura)

 

 

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Special Species Notes

 

 

Springtails are included under garden pests even though they’re not detrimental to plants. Springtails are garden pests only because they become bothersome by their sheer numbers and are otherwise beneficial to the soil.  In sheer numbers, they are reputed to be one of the most abundant of all macroscopic animals, with estimates of 100,000 individuals per square meter of ground. As nuisance bugs, though, the Indoor Gardener needs to know what they are and how to get rid of them.

 

Springtails affect hydro more then soil. Plants grown in peat, coir or other types of soil-less compost. Their food generally consists of decaying plant matter, algae, lichens, pollen, and fungal spores. Occasionally, springtails may become so abundant that they may feed on roots and cause damage to germinating seeds and tender shoots of seedlings in greenhouses and gardens. Damage is usually minimal depending how old the plant is. A seedling would be more affected then a mature plant because of the root system size.

 

Springtails have been on our planet since the Early Devonian. The fossil from 400 milloin years ago, Rhyniella praecursor, is the oldest terrestrial arthropod, and was found in the famous Rhynie chert of Scotland. Given its morphology resembles extant species quite closely, the radiation of the Hexapoda can be situated in the Silurian, 420 million years ago or more.

 

Fossil collembola are rare. Instead, most are found in amber. Even these are rare and many amber deposits carry few or no collembola. The best deposits are from the early Eocene of Canada and Europe, Miocene of Central America, and the mid-Cretaceous of Burma and Canada. They display some unusual characteristics: first, all but one of the fossils from the Cretaceous belong to extinct genera, whereas none of the specimens from the Eocene or the Miocene are of extinct genera; second, the species from Burma are more similar to the modern fauna of Canada than are the Canadian Cretaceous specimens.

 

There are about 3,600 different species. Springtails are found throughout the world from the Arctic to the Antarctic regions. In the United States there are about 650 species, divided into 7 families.

 

Springtails (Collembola) form the largest of the three lineages of modern hexapods that are no longer considered insects (the other two are the Protura and Diplura). Although the three orders are sometimes grouped together in a class called Entognatha because they have internal mouthparts, they do not appear to be any more closely related to one another than they all are to insects, which have external mouthparts.

 

 

IDENTIFICATION

 

 

 

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Adult(s)

photo by Susan Ellis

 

Springtails prefer cool, dark, moist habitats of soil, leaf mold, fungi, moss, decaying wood and sometimes ant and termite nests. They are frequently found clustered together in dense swarms. Their presence is usually a sign of overwatering for soil growers.

 

Springtails are tiny wingless insects about 2 mm normally less than 6 mm long. They vary in color yellow, gray, blue-gray, purple,  orange, gold, metallic green, tan, brown, lavender, red,  some are even patterned or mottled,  but are usually white or black.

 

Springtails are the kangaroos of the insect world. They are called springtails because many species (not Onychiurus spp.) have a forked structure ( a tail-like appendage, the furcula) that is folded beneath the body. It's used for jumping when the animal is threatened.  It is held under tension by a small structure called the retinaculum (or tenaculum) and when released, it snaps against the substrate, flinging the springtail into the thus propelling the insect into the air that helps the creature escape predators or adverse conditions. When disturbed, they spring into the air creating easily visible clouds. They are capable of jumping 3-4 inches (10cm) per jump. That's about 100x their body length. All of this takes place in as little as 18 milliseconds.

 

Springtails are also called jumping dirt and snow fleas. They are commonly mistaken for fleas, ants, booklice, bark lice or psocids, and thrips.  Other white insects of similar size found among the roots of pot plants are likely to be root mealybugs. That are sap-feeding type of pest is relatively immobile in the soil compared with the much more active springtails. The latter also has a pair of antennae visible on the insect's head, whereas those on mealybugs are microscopic.

 

 

During the warm season, springtails may be seen in bathrooms, kitchens, basements, grow rooms, crawl spaces, behind walls, under siding, under mulch and just about anywhere moisture is prevalent and persistent..

 

 

Springtails also possess the ability to reduce their body size by as much as 30% through subsequent molting if temperatures rise high enough. The shrinkage is genetically controlled. Since warmer conditions increase metabolic rates and energy requirements in organisms, the reduction in body size is advantageous to their survival.

