Are you looking to breed springtails as feeders for your pets? Or perhaps you want to keep them as a cleanup crew for your vivarium? Here’s how to breed springtails in your home
Springtails are the tiny wingless insects you often find in damp and dark corners of your home. These bugs are perfect for feeding fish, small mammals, frogs, and other insectivores.
Springtail culture is a great way to ensure food supply for pets that can live on feeder insects. They are also a great way to clean up your bioactive vivariums. Springtails are a resilient bunch, which makes them easy to keep.
Although considered a nuisance pest, they are perfectly harmless to humans. Let’s figure out how you can breed springtails efficiently and without hassle.
How Fast do Springtails Reproduce?
One of the reasons why springtails are so easy to breed is that these pests reproduce very fast. They usually breed four times a year, laying up to 400 eggs during their lifetime.
This is one of the reasons why springtails can quickly become a nuisance unless you’re specifically breeding them.
Springtails can live for up to a year when indoors; while outdoors, they can live through a whole season. It takes springtails about five to ten days to hatch from eggs, after which they spend five to six weeks as nymphs, then living as adults.
Springtails molt about 50 times during their lifetime, and around the 15th time, they will grow bigger than their previous size.
Choosing an Appropriate Container for Breeding
Before you can start breeding any pest, you need to choose a suitable container for it. Ideally, a sealed container (but not airtight) that’s six quarts or larger should be alright for springtail breeding culture.
Remember, your container needs to be large enough to keep hundreds of springtails after the eggs hatch, along with the substrate and the food.
A simple plastic container is enough for springtail breeding, provided that it is large enough and has holes or a mesh for ventilation. In case it doesn’t have holes, you have to open the container every couple of days to let in some fresh air.
Breeding Mediums (Substrate)
You need to provide the springtails with a medium on which they can breed and live. There are several substrates for you to choose from:
A two-inch deep layer of peat moss at the bottom of the container would be a great breeding medium. However, make sure to boil it on medium heat for about an hour to sterilize it first.
Once the peat moss has cooled down to room temperature, drain away all the water except what’s necessary to keep the peat moss moist.
You may use activated charcoal or lump wood charcoal as substrate too. Charcoal is easy to handle as you simply need to place the pieces in a container and add water.
Moreover, it’s easy to transfer springtails bred on a charcoal substrate. You can just wash them into the new container or move a piece of charcoal with the springtails still on it.
You may also use any bagged potting soil as a substrate. The process is similar to that of using peat moss. Put two inches of the soil in the container after sterilizing the soil with heat.
However, instead of boiling the soil for an hour, you can just microwave it for 2-3 minutes or bake it at 350°F for 20 minutes.
Terrarium substrate mix
If you plan to add some springtails to your terrarium pots, just use the terrarium substrate mix. Not only is this a great substrate, but you can also add the substrate directly to your new terrarium later, along with the springtails.
One can also take some coconut fiber, wet it with water, and use it as a substrate. Like soil, two inches of coconut fiber should be enough. The water level should be negligible – just enough to keep the substrate moist.
As you may notice, it’s easy to find a suitable substrate for your springtails. These pests can easily make something as simple as potting soil in their habitat.
Once you have got the substrate ready, you can start breeding springtails. Just take the insects and dump them into the container. If you are just starting springtail culture for the first time and don’t know where to find them, you may buy them online.
There you can choose from different species of springtails and buy a pack of about 100 of these insects together. However, as springtails are very common and live in a variety of places, it’s easy to find them in or around your home.
Right Humidity & Temperature
Maintaining the correct levels of humidity and temperature in the breeding environment is crucial in helping the insects survive and multiply quickly.
I mentioned earlier that you need a sealed container for your springtails. This is to avoid moisture from escaping as springtails need a humid environment to live. Lack of moisture can kill them from dehydration.
You should also try to provide them with a warm environment because higher temperatures help them breed faster.
Especially if you have tropical springtails, a hot and humid breeding environment resembling the tropical climate is a must. However, keep them away from direct sunlight except for very short periods once in a while.
Giving Them The Right Food
Let us now take a look at what to feed your springtails with. Thankfully, arranging for food for springtails isn’t an issue as they feed on pretty much any organic material, including even the substrate itself.
You can provide them with various food sources, such as dead leaves, uncooked rice, decaying vegetation, boiled vegetables, etc.
Powdered brewer’s yeast is a great choice of food, too; springtails love feeding on fungi. This is one of the reasons why people keep springtails in their terrarium pots – so that the insects can remove mold by eating it.
Feeding the Springtails
Feed your springtails every day, but make sure not to overfeed them. Putting too much food in the container will only cause the food to rot and decay.
As you likely won’t be able to remove the decaying food, you’ll have to deal with its rotting smell. A good way to create a constant supply of food is to encourage mold growth in the container.
However, besides organic matter like vegetables, cereals, and decaying leaves, springtails also need food sources that offer protein.
This is why sprinkling some brewer’s yeast into the container every few days is a good idea. At the time of adding food to the container, also spray some dechlorinated water to help maintain the moisture level.
