That Springtime Nemesis

Tuesday June 29, 2010


Mr Pest Control


We are having a difficult time with what looks like springtails, but they do not spring or jump at all. We find them on patios and in bathroom tubs and toilets. Do they come through the drains? Any idea how to control them?

Ben, ID

Mr Pest Control


I will bet these still are springtails, even though they may be a species that does not have that prolonged "furcula" that enables many kinds to jump. Some of the more primitive kinds are very slow moving and do not leap, but they still are springtails. These critters have always been called insects, but the latest taxonomy has chosen to place them in a separate Class that is closely related, but different from insects.

Late spring and early summer typically give us fits on springtails, and this year has been no different. I get emails nearly every day about them from all over the U.S.. In homes they often do seem to be drawn to moisture, which would be expected since the foods they seek will be things that grow in moist locations - fungus, algae, decaying organic material. It is not uncommon to suddenly have millions of them show up on the surface of a swimming pool, disturbed from their normal habitat for some reason and caused to migrate in massive numbers. That disruption can be a sudden drying of their habitat, where they need moisture and cool conditions, or vice versa a sudden flooding of the habitat due to heavy irrigation or rain. If the season produced a lot of rain it could have encouraged large populations, and as with any living thing the population looks to expand its territories, and now could be showing up on the patio outside.

These could also be coming from the outside and moving into this home you are dealing with, or they could be finding the proper living conditions on the interior as well. Often these kinds of bugs are indicators of moisture problems, whether it is plumbing leaks or just heavily watered potted plants. They do seem to be attracted to sinks and tubs, and once in them may have difficulty getting back out due to the slick porcelain sides. The drains will be moist, and somehow the springtails detect the moisture, or just find it convenient to get into the drain to live or hide. I would find it hard to believe they would be able to ENTER the structure by coming up the drain. If the plumbing is as it should be there would be a U-shaped water trap below each drain, and that trap would be a physical barrier to any bugs (or smells) coming up from the sewer it connects to. More likely they are going down into the drain than coming up from it.

Any insecticide should easily kill springtails if you contact them with it. The problem is getting to the source and killing them there so they don't replenish the ones you kill. Moisture control is needed, so a thorough inspection of the structure might reveal something out of sorts. This can be a tough challenge, as it could be moisture in hidden places. It could be wet soils in potted plants, drip pans under appliances that need emptying and cleaning, or wet soils in the crawlspace. Investigate the exterior to see if there is any thick mulch in the garden, heavy turf or grasses up against the foundation, thick shrubs or groundcovers on the soil that keep things dark and wet beneath. Modify these as needed to help dry things out,  and if possible keep a bare strip of 12 inches around the immediate foundation.

Mr. Pest Control

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