Care Sheet: Springtails (Collembolla)
Common name: Springtail, Temperate Springtail (hobby use)
Scientific name: Collembolla subclass
Size: 1mm long approx
Lifespan: Greatly varied, 1 week to several years.
Diet: Detritivore; decaying vegetation, bacteria, pollen and fungi.
Appearance: Tiny, white and grey, like tiny rice grains. Can be difficult to see.
Use in hobby: Feeder insect for very small fish and insects, clean up crew for enclosures.
Our recommended size: 1-5L tub depending on personal needs with a fully covering lid- ventilation not required.
Temperature: Room temperature, do not keep in direct sunlight. Avoid extremes, high temperatures may cause death.
Substrate: 1inch or more thick layer of charcoal (may be activated, horticultural or bbq- avoid treated briquettes) and a slightly lower level of distilled water.
Maintenance: Once a colony has started, little to no maintenance is needed. The lid should be occasionally removed to allow for oxygen and CO2 exchange in the tub.
Tankmates: A springtail culture should contain only springtails to encourage their population to grow. Temperate springtails used in the hobby are harmless, and ideal for any moist bioactive set up that houses animals, like amphibians, reptiles, and even ant enclosures.
There are two popular ways to feed springtails:
- Sprinkle in a few grains of rice. The rice is allowed to mold over, which provides a long lasting food source. Replace the rice once springtails have lost interest in the older rice.
- Sprinkle in yeast, in this case inactive brewer's yeast is fine. This may be fed in small amounts twice a week. If the culture begins to smell, scale back on feeding.
Some people feed their springtails fish food/flakes, but this is highly discouraged as it's far more prone to attracting mites than rice or yeast. These mites may out compete the springtails.
Harvesting for Use
If harvesting springtails for use there are two methods:
- Springtails can be transferred by picking up a piece of charcoal that has many springtails crawling on it.
- Another method requires the culture to be partially flooded with extra distilled water. Springtails are hydrophobic and will float on the top. This water can be poured off into the intended location for springtails, or the springtails can be harvested directly using a pipette/turkey baster/plastic syringe.
Handle springtails carefully, as they are extremely easy to crush.
Behaviour and Biology
Springtails are tiny hexapods that are technically not true insects. There are over 3,600 species of springtails that inhabit all soil-based, vegetated habitats on Earth. Temperate springtails, which are commonly used in the hobby are detritovores that mostly help decay by eating fungi.
The name springtail comes from a tail like appendage that is seen in most species, called the furcula. The furcula snaps against the substrate to spring the springtail into the air as a defense mechanism.
Temperate springtails are sometimes seen as a pest in homes where there is a lot of moisture, such as in bathrooms and kitchens. They do not cause any damage or harm, but indicate a moisture and mould problem.
Springtails can breed prolifically in ideal conditions, though may take several weeks to have a noticeable population growth in a newly started culture. Due to their tiny size, they cannot be easily sexed- though it is not important to breeding them as long as there is a sizable group.
The speed of reproduction and growth will be affected by temperature, with growth being slowest in the cold.
Reproduction can be achieved sexually or parthenogenetically (where the female produces young without a male, usually clones).
- After mating with a male, or in an instance the female produces offspring on her own, she will lay up to 400 eggs in her lifetime.
- After about 10 days, the eggs hatch into miniatures of the adults. There is no parental care, and they immediately go off to forage.
- The young springtails go through three moults over the course of 10 days before becoming mature adults.
- Springtails will continue to moult throughout their lifespan, with reproduction occurring between moults in adult females. Growth in size slows down greatly after reaching adulthood.
Handy Tip: When you start a new culture, it will take about two weeks to see noticeable population growth. Turn over pieces of charcoal, and you might find them all clustered on the underside like little white specks. Additionally, putting some food down and checking in a few days will allow the springtails to congregate where you can easily see them.