Making Sure There Are No Intruders
Lastly, you need to make sure that your springtails are left alone. There should be no intruders, especially those that are predatory to springtails.
Accidentally allowing in a species that might fight the springtails and potentially kill them can put an end to your springtail culture.
This is why you need to make sure not to mix up the springtails with any other insects that you might be culturing. Rotting food in the container may attract predatory mites too.
How to Transfer the Springtails to a New Container?
Once the springtails have reproduced and you have plenty of them, you can start taking them out to use them for the purpose you bred them for. For this, you’ll need a new container.
Transferring springtails is easy – simply fill their current container with water and pour them into the new container. As springtails are light and tend to float, you can transfer them without actually pouring a lot of water.
You may have to try it several times; it’s almost impossible to move all the springtails in the first transfer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are springtails easy to breed?
Yes, springtails are very easy to breed as they can feed on a wide variety of food sources and can live on various substrates.
In case you are breeding temperate springtails, they will need relatively lower moisture and heat as compared to their tropical cousins.
How long does it take for springtails to reproduce?
Springtails can go from a mere eggs to full-blown adults in anywhere between four to six weeks. They can start reproducing in about a month after you begin to breed them, provided that the conditions are ideal.
Regardless of whether you want to breed springtails to sell them or to feed your insectivorous pets, you now know how to go about it.
As you can see by now, breeding springtails isn’t too hard – you just have to provide them with food and a moist, warm, and undisturbed environment. Thank you for going through this article. Hopefully, you found all the information you were looking for.
Over the years, our readers have sent us several emails on this topic. Please go through them below!
Letter 1 – Probably Springtails
Subject: swarming black tiny bugs
Location: Southcoast MA
January 4, 2015 1:12 pm
wonder if these are springtails or something else?
There is not enough detail in your image, even when enlarged, to reveal the identity of individual insects, but we believe these are most likely Springtails. Springtails that become active on sunny days in the winter, even with snow on the ground, are called Snow Fleas. Since we will be out of the office for a spell, we are postdating your submission to go live in our absence later in the month.
Letter 2 – Springtail found in laboratory
Unidentified insect on an agar plate
Location: Albany, NY
November 29, 2010 2:47 pm
Howdy! So I have a giant insect book at home that I can’t access right now because I am at work, but we have an unusual little guy that I found a picture of online and cannot actually identify because it was found under ”aspen mite”, and it is not an actual mite. We work in a nematode laboratory and this guy is about the length of an adult nematode (C. elegans). He is the first and only one of his kind. Contamination possibilities are: us, the air from the ventilation system and some fungus gnats that were in my potting soil. Just wondering what he is and what he does and if he thinks that C.elegans eggs are like delicious caviar or that C. elegans themselves are like delicious little noodles. Thanks and I love the site!
Signature: Cara D
This is a Springtail in the class Collembola, and by many accounts, they are the most common hexapods on the planet. According to BugGuide which sites DiscoverLife: “Springtails are probably the most abundant hexapods on Earth, with up to 250 million individuals per acre.” It probably came from the potting soil.
Letter 3 – Springtails from the UK
Subject: 1,000 species challenge
Location: Brighouse, West Yorkshire, England
January 12, 2015 6:57 am
Hello bug man. I have set myself a challenge to get a good photograph of 1,000 species of animal life before I die. Occasionally, as would be expected, I come across a few I cannot identify. I have just identified an elongate bodied springtail from photos on your website, but there are still 2 photographs from the same date I have not yet identified. I was wondering if you could help me identify them. The first (evil brown looking thing) was discovered under a rock with 2 woodlice, the elongate bodied springtail and a garden slug. The second (little yellow bug) was discovered under a damp piece of wood less than 50 meters away. There were several individuals, all very very small. I understand that I may not get a response, but I thank you all the same. God bless,
Signature: I’ve no idea what this field means
First we hope you are planning a long life that would extend beyond the 1000 species goal as that is not a terribly large number of species. We believe both of your images are of Springtails, even the “evil brown looking thing” which somewhat resembles the large Springtail in the image on the Royal Horticultural Society site. The yellow critter looks like a Globular Springtail which is pictured on the Matt Cole Photography site.
Thank you for your help. Having looked at images of your suggestions, I believe you are most likely right 🙂 Thank you very much. Yes, I know there are far more than 1,000 species out there, and I’d shoot them all if I could 😛 With your identifications, I have now reached 201 species. Thank you so much for taking the time to identify the bugs.
– Jay Zeke Malakai
Letter 4 – Springtails we believe
What is this bug???
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
November 16, 2011 4:52 pm
These tiny black bugs appeared outside of our garage door today. They are black and wingless. About the size of a pin. I have no clue what they are. Can you please help?
Your photo does not allow us to make out details of an individual insect, but we are nearly positive these are Springtails in the class Collembola. Springtails are benign insects, though they may become a nuisance in certain situations when they are plentiful. Springtails feed on decomposing vegetation and they are important because they break down organic matter which contributes to the production of humus in soil. They can be very plentiful in a compost pile where they are beneficial. You can read more about Springtails in our archives as well as on BugGuide.