Mites vs Springtails: Essential Guide to Identifying and Managing Them

Mites and springtails are two fascinating groups of tiny creatures found in a variety of environments. Both are soil-dwelling organisms, with mites being the most abundant and springtails coming in as the second most abundant group. These minuscule creatures play essential roles in maintaining the health of their ecosystems, as mites feed on microbes and detritus, while predatory mites hunt small invertebrates like springtails, other mites, and nematodes [1].

Springtails can range in length from 0.25 to 6 mm, with colors varying across the spectrum from white, yellow, gray, or blue-gray. One notable feature of springtails is their forked appendage called the furcula, which allows them to “spring” out of harm’s way when disturbed [2]. Mites, on the other hand, tend to be smaller than springtails, with some insect mites, such as the straw itch mite, measuring only about 0.8 mm in length [3].

Both mites and springtails thrive in environments with high humidity and organic matter content, leading to population densities ranging from 300 million to 1.4 billion per acre [4]. These diminutive organisms may be easily overlooked, but understanding their differences and behaviors can help us appreciate the critical roles they play in sustaining healthy ecosystems.

Mites and Springtails: Overview

Common Features

Mites and springtails are both small organisms that can be found in various environments. Some similarities between them include:

  • Both are tiny and barely visible with the naked eye
  • They inhabit areas with high humidity and organic matter content
  • Neither group has wings for flying

Distinguishing Characteristics

Despite their similarities, mites and springtails can be distinguished based on certain traits:

Mites:

  • Belong to the class Arachnida, related to ticks and spiders
  • Adult mites have 8 legs
  • Range in color from light yellow or green to dark green or brown
  • Feed only on plants

Springtails:

  • Belong to the order Collembola, sometimes placed in a separate class
  • Adult springtails have 6 legs
  • Range in color from white to yellow, gray, or blue-gray
  • Possess a forked appendage called the furcula at the tip of their abdomen

Here is a comparison table of mites and springtails:

Feature Mites Springtails
Class/Order Arachnida (related to ticks and spiders) Collembola
Number of Legs 8 legs 6 legs
Size Small and barely visible Tiny and barely visible
Color Light yellow to dark green or brown White to yellow, gray, or blue-gray
Unique Appendage/Feature None Forked appendage (furcula) at abdomen tip
Diet Plant feeder Soil-dwelling organism

Habitat and Ecosystem

Soil and Substrate

Mites and springtails live in various habitats but share a preference for damp environments. Mites, including spider mites, are often found on plants, while springtails thrive in soil.

  • Mites: mainly found on plants and leaves
  • Springtails: often in soil and organic material

Mites and springtails also inhabit specific types of substrates within their preferred ecosystems:

  • Mites: bark, moss, and plant leaves
  • Springtails: organic mulch, fungus, and decomposing leaves

Organic Material and Decomposition

Both mites and springtails contribute to ecosystems by breaking down organic material. Springtails are known to be one of the most abundant soil-dwelling organisms, second only to soil-dwelling mites. They play a significant role in decomposition processes within various ecosystems.

Mites, although some species can be harmful to plants, are also essential for breaking down organic material. Various mite species, such as predatory mites, feed on pests that may be harmful to plants.

Mites Springtails
Habitat Plants, bark, moss, leaves Soil, organic mulch, decomposing leaves
Ecosystem Contribute to decomposition Vital for decomposition processes

Examples of their respective roles include:

  • Mites: Some species consume plant matter and break it down into humus.
  • Springtails: Their feeding activity helps in the decay of organic matter, promoting the growth of microorganisms, like fungi and bacteria.

In both cases, their presence helps maintain a healthy balance within their ecosystems, whether it be in a natural environment like a yard or an enclosed setup like a terrarium.

Biology and Behavior

Furcula and Locomotion

Springtails are unique in their locomotion due to their furcula, a fork-like structure on their abdomen. This furcula allows them to:

Mites, on the other hand:

  • Lack furcula
  • Crawl on the surface with their eight legs
Feature Springtails Mites
Furcula Yes No
Locomotion Jumping Crawling

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Springtails reproduce sexually, laying eggs in moist environments. Their life cycle consists of:

  1. Egg
  2. Juvenile (multiple instar stages)
  3. Adult

Mites also reproduce sexually with a similar life cycle:

  1. Egg
  2. Larval and nymphal stages
  3. Adult

Interactions with Other Organisms

Springtails interact with various organisms, such as:

  • Feeding on fungi and decaying plant matter
  • Contributing to the decomposition process
  • Sometimes preying on smaller arthropods

Mites have a more diverse range of interactions:

  • Attacking humans and animals (e.g., Sarcoptes scabiei)
  • Infesting plant tissues, sometimes causing damage (e.g., Eriophyoid mites)
  • Feeding on other mites or insects, thereby acting as natural predators
  • Serving as food for predators like snails

In summary, springtails and mites differ in locomotion and interactions, while sharing similarities in life cycles.

