Springtails – Helpful? Harmful? No impact?

Springtails

A recent comment on the Red Worm Composting Facebook fan page (expressing frustration due to the presence of springtails in a worm bin) reminded me that I really should get things rolling with my planned follow-up to the “Waste Optimization Challenge“. As you may recall, my goal is to determine what sort of impact (if any) the presence of springtails has on the vermicomposting process.

I’ve decided to scale things down a fair bit (in comparison to the Optimization Challenge) by using ice cream tubs instead of Rubbermaid tubs. As per usual I AM still keeping things very simple, though. I’ll only have two bins – one with springtails, one (hopefully) without them.

Today I did the initial set-up of the bins. I filled them with approximately the same amount of moistened shredded cardboard bedding. Each bin then received 100 g (0.22 lb) of boiled coleslaw mix. The aim here was to add something “optimized” – but I didn’t feel like waiting around for my frozen carrot strips to thaw out enough so I could work with them. Not 100% sure yet what my food source with be moving forward, but I will definitely keep it consistent (each bin will get exactly the same thing).


I am going to let the tubs sit for a period of time before adding worms (both bins) and springtails (one of the bins). I haven’t yet decided on the number of worms to add to each bin, but it will likely be in the range of 10-30. As for springtails, there is no way I’m going to attempt to count these guys so I will have to settle for “lots and lots” being added to that treatment.

Once the initial habitat is well-established (with worms and springtails added) I will likely try different food materials (optimized and not optimized) to see if there are any differences there. One of my hunches has always been that springtails help with materials that the worms won’t feed on right away, so I definitely want to see if this is indeed the case.

Should be interesting. Will keep you posted!
8)

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Comments

    • Paul from Winnipeg
    • March 28, 2012

    Very cool Bentley. I’ve often wondered what these little critters do for the decomposition process.
    I’ve found them in my fish tanks where they ‘walk on water’ and feed on the gunk that grows at the waterline against the glass. I also have them in my worm bin and my aquaponics growbeds hiding under the foliage.

    • Peter
    • March 28, 2012

    It’s so weird, I just don’t get springtails anymore. I find the odd one here and there, or a small group, but never in the masses. They seemed to have dropped off once my worm pop grew. Freezing the feedings so they are eaten quickly (was for keeping flies down) and the worm pop just seems to have lowered my springtail pop greatly.

    • Laura
    • March 29, 2012

    Hmmm, interesting Bentley. Luckily I have never seen these critters in my bin. My question is – looking at those two mini bins sitting side by side – how are you going to prevent cross contamination of the ‘none’ bin? Will the springtails remain only inthe bin into which they have been placed, or do they travel?

    • Andrés
    • March 29, 2012

    i never had springtails until recently, when I started to use frozen waste. Since then, I’ve noticed that springtails were harming my worms (I could see how they were sometimes getting on top of them and the worms would try to escape. I found even many then trying to escape the bin (which have been for a long time in very good conditions, thriving with worms and loads of little new borns. i have a WF-360)
    I’ve always wondered if springtails wouldnt eat the food that eventually would be for the worms leaving them with no food and nothing to be turned into castings. No I wonder if they dont even attack and eventually eat the worms.

    • frank feiller
    • March 30, 2012

    the spring tails appear to have a very negative impact on the worms in my bins. the worms are down deaper in the bedding and the springtails are the first on the food no matter what it is from purina worm chow, to cardboard, horse. they will literlly cover and worms in their territory.
    wish i could get rid of the darn things

    • Dave
    • April 8, 2012

    I have been following the springtail comments for some time and recently had them in my bin and have just today renewed my bedding and cleaned off as much springtails as i could.I did however find that my some of my worms migrated into the bed blanket on top and I am having trouble
    getting them out. Could this be them trying to get away from the springtails?

    • Andreas
    • April 17, 2012

    I think the springtails are not really the problem but the conditions they appear or like. Springtails seem to like a rather acidic surrounding. So if springtails “take over” and worms die, flee or get sick it might rather be because of the general conditions and not because the springtails took over.
    But in my bin springtails are just kind of “pioneers” – they are in the areas with lots of fresh coffee grounds and the worms are below that area or somewhere else. I really have the feeling my farm isn’t healthy if there are not at least some of them visible.
    If it gets too hot (above 30-32 degrees Celsius) the springtails try to escape downwards in my (can-o-worm) bin and i can harvest streams of springtails through the drainage system – that looks really weird – streams of springtails.
    But yes – i like them – like all the other helpful creatures in my bin 🙂

    • Elaine
    • April 17, 2012

    To add to your experiments, those of you with springtails in your bins might try this experiment: Get an aquarium air pump and two “stones.” Aerate your worm tea in a separate bucket for a few days, then dump the oxygenated tea back into your worm bin from time-to-time. I have a theory that unwelcomed guests won’t like the oxygenated worm tea as much as the worms do.

