Springtails: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on January 16, 2023
5 min read

Springtails are a type of tiny insect that is commonly found in moist, rich soil. Though they are harmless to humans, they can become nuisance pests in large numbers. Springtails in gardens can destroy germinating seeds and young plants.

Springtails are named for the special fork-like structure they have under their abdomens called a furcula. A springtail’s furcula is kept folded under its body at rest, but when the furcula is released, the insect will spring up into the air.  

Springtails have no wings, and their body shapes range from long and thin to round or oval-shaped. Some types of springtails can look like small spiders, but they only have 6 legs. Springtails can range in color from tan to blue-gray and have mottled spots, stripes, or solid-colored bodies.

A tiny egg begins the springtail lifecycle. It can take between 5-11 weeks for a springtail to go from an egg to a fully mature adult.

Young springtails often look very similar to adult springtails but are smaller and lighter in color. Each springtail will go through several stages as they grow, shedding their skin as they mature. Some types of springtail will molt more than 50 times, while others shed their skin only 4 times.

Springtails come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors depending on the species. Most springtails are between 1-3 millimeters long, with a maximum size of 6mm.

Some springtails have long, skinny bodies while others are round or oval-shaped. Their legs and antennae can be either short or long depending on the species. Some springtails have tiny scales that give them an iridescent sheen.

Many springtails have two dark spots on their heads that look like a single set of eyes. Each dark spot contains a cluster of as many as 8 eyes. They can have even more eyes between or below their antennae. Other types of springtails that live in dark caves or underneath the soil don’t have any eyes at all.

There are over 8,000 species of springtail worldwide, with around 650 species living in the USA. There are three main types of springtail. 

Elongate-bodied springtails (order Entomobryomorpha)

Elongate-bodied or slender springtails have smooth, long, slim bodies. The longest types can grow up to 6 millimeters long. Detachable scales that give them a metallic, iridescent look often cover their bodies.

Elongate-bodied springtails are the most common type to become indoor pests. They are often found in wet basements, indoor planters, sinks, or bathrooms.

Globular springtails (order Symphypleona)

Globular springtails are round, globe-shaped pests with antennae longer than their heads. They usually are between 1-3 millimeters long. Most species of globular springtails are yellow or tan colored with stripes or mottled spots on their bodies.

The garden springtail is one of the most common types of globular springtail. They easily become outdoor pests as they reproduce and live in large numbers.

Water Springtails and More (order Poduromorpha)

Water springtails have short antennae and legs attached to oval bodies. They don’t have scales and are usually gray or black. You can often see water springtails floating on the surface of the water in pools or ponds.

Snow fleas are a well-known type of springtail, famous for their large numbers creating dark patches on snow with their bodies.

Springtails can be found all over the world, ranging from tropical areas to the Antarctic. They thrive in humid, moist environments.

Most springtail species live in damp soil and underneath rocks, logs, loose bark, moss, and decomposing leaves. Some species live on the surface of the water in ponds, creeks, and estuaries, while others reside on top of snow or glaciers.

Springtails eat decaying plant matter, fungus, fungal spores, mold, and mildew. Some springtail species also eat bacteria, pollen, fecal matter (dung), and decomposing animals.

In forested or natural settings, springtails play an important role in the ecosystem, since they help break down organic material and return nutrients to the soil.

In agricultural areas or your backyard garden, they can become nuisance pests by feeding on germinating seeds and young plant leaves or roots.

Springtails aren’t harmful or dangerous pests. Their large numbers can make them annoying to live with, but they don’t spread disease, bite people, or damage furniture or indoor property.

A springtail’s small size and the way they jump can make them easily mistaken for fleas, but springtails don’t bite humans or animals. Their large numbers can make them a nuisance, but they won’t hurt you.

Springtails often live in large numbers. Up to 100,000 springtails can live together in a single cubic meter of soil. Often the only sign you have springtails is the appearance of thousands of tiny, hopping insects. Wilting houseplants can be another potential sign, as some springtails will destroy young plants.

Springtails might move inside more humid areas of your home if their outdoor environment becomes too hot or dry. They get inside through cracks between doorways, windows, or screens. 

Springtails are attracted to wet, damp areas like bathrooms, basements, crawl spaces, outdoor drains, and swimming pools.

Most common types of springtail need damp, wet conditions to survive. The best way to get rid of springtails is to begin by removing excess moisture or humidity from your home or yard. 

Some ways to naturally prevent or get rid of springtails outdoors include:

  • Using only 2-3 inches of mulch
  • Removing excess leaves and plant litter
  • Watering your yard or garden less frequently 
  • Avoiding dense ground covers
  • Making sure downspouts are positioned correctly to move water away from your house’s foundation

Some steps you can take to get rid of springtails inside your home are:

  • Using fans to improve airflow in humid areas, like the bathroom or basement
  • Using a dehumidifier
  • Repairing plumbing leaks 
  • Insulating pipes, air-conditioning shafts, or other areas where water can condense
  • Avoiding over-watering houseplants

Pesticides aren’t usually necessary to control springtails unless you can’t effectively control excess moisture inside or around your home.

If you choose to use an insecticide, aerosol sprays labeled for “creeping and crawling” pests can temporarily reduce the number of springtails. Outdoors, a perimeter treatment pesticide can help discourage springtails from coming inside.

Avoid using bug bombs (total release aerosol pesticides) because they aren’t effective at getting into the small cracks and spaces where springtails live or hide.

Always remember to follow safety precautions and usage directions for any pesticide you choose.