If you’ve been handling plants for a while now, you’ve probably seen these little bugs called springtails. Naturally, the first thing anyone is going to ask is are these little springtails harmful to my plants?
Springtails are completely harmless to plants. They feed on dead and decaying organic matter, fungi, and algae. They play an important role in cleaning up the rotting stuff and leaving beneficial minerals for your plants. The only time they could potentially be harmful to plants is if there’s an overpopulation of springtails, a side effect of overwatering.
Springtails actually play an important role in any plant ecosystem. So much so that any terrarium enthusiast will actively look to add these guys to their terrariums for the benefits they provide.
What are springtails?
Springtails, also called collembolans, are nearly microscopic whitish, grey insects that are very commonly found in moist areas. There are thousands of different species of springtails around the world.
You can find them outdoors in soil and decaying plant matter. It’s estimated that there are tens of thousands of these little guys in one square meter of soil.
They’re also pretty small, measuring about 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch long. You might be able to see them if you squint pretty hard, but a magnifying glass might be handy to help you see them a little bit more clearly.
Often, you’ll see them jump around in response to a threat or any movement in the area. They have a small tail that curls up under them and can launch them a few feet away if they detect any dangers nearby.
They feed on fungi, pollen, algae, disease-causing microorganisms, and decaying matter, all things that you don’t want around your plants. Because of this they play a crucial role in any plant ecosystem. They convert dying matter into fresh nutrients that are beneficial to plants.
They’re so useful that many terrarium hobbyists will gladly add them to their terrarium along with some charcoal or activated carbon to improve the overall long-term well-being of their terrarium.
Where to get springtails?
There are a few ways to get springtails:
- Buy them online or from a local nursery
- Catch them in the wild
- Culture your own
Buying them is pretty straightforward. You can easily find some listed on Amazon and other online plant retailers. You can probably find some at brick and mortar stores like Home Depot, Petco, or any garden store.
They usually come in a small container with some soil or charcoal in there to feed them.
Since a starter kit only costs a few bucks, that’s usually the preferred way to get springtails rather than collecting your own. It may not be worth your time to go out and gather springtails in the wild.
Catching springtails is an option for you if you want to get a starter kit of springtails without paying any money or if you want to give your kids something to do. However, it’s going to take a little bit of time and effort to do so.
You would have to go out into an area with a lot of moisture, likely somewhere in the shade or near a water source. You can look for springtails in the soil ideally somewhere where there’s decaying organic matter or rotting wood.
You could check under branches that have fallen to the ground, leaf litter, under rocks and stones, and wet soil.
To get them to enter your container, you could scoop up the soil or decaying matter and place it in your container and hope enough springtails got in.
But if you want to make sure you catch enough springtails to start a culture, you can try placing a wet paper towel inside your container, put some decaying leaves in there, and wait a few days.
For good measure, you can also throw a mushroom in there.
The wet paper towel should attract them to come into the container because springtails are attracted to moisture (and fungi). This should give you plenty of springtails to start a successful starter culture.
How to culture springtails?
Culturing your own springtails is a little bit more involved than buying them online, but will save you money long term if you plan to keep adding springtails to your plants.
First you need to obtain a starter culture of springtails. The starter culture can either be bought or caught in the wild.
Once you have a starter culture, all you have to do is feed them so that the population will keep growing. When the population becomes sizeable, you should be able to divide up the springtails to their individual containers to be used for your plants.
You can feed your springtails with activated carbon and a few grains of rice. You can fill up your containers about 3/4 full with activated carbon or charcoal and a few grains of rice for good measure.
Just make sure not to overfeed them. That could cause them to die out. If you see any dead springtails or it starts to stink, that’s a sign that there could be too much food in your culture.
The other ingredient to a successful springtail culture is plenty of water. Since springtails thrive on water, you’re going to need to add about 1/2 in to an inch of water to allow them to grow.
Keeping water in the container will help keep the humidity up. No need to add ventilation.
At the same time, you will want to avoid submerging all of the charcoal in water. Springtails will not feed on the charcoal if it is under water.
If you keep these variables consistent, that should lead to steady population growth.
How to add springtails to your terrarium
Adding springtails to your terrarium is a relatively simple process.
Once you have a culture of springtails, all you would have to do is either allow them to jump into your terrarium by tilting the container or pouring a little bit of water from the culture into the terrarium.
Springtails should be floating in the water on their own. So there’s no extra effort you need to do to get them to get into the water. Just pouring a little bit of water into the terrarium will ensure you get a good number of springtails in there.
Just be careful to check around the area after you’re done. You probably don’t want any springtails running wild around your house.
How to get rid of springtails?
If your springtail population starts getting out of control, an overpopulation of springtails may lead to some feeding on roots and shoots of plants.
If you’re getting an infestation of springtails in your terrarium, that could be due to overwatering. If a terrarium is being overwatered, that promotes the growth of mold and rotting. As a result of that, springtails will start to thrive as a secondary symptom.
The population should normally control itself if you monitor the water levels in your terrarium carefully.
With that in mind, if you want to reduce the population of springtails in your terrarium, all you would have to do is reduce the water levels. Just open up the terrarium, wipe off any condensation on the container, and let it air out for a few hours.
Check back in a day or two to see how much condensation is on the container. You should see condensation in the morning in the evening and that’s it. If you’re still seeing condensation in the container all the time, there’s probably still too much water in there.
Another way to check the water levels is to just touch the soil. It should feel moist, but not soaked.
Ultimately, springtails are beneficial to plants of all types. They clean up dead organic matter and feed on mold, things you would otherwise have to do yourself and watch out for in any terrarium.