    • Bentley
    • April 18, 2012

    PAUL – funny you should mention their walking-on-water tendencies. I am just about to test them out as a fish food for my daughter’s two goldfish. They are now pretty comfortable with floating food, so it will be interesting to see if they will grab springtails off the surface. I certainly have enough of them! lol
    —–
    PETER – interesting observation! I guess the only challenge there is the fact that the higher the worm poop concentration, the less ideal the habitat is for worms as well.
    —–
    ANDREAS (#1) – I’m not sure springtails would ever really “harm” worms, but I wouldn’t be surprised if having them crawling all over their body was an irritant. I still find worms and springtails in close promixity in my beds though (although worms tend to hang out slightly below where most springtails are), so I don’t think it’s too much of an issue. As for “attacking” anything (other than fungi and other microbes – haha) I just don’t think springtails are even equipped for that sort of feeding approach, so very unlikely.
    ——
    FRANK – I have seen similar abundance of springtails when using feeds like that – they seem to go bananas for starchy stuff like that. And yes, when the densities of springtails are that high, the worms seem to prefer to stay lower down. Again, I really don’t think this causes them harm though. I am sure they still have plenty to feed on (including lots of springtail poop! lol).
    That being said – I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how things progress in my experiment!
    ———-
    DAVE – In my experience, worms are always attracted to things like sheets of cardboard, cloths etc that are placed in a worm bin. I’ve added whole newsprint flyers (accidentally) in my outdoor beds and found incredible numbers of worms associated with them later on.
    ———–
    Andreas (#2) – That perspective is much better (in my humble opinion) than assuming a particular creature (other than the worms) is “bad” or “harmful”. It is always important to consider the conditions that have led to the increase in numbers – these are almost always more important, since they will still be there even if you DO somehow manage to get rid of the offenders. Interesting thought about the acidic conditions. Makes me want to test this out somehow (maybe by adding lots of calcium-rich rock dust to one bin and none to another to see if it results in a reduction of springtails etc). I agree with your “pioneers” thought as well – that’s part of the reason I kinda like these little guys – they seem to start on food before the worms, likely helping to speed up the breakdown etc
    ——
    ELAINE – interesting notion. What makes you think the worm tea will harm the springtails (and particularly aerated worm tea)? I know springtails don’t like moisture as much as the worms, so my prediction is that you’d see loads of them up on the surface right after adding the liquid. I honestly don’t think it would harm them though. They are oxygen-requiring critters (even more so) just like the worms.

    • Elaine
    • April 18, 2012

    I didn’t say “die.” I just thought a more aerobic environment might deter them. Got caught up in the experiment mentality. I haven’t had my bin for more than 3 years, perhaps–just a novice. Had a bunch of bitty nematodes draining off with the worm tea a few years ago and began the aeration thing. I don’t have that problem anymore. Perhaps adding EMs (effective microorganisms) to the bubbly process did the trick?

    • Bentley
    • April 18, 2012

    Neither did I (say “die”) – haha!
    Seriously though – apologies for misunderstanding what you are saying (didn’t mean to give the impression I was putting down your idea either – experimenting with all sorts of different methods is a GREAT approach, so I applaud you for that!).
    Bare minimum, I bet it would be a good way to concentrate a bunch of the springtails for easy collection/removal – but it could very well be even more beneficial than that! Do let us know if you try it!
    8)

  1. I have 3 worm towers- 2 Worm Factories and 1 WF360- All invested with springtails to greater and lesser degrees. The 360 runs the driest (produces very little/no runoff) and seems to be the least effected. Both the regular WFs run considerably wetter. The most infested I’ve ever seen any of my bins was the week after I disposed of my decaying Halloween pumpkin into one of them, when the whole top surface was opaqu with swarming springtails. I’ve now gown over the initial horror of them and I honestly don’t think they’re having any negative impact on my worms. The worms are lively, plump, and nicely colored, they mostly populate the first two trays, and any digging reveals babies at alls stages of development and lots (and lots and lots) of worm eggs. I do an occasional wipe down of the area with Simple Green (making sure not to get any IN the bins) which seems to at least keep them contained in the worm area. That said, I never had springtails before 3 months ago, so I have not been able to observe any long term effects they may have on the worms/bins.

    • Liz Turpen
    • January 20, 2014

    My worm bin is filled with springtails and I would love to get rid of them. I started a new bed yesterday and, of course, the worms haven’t traveled into it yet but there are already thousands of springtails on the food and in the cardboard. It is very frustrating.

    • Bentley
    • January 20, 2014

    Hi Liz – my first question would be – why exactly do you want to get rid of them? I’ve had springtails in all my systems for years and they’ve never caused any harm (pretty sure they are helping in fact).

    • Liz Turpen
    • January 20, 2014

    Well Bentley that makes me feel a little better but I’m just afraid they are going to take over the whole bed. They almost have already. The casings look like they have sand mixed in it. I mean I have that many. If you don’t think they are a problem then I’ll relax. Thank you for your comment.

    • Bentley
    • January 20, 2014

    It MAY indicate you are adding too much food, Liz. Also, since springtails don’t like wet conditions as much as the worms, perhaps it indicates that things are getting a bit too wet down below (often why it can look like they are taking over). Massive, massive quantities of them could indeed be an indication of something being a bit off-kilter (that’s why I usually like to think of these various critters more as indicator species than invaders).

