This is definitely not going to be a popular post – but bear with me.
They may look icky, but these little creatures do wonders for your soil. They love baths, jumping very high and munching organic matter.
Its less than half a millimetre long, the size of a full stop. In one square metre of soil there may be over 10,000 of them.David Attenborough, BBC Life in the Undergrowth
What are springtails?
Springtails are not actually insects – but hexapods (three body parts and a 6 legs). They have also been around for 400 million years, probably longer.
They are known as Collembolans and only between 1/16th to 1/18th of an inch long. They are super small and you may need a microscope to see them.
They’ve got a super powerful lever on their abdomen (furcula) that can pop and propel them off the ground to enable it to spring very high. I bet you may have thought one was a flea! I certinaly did the first time I saw them. But this odd spring, is the reason they are called spring-tails!
They also come in a range of colours, brown, grey, black, white and yellow. But where 6,500 have been described, there may be another 10,000 more species. Hopefully in all colours of the rainbow.
Where do you find springtails?
They love damp organic material, which is why you’ll often find them in compost, soil, leaf litter and in rotting wood
What are springtails doing in your soil?
They are doing wonders for your soil.
- Springtails help decompose organic material
- Springtails eat microbes like fungi, therby releasing nutrients
- Springtails move through the soil creating air pockets
- Some Springtails eat nematodes
- Springtails transport beneficial fungal spores to the roots
- Springtails keep plant roots clean, eating the root skin debris, which helps the plants take up moisture better
Do springtails cause any damage to plants?
No. They do hang out in the rhizosphere (the area around plant roots) though and they accidentally collect fungal spores and transfer them to plant roots. It’s why Dr Charlie Clutterbuck (great name) calls them the “bees of the soil.” They do also eat root hairs and tiny roots, grazing on the roots – but this actually keeps the roots healthy.
Other springtails eat streptomyces bacteria, spreading the bacteria around just like a bird spreads the seeds of berries. This is massively beneficial to the plants. Streptomyces make that ‘earthy’ smell and help plants grow and even protect them.
Onychiuridae (Springtails) have the capacity to carry spore of mycorrhizal fungi and mycorrhiza-helper bacteria on the tegument to the roots, so these soil springtails play a positive role in the establishment of plant-fungal symbioses and thus are beneficial to agriculture. You could call them ‘the bees’ of the soil as an indicator of how important they are.Dr Charlie Clutterbuck, Soil Animals
How can you get more springtails?
To increase your springtail populations, just add in the organic matter.
Ridiculously cute for a bug. It’s like way-too-adorable-anime character sidekick, perfect for selling pillows, lunchboxes, figurines, etc, based on it. It’s the Pikachu of insects. Even the little tube and the way it washes itself is like out of some Japanese cartoon.Groomedtodie, YouTube review
The Pikachu of insects. The bees of the soil. Well, there you go. I bet you want to go out and check your soil now. Told you they weren’t icky.
As Nick Bailey said, these are creatures are due some long overdue respect. If you want a great garden, you can’t do it by yourself. You need some of these little guys too!