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Archive for Thursday, March 24, 2005

Leaping springtails can appear daunting but subside quickly

March 24, 2005

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Most pet owners can deal with fleas, and many homeowners can identify ants inside the home or out.

However, many gardeners are unfamiliar with an insect that looks like an ant and jumps like a flea.

As the weather warms and more insects become active, many gardeners are finding a tiny insect called a springtail jumping around their homes.

Springtails -- wingless, leaping insects -- measure 2 to 3 millimeters long. They have short antennae and chewing mouthparts. Springtails develop without metamorphosis, so their life stages are egg, young and adult.

Depending on the species, they can be black, gray, white, red, orange, blue, violet or purple. Most species live outside and feed on decaying vegetation. They can be found under stones, in decaying leaves or other damp places. They can occur by the hundreds of thousands in most lawns, but because they are so tiny, they are rarely noticed. Some are commonly found clustered on the sides of trees where sap is oozing out; still others collect in large numbers on still water. Most springtails dry up and die quickly without high humidity. However, there are a few species that can survive in the cool, damp basement of buildings.

Springtails get their name from their ability to flip themselves into the air by means of a spring-like organ on the underside of the abdomen. This small appendage, called a furcula, is latched to the underside of the body. When disturbed, the insects release the latch and can propel themselves more than 100 times their body length, giving the illusion that they can jump.

Inside the home, springtails can be found in and around houseplants. If the insects remain confined to the soil, there is no need for control as they will not harm the plant. If they become a nuisance and control is necessary, treat the soil surface of potted plants with an insecticide dust or aerosol that lists springtails on the label. Several products containing synergized pyrethrins or pyrethroids are labeled for use around the home.

Springtails also are found around bathtubs, showers and sinks. They are attracted to the moisture and accumulations of organic matter. These areas must be cleaned thoroughly and kept dry to correct the situation. For a temporary solution to indoor springtail problems, use a household aerosol spray. The problem will recur if the sources of moisture and organic matter are not removed.

Finally, large masses may appear on sidewalks, patios or concrete porches. Usually there is no need to do anything; the masses will disappear in a day or two. However, if immediate removal is desired, simply clean the area with water to disperse or wash the insects away.

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