    • Elizabeth
    • March 6, 2014

    Interesting that you say springtails don’t like it as wet as the wigglers do. I was just reading on a couple of other sites that having the compost too wet is what makes springtails thrive. That would make sense to me because we just had heavy rain in CA for the first time in months, and the springtails sprung up after that. I’d never seen them before.
    My main question is whether having tons of springtails floating (dancing) in the worm tea I drain from the bottom bin makes the tea harmful for my plants. It worries me to put a bunch of larva-looking things in my garden.

    • Bentley
    • March 7, 2014

    LoL – springtails normally enjoy doing their thing down below the surface of the compost etc. But when excess water ends up in their habitat they move up to the surface, making it look like they have suddenly “sprung up” out of no where. This is where my claim that springtails don’t like moisture quite as much as worms stems from (and also why many other people assume they DO love moisture – haha)

    • Stephen Pennlowe
    • April 27, 2014

    Concerning springtails, they immediately appear when adding pieces of wet egg cartons to the worm bin; no food yet. It’s puzzling that springtails have never shown up in the tiny worm container housing red wigglers to feed the toad. The worms come from the breeding bin that is loaded with springtails. There are very few baby red wigglers in the egg carton cones that are filled with food, yet egg shells filled with food yield lively red wigglers of all ages. The worms definitely like the closeness of the egg shells even when all the food is consumed, within limits. Existing shells, and new egg shells filled with food draw worms and the cycle starts again. Springtails are still present in the egg shells, but unlike the egg carton cones, there seems to be little or no negative effect on the population.

    • Stephen Pennlowe
    • April 27, 2014

    I read that red wigglers grow fatter when egg shells turned to powder is mixed with their food. A coffee bean mill works well to grind egg shells to a powder. Add it to wet paper, soil, or whatever environment they live in; so far the results are positive.

    • Stephen Pennlowe
    • April 27, 2014

    Before I forget, all of the food scraps are processed in a blender, less the egg shell power, after which the firm liquid food sits in covered plastic containers. Egg shell powder is mixed in to each container with the lid slightly open to aid in decomposition. The food is ready for use when an odor develops.

    • Terri
    • May 7, 2015

    Hi there,

    I’m doing a horticulture course, and I need to do a small paper on a soil organism. I was searching for information on springtails, and came across this page.
    I already know that there are few earth worms native to the pacific northwest, which is where I am from. Most of what we have here were introduced with the early settlers. Springtails, however, are native, so I thought I’d look into them.
    I’m curious, how did the experiment go? I don’t see any follow up after 2014.
    Thanks, Terri

    • Bentley
    • May 11, 2015

    Hi Terri
    It’s all a bit of a blur now (lol) but I know there were definitely updates after this one. The long and the short of it is that I still consider springtails to be a helpful member of compost ecosystem (whether worms are involved or not).

    • Katy
    • May 12, 2015

    Bentley,

    I built my own worm farm. I have approximately 45-50 bins that have 1 – 2 lbs of worms in each of them. I recently noticed some of my oldest bins are starting to have springtails in them. My concern is they are attack what seems to be my weaker worms & also can they cause harm to humans? I would hate to be infested with them. It also says here at the link: http://wormmainea.blogspot.com/2009/11/whats-in-your-worm-bin.html They come around when the compost is nearly ready or done if you will. Just want to make sure they wont harm me or my worms.

    • Liz
    • May 17, 2015

    I have been composting for about a year now and I don’t even worry about Springtails anymore. My original concern was that they were bothering my worms but they’re not they’re just sharing the worms food. I’m with you Bentley, I too think they are a helpful member of the compost ecosystem. I don’t think they interfere with the quality of the end produce, the castings.

    • Terri
    • June 27, 2015

    Hi all,
    After I posted my questions here, I finished my research on springtails.
    First, springtails are older then worms.
    Second, most springtails are vegetarians or scavengers. Very few are carnivores.
    Third, most earthworms in the U.S. and Canada are invasive species from Europe.
    Fourth, no springtail that I came across is a parasite.

    Springtails are a natural part of our ecosystem. They aren’t harmful. Even those that are predatory eat nematodes, not larger worms.

    Terri

    • Jules
    • December 15, 2015

    Oh springtails, what a bugger…. I have found that they flock towards banana peels. I have 3 bins and occasionally I take a banana, separate the peel in 3 pieces and put one the top layer in each bin. After 24 hrs I remove the heavily infested peels and throw them out in the yard. Literally hundreds or thousands of these are taken out per session. They seem to multiply rather quickly. Hopefully this helps.

    • Rowin
    • December 10, 2018

    Hi all, very interesting to read all this. I have some worm hotels that have many springtale larvae. Usually it will be a worm hotel that is more wet. The composting does not seem to be harmed by it and the worms seem to be happy. Worms seem to join in groups in some parts and the larvae move around.

    I posted a foto of a look at one of these wormhotels inside (seen through the window on the side). You can see the foto on my instagramm account here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BrMpGpSFgJY/

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