Springtails, Collembola

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Spring tails (Collembola) are small, bottom-living primal insects of 0.1 to 5 millimeters in size. They belong to the class of six-footed animals (Hexapoda). Since springtails feed mainly on dead, organic matter, they are among the most important destructors in the soil ecosystem.

The primal insects usually reach an age between six and twelve months. During this time, most species shed up to 40 times. After about five to eight molts, springtails are sexually mature. The female lays several hundred eggs in her life, depending on her age and general condition. This is done as a single filing or in the form of opportunities.


Springtails have a three-part physique as usual for six-footed. This consists of a head (caput), a leg-bearing chest (thorax) and the abdomen (abdomen).

The above-ground (epedaphic) Collembola are dark colored and strongly hairy. In contrast, the soil-living (eudaphic) species stand out due to their white pigmentation, which is adapted to the way of life in the pore structure of the soil. Due to the compact physique and the short antennas, subterranean species are easily distinguished from above-ground springtails.

Only very few springtails have a tracheal system, so the respiration of the animals is mainly on the thin-walled skin. The mouthpieces of Collembola lie in a so-called mouth pocket and come to light only when in use. Since they are otherwise not visible externally, the animals belong to the so-called Sackkieflern (Entognatha).

Characteristic of springtails is the so-called fork (Furca). She is folded in rest position under the rear body. When irritated - for example when touching the animals - a further, but undirected jump is triggered, with which the primal insects try to escape a possible danger. Soil-living species usually have no furca, as this is hardly useful under the ground. Instead, but such species in case of danger from a weir secretion, which is intended to be a deterrent to predators.

All springtails have a ventraltubus (Collophor) behind their legs. He probably plays an important role in the water and electrolyte balance of small animals. Spring tails can also hold on to smooth surfaces and move with the help of the ventral tube. The scientific name Collembola is therefore composed of the Greek word kolla for "glue" and embolon for "wedge, cone" together.

Occurrence of springtails

Springtails prefer habitats with high humidity, such as prevails in the humus layers of not too dry soils. Also rotten plant material, tree bark, water surfaces, coastal shorelines and sand dunes are visited by the animals. Even in the snowy areas of the high mountains live some specialized Collembola species.

The oldest known fossil finds of Collembola are about 400 million years old. This makes springtails one of the oldest land-living animals, which explains the worldwide distribution in different habitats.

A habitat in which springtails are less often seen by plant friends are the potted bales of houseplants. Spring tails get into the flowerpots either through the soil acquired in the garden trade, through self-mixed compost earth or through colonization of the pots in the beginning and middle of the year when they are outdoors. The humus-rich and almost always humid substrate of the room and container plants offers the springtails optimal living conditions.

Springtails in potting soil

Masses of springtails in potting soil


In one square meter of soil can live up to 400,000 springtails. Collembola are the most common six-footed animals and are the most abundant group of animals in the soil after the mites.

The frequency of occurrence depends on factors such as light, humidity, humus form, soil pH and nutrient availability. It follows that Collembola do not appear evenly distributed, but accumulate where optimal living conditions prevail. In such places, springtails can multiply very quickly in a short time. Especially on warm winter days or in spring, the risk of population expansion is very high.

Nutritional and ecological significance

Most species of springtails feed on decayed organic matter, excrement or carrion. Therefore, they are also called detritus eaters. In addition to these "omnivores" there are also specialized springtails that eat algae, fungi, pollen or microorganisms.

By degrading dead organic matter, Collembola contributes considerably to the formation of humus.The animals thus simultaneously promote soil fertility and thus the growth of the plants. For this reason, springtails are also of considerable use in agriculture and compost heaps.

In addition, springtails reduce the risk of fungal infestation in the case of seeds and young seedlings by the removal of fungal mycelia and thus contribute to crop protection.

When do springtails get harmful?

Springtails occur only as pests, if the culture conditions favor a mass multiplication. This happens, for example, with a strong organic fertilizer. Then large population densities are built up, which can also attack living plant tissue after degradation of the organic waste.

A well-known springtail species, which occurs in agriculture as a pest, is for example the Lucerne flea (Sminthurus viridis).

Fight springtails

Basically, it is not necessary to combat the animals with low infestation. However, if you realize that the springtails damage your potted plants, there are two methods of biological control:

Place affected room or potted plants with pot in a larger container and flood with water. The root ball must be completely submerged. After about thirty minutes, the springtails swim up and collect on the water surface. Now you can easily drain the animals.

Another method of reducing the number of pests is deliberately keeping dry the affected plants. However, this is only recommended for succulents and other potted plants that cope well with dryness.

Video Board: All About Springtails - Care, Culturing, Seeding & More.

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