Springtails invading homes
Springtails are minute (1-5 mm), wingless arthropods with an elongate to oval body shape that may be dark or light colored depending upon the species. Their minute size and habit of “springing around” help to identify them. These tiny arthropods are very abundant outdoors in soil, leaf litter, decaying wood, around vegetation, and basically anywhere there is the slightest bit of moisture. In fact, springtails can often be found indoors in damp or humid areas such as basements, around sinks or basins, showers, indoor houseplants and even by windows where condensation has formed. During periods of dry weather, it is common for springtails to become a bit more noticeable in and around the home as they disperse looking for moisture. While springtails may increase in number in the home during the hottest parts of the year, they are completely harmless.
Springtails are decomposers that live off of decaying organic matter and they may also graze on mold spores, especially indoors. They do no structural damage to the home nor can they bite or inflict pain to humans and their pets. Though they are pretty unique creatures, it may be possible to confuse springtails with another tiny, springing arthropod that can be found in the home, the flea. Flea populations typically increase during the summer months and they can move indoors with pets or simply on their own accord when populations are high around the home.
Springtails, hence their name, have a tail-like structure called a “furcula” that is folded beneath their body under tension. When this appendage releases, it sends the sprintail flying into the air. Photo by Samuel Abbott.
One easy way to tell springtails and fleas apart is by the body shape (if you can look close enough). Fleas have an overall shorter body length and their body is ventrally flattened. Also, antennae on springtails are noticeable while they are not in fleas. Fleas are also much stronger jumpers, typically once a flea jumps you won’t see it nearby; springtails tend to bounce around in a fairly limited space. And finally, as mentioned above, springtails do not bite! If you have fleas in the home, you are likely to have small itchy bites around the ankles and on your legs. While chemical control of springtails is not usually needed or recommended, it may be necessary for fleas if their numbers get out of control. So, as always, be sure to properly identify your pest before making control decisions.