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What Are These Tiny, Black Bugs That Jump?

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Springtails are attracted to moist places, and are sometimes seen on the surface of puddles.

Springtails are attracted to moist places, and are sometimes seen on the surface of puddles or swimming pools.

Flickr user desultrix (CC by SA license)
Question: What Are These Tiny, Black Bugs That Jump?

Help! There are hundreds of tiny, black bugs in my house, and they jump! What are they and how do I get rid of them?

Answer:

If you had simply asked about tiny, black bugs, my first thought would be carpet beetles. Carpet beetles are very common in homes, but usually go unnoticed until several of them decide to congregate on a wall or floor. If the tiny, black bugs in your home don't jump, read my article on carpet beetle infestations for advice.

When you mention that the tiny, black bugs jump or hop, however, I know you've got something entirely different in your home – springtails. Springtails don't belong indoors, but don't worry, they aren't going to cause any harm to you or your home.

Occasionally, springtails will migrate indoors during periods of heavy rains, or during prolonged hot, dry spells. If you have houseplants, they may have been living in the potting soil and simply escaped their pots. Homeowners may also find springtails around the outside of their homes, in driveways, or near the swimming pool. People often describe them as looking like a "pile of soot" on the sidewalk.

So what are springtails, exactly? Springtails are decomposers that typically feed on decaying organic matter, including plants, fungi, bacteria, and algae. They're quite tiny, measuring a mere 1/16th of an inch long as adults, and lack wings. Springtails are named for an unusual structure called a furcula, which folds beneath the abdomen like a tail. When a springtail senses danger, it whips the furcula against the ground, effectively propelling itself into the air and away from the threat. In the past, springtails were considered primitive insects, but today many entomologists call them entognaths rather than insects.

Like most decomposers, springtails prefer a moist, humid environment. When springtails invade homes, it's usually because conditions outdoors have become inhospitable, and they're seeking a location with appropriate humidity and moisture. This is also why they sometimes aggregate around swimming pools, or around muddy areas of the yard.

How to Get Rid of Springtails

Let me emphasize this again – springtails will not harm you, your pets, or your home. Only in rare circumstances will they even do damage to your houseplants. They won't reproduce indoors, so all you need to do is eliminate the springtails you've found. They are a nuisance in the home, but not a cause for serious concern. So please, don't run out and buy a bunch of bug bombs to exterminate them. You don't need pesticides or an exterminator to control springtails in your home.

To get rid of springtails, you only need to do two things: remove the springtails you find, and make your home inhospitable to them so they don't return later. Grab a broom and a dustpan and sweep up any springtails you find. Springtails sometimes aggregate on window screens and door frames, so check those areas and sweep them up, too.

Now, to keep any more springtails from making their way indoors, eliminate the conditions that springtails prefer – moisture and humidity. Install a dehumidifier if your home is humid. Fix leaking pipes and address moisture problems in basements. It also helps to bug proof your home.

If you suspect your houseplants were the source of the springtail problem, let your plants dry out completely before watering them again. Don't overwinter mulched container plants from outdoors in your home.

Sometimes, springtails wind up floating on the surface of the swimming pool. Just skim them out of the water as you would other debris floating in your pool.

Sources:

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Insects
  4. Insects & Society
  5. Insect Pests
  6. Household Pests
  7. Tiny, Black Bugs – What Are These Tiny, Black Bugs That Jump? - Tiny, Jumping Bugs

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