Identification and Observation

Visual Inspection

Identifying mites and springtails can be done through visual inspection. Mites are tiny creatures, with some species like straw itch mite measuring only 1/32 inch or 0.8 mm. Springtails, on the other hand, are slightly larger, with a size of about 1/16 inch long. Both can be found in areas with high humidity and organic matter. Here’s a comparison table of their visual characteristics:

Feature Mites Springtails
Size 1/32 inch or 0.8 mm 1/16 inch long
Shape Varies, usually oval Elongated or oval
Color Varies (red, brown, yellow) Whitish, bluish, dark gray, or black

Use of Mite Paper

Mite paper is a special adhesive paper that captures mites for easier observation. When placed near windows or other infested areas, mites are likely to get trapped on the paper. Springtails might also get trapped, but their larger size and different appearance will help you distinguish them. Some key points when using mite paper:

  • Place near windows or infested areas
  • Traps both mites and springtails
  • Observe trapped insects and distinguish based on size and appearance

Magnifying Glass

A magnifying glass can be an excellent tool for observing these tiny insects. Mites and springtails can be extremely difficult to see with the naked eye, so a magnifying glass helps to identify and compare their characteristics. For example, mites typically have eight legs, while springtails have six legs and a distinct body segmentation. Some advantages of using a magnifying glass:

  • Helps to see tiny insects clearly
  • Allows distinguishing between mites and springtails based on leg count and body features
  • Portable and easy to use around the home

Remember to inspect areas with high humidity and organic matter when searching for mites and springtails. Keep an eye out for their size, shape, and color, and use tools like mite paper and magnifying glasses to aid in the identification process. Happy observing!

Control and Management

Environmental Modifications

To manage mites and springtails effectively, it’s essential to modify their environment. By doing this, you make their habitat less suitable for them to thrive. One crucial aspect focuses on removing excess organic matter, which serves as a primary food source for these pests.

  • For mites:

    • Regularly clean and vacuum living spaces
    • Launder infested clothing and bedding
    • Seal cracks and crevices in walls and floors
  • For springtails:

    • Remove decaying plant matter and leaf litter
    • Allow soil to dry between waterings
    • Minimize the use of mulch and compost piles

Watering and Humidity Management

Controlling humidity and watering practices is another key for effective control of both mites and springtails. Both pests thrive in moist environments, so reducing humidity levels and adjusting your watering regime can help minimize their presence.

Mites Springtails
Use a dehumidifier Use a dehumidifier
Fix water leaks and condensation issues Fix water leaks and condensation issues
Avoid over-watering indoor plants Water plants sparingly and allow soil to dry between waterings
Replace water-damaged materials Provide proper drainage in plant pots and gardens

Implementing these practices will create an unfavorable environment for mites and springtails and help in their control and management.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Tropical Rat Mite???? or Tropical Fowl Mite???

 

What the…
Wed, Nov 19, 2008 at 3:55 AM
Hello.. Can you please identify this bug that we have been finding around. We have found it crawling on our body, laptop screen and even in the bathroom.
Help is required
Australia, Melbourne

Tropical Rat Mite, possibly
Tropical Rat Mite, possibly

Dear Help,
We believe you probably need a true specialist for this identification, but we are leaning toward the Tropical Rat Mite, Ornithonyssus bacoti. We first located an image on BugGuide, but it is very tiny. Then we found a wonderful informative website on Biting Mites in Homes. The website states: ”
Rat and bird mite infestations occur in structures where rat or bird nests are located. Infestations are sometimes first noticed following extermination, or after the natural hosts have died or left the structure. Infestations may also occur where heavy mite infestations have developed around a rodent or bird nest. Rat mites are small, approximately the size of the period at the end of this sentence. They move actively and can be picked up with a wet finger, brush or piece of sticky tape. Distinguishing between different species of Ornithonyssus mites to determine whether birds or rodents are the likely source is difficult and requires special expertise. The best first course of action, when faced with biting mite problem is to look for all potential bird or rodent sources.”