 

 

 

 

Common Species:

 

 

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Snow flea

 

 

Some species are found on the surface of water, on vegetation, in caves and on patches of snow (hints the name snow fleas). Some species are curled like a flea; others are flat like a silverfish. Some species have hair/fur/bristles along top front of body.

The Poduromorpha and Entomobryomorpha have an elongated body, while the Symphypleona and Neelipleona have a globular body. Collembola lack a tracheal  respiration system, which forces them to respire through aporous cuticle, to the notable exception of Sminthuridae which exhibit a rudimentary, although fully functional, tracheal system.

 

The high humidity environment of many caves also favors springtails and there are numerous cave adapted species, including one, Plutomurus ortobalaganensis living 6,500 ft down the Krubera Cave.

 

Springtails are well known as pests of some agricultural crops. Sminthurus viridis, the lucerne flea, has been shown to cause severe damage to agricultural crops, and is considered as a pest in Australia. However, by their capacity to carry spores of mycorrhizal fungi and mycorrhiza-helper bacteria on their tegument, soil springtails play a positive role in the establishment of plant-fungal symbiosis and thus are beneficial to agriculture.

 

Two genera, Bourletiella and Collembola, however, may do serious damage to conifer seedlings and cucumber roots respectively. A rounded stumpy flea-like springtail (Bourletiella hortensis)  lives in North America. The warning sign is stippling of leaves, much like spider mites

 

 

What they eat:

 

The Collembolans are omnivorous, free-living organisms that prefer moist conditions. Springtails are primarily detritivores and microbivores, and one of the main biological agents responsible for the control and the dissemination of soil microorganisms. They do not directly engage in the decomposition of organic matter, but contribute to it indirectly through the fragmentation of organic matter and the control of soil microbial communities. They commonly consume mold fungal hyphae and spores, but also have been found to consume decaying organic matter, plant material, leaf litter, pollen, mildew, animal remains, colloidal materials, minerals and bacteria that commonly found in moist areas on and around the home. Outside, they’re found in wet soil, decaying straw, rotting leaves and other damp organic material.

 

Life cycle

 

 

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Immature(s)

photo by Marilyn Sallee

 

 

Springtails reproduce quickly, going from egg to adult stage in four to six weeks.

 

Mature males leave packets of sperm cells in the soil where they live. These are picked up by females as they lay their eggs, either in packets or singly. Depending on temperature conditions, the eggs hatch within five to ten days.

 

Nymphs resemble the adults. They can be clear to white like a small termite. During the five or six weeks they spend as nymphs, they go through several stages before becoming adults, molting and becoming larger in each.

 

Outdoors, springtails can survive through an entire season, reproducing a number of times. Indoors, they can live as long as a year.

 

 

 

What to do: Prevention

 

 

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These pests are usually a sign of one of two problems. First, they are commonly found in unsterilised soil or peat. Secondly, plants are overwatered or drainage is poor, the compost can remain constantly soggy and become sour.

 

Springtail control can be achieved by altering the environment in a way that will reduce the humidity in the area or the moisture content of the soil. Allow your plants soil to dry out between watering. Clean dead plant material off of soil surface.

 

When you water your plant, Spring-tails will start to move vigorously, propelled by their forked tails near the soil’s surface. Although damage will be small, wounds of any size can lead to further problems for the plant such as fungus or virus infections.

 

They can see light and go to it. If you leave a plain bucket of water out around an infected plant and in almost no time there were springtails hopping around in the bucket of plain water.

 

 

Control

None is really necessary. They're more of a nuisance then true pest. These are mostly harmless creatures that feed on fungal growth and decaying plant material. They are dependent on damp conditions and so will not spread away from the plants. Drying your grow medium out will help reduce numbers.

 

Their natural predators are spiders, reptiles, and amphibians.

 

 

Insecticides

 

 

Use insecticide dust or spray on soil surface, like Safer products. Spray cracks and bottom of plant container. Be sure insecticide lists springtails and follow directions

 

 

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Isotoma with visible furcula

 

 

 

The link below will take you to "An Intro to beneficial bugs and beneficial insect food" it has a list (been worked on) to pests and beneficial insects

 

http://freemygreenpdx.com/topic/14334-an-intro-to-benefical-bugs-and-beneficial-insect-food/?p=124257


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