Springtails are very small, whitish-gray or light colored insects, measuring 1/32 to 1/8-inch long. They have a bulbous “humpbacked” body, no wings, and a distinctive head with long antennae. Springtails get their name from a forked appendage attached to the end of the abdomen, which can be bent under the body and, when released, helps the insect to “spring” forward, much like a flea.
Females lay eggs singly or in clusters in moist areas. The immature springtails undergo five to ten molts before they become adults. The adult continues to molt up to 50 times throughout its life with no increase in size after the fifteenth molt. Developmental time (egg to adult) requires two to three months, and, occasionally, as long as two years.
Springtails are always found in very moist situations. Outdoors, their populations can reach as many as 50,000 per cubic foot of soil. They are typically associated with leaf letter, mulch, firewood, landscape timbers, potted plants, railroad ties, etc. Nineteen different species of these insects have been found to invade homes and buildings, doing so when their living area becomes too dry and they need a moisture source.
Some are small enough to enter through window screens. They can be found in sinks and basins, floor drains, around sweating pipes, in moist basements or crawlspaces, on moldy furniture, and in the soil of potted plants. These insects feed on decaying organic matter, algae, and fungi. They are attracted to light.
One species has been associated with itching skin of people who work in areas where large numbers of springtails are found. Many times this dermatitis is mistakenly blamed on fleas because of the way that springtails hop about.