It could also be the tropical fowl mite or bird mite (Ornithonyssus bursa). For information check out: http://www.wsahs.nsw.gov.au/icpmr/pdf/0263.pdf Good luck.
KK

Letter 2 – Tropical Fowl Mite

 

Please help me identify this bug
April 16, 2010
I have taken microscopic photos of these small specs that were picked up with clear tape from ceiling in room and where they fell on bunk bed below. There appears to be clusters on the ceiling. There’s a cable hole in wall where there are dark speckles, and dark cluster around the hole. Exterior of house is pigeon poop we are continuously cleaning off. Please help me identify these things so we know how to prevent or clean. I don’t think they’re bed bugs? Could they be some kind of dust mite? Thank you
sz
ocean beach, california

Tropical Fowl Mite

Dear sz,
This is a mite in the genus Ornithonyssus, and BugGuide has a very good photograph of a specimen found in San Diego County.  Our guess is that it is a Tropical Fowl Mite, Ornithonyssus bursa, which is profiled on the Featured Creatures website.  The site indicates:  “The tropical fowl mite, commonly found on birds, has become a pest to man in areas of high bird populations or where birds are allowed to roost on roofs, around the eaves of homes, and office buildings. Nesting birds are the worst offenders. After the birds abandon their nests, the mites move into the building through windows, doors, and vents and bite the occupants
” and “The bite is irritating to man and some individuals react to the bite with prolonged itching and painful dermatitis. Several to many reports are received each year of mites invading homes. The mites are usually the tropical fowl mite found in the central and southern areas of the state. The northern fowl mite, Ornithonyssus sylviarum (Canestrini and Fanzago), a close relative, is also found in Florida.”  Your visitors may also be a closely related species, the Northern Fowl Mite, Ornithonyssus sylviarum. According to Charles Hogue in his book, Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, both species “infest the nests of urban birds, such as House Sparrows and pigeons, and may invade homes and buildings in droves.”

Tropical Fowl Mite

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR PROMPT REPLY!  Have a great weekend, sz

Letter 3 – Remedy for Mites on Reptiles

 

Mites on reptiles – another solution
Dear Bugman
After browsing your most interesting and fascinating site I came across “Mites on Reptiles (11/10/2005) and Mite Remedy (12/312005) and would like to add the following. The mites are most probably of the family Dermanyssidae, and are commonly referred to in South Africa as Red-mite because, when the mites are gorged from sucking blood from their hosts, they actually have a red appearance. These mites also live on birds and mammals, and this is usually where an infestation originates from in captive reptiles. For example, there may be red-mite present on mice fed to the snakes, or they may come from birds which have alighted near to the place where the snake is being kept. These mites are nocturnal and hide in small cracks and crevasses within the cage during the day, emerging to feed on the snake at night. However they might also hide under the scales of the snake during the day. When infestations become chronic, the snake will lie in its water dish in an attempt to drown the mite and reduce the infestation. The mite found in the water dish were as a result of this action, and the best way to check for mite is to examine the bottom water dish for drowned mite, or to observe the snake spending extended periods of its time in the water dish. There are many remedies being put forward for controlling red-mite, but I have found the following to be the safest and to work the best. Apply a copious amount of natural seed oil (preferably sunflower or olive oil) to ones hands, and wipe the snake down from head to tail, making sure to wipe the eyes, and under the chin. The advantage of seed oil is that it penetrates under the scales where the mite hide as well as in around the eyes. The oil blocks the breathing pores of the mite and they suffocate and then fall off. If the infestation is severe the oiled snake should be removed to another cage and the original cage sprayed with a pyrethrin based aerosol, taking care to spray all the joints. The cage should be left closed for 24 hours and then left open to air for a further 24 hours. Failure to spray the cage may result in reinfestation after a relatively short time. Do not use just any oily product, such as glycerine, to wipe the snake down with. Best regards Rod Douglas
Herpetology Department, National Museum
PO Box 266, 9300 Bloemfontein
South Africa

Thanks Rod,
We are sure our reptile fanciers will find your expert advice helpful.

Letter 4 – Running Mite from Israel

 

Tiny red rock mite
Location: Israel
April 1, 2011 10:10 am
Hi,
Ever since I was a little boy I remember those tiny red mites on hot rocks basking in the sun, usually by the hundreds. They are bright red and leave a red stain when accidentally squished… they never bite me so I don’t think they are dangerous but now they are all over my porch where I keep the dogs and it has me worried. The picture is really the best I could give because the mite is so tiny (and I picked the largest one I could find!).
can you help me Identify this mite so I can learn about it more?
Signature: Thank you!, Alon.

Running Mite

Dear Alon,
We have always called these Running Mites, and to the best of our knowledge, they will not harm you or your pets.  There are so many species that look so similar, we cannot even hope to provide you with an accurate species identification.

Running Mite

Letter 5 – Running MItes

 

Help, what’s this bug?
Hello,
We’ve been battling this bug with our Pest Control people, but nothing seems to get rid of them. They are very, very little reddish bugs that appear in my bathtub, bathroom floor, windowsill, and sink. If you smash one, it will leave a red “blood” stain. In the mornings is when they seem to be out the most. I attached a picture and it’s not a good one, but it’s the best I could get since they were so small. I live in SC now, but I also saw these bugs on rocks while growing up in PA, although the ones in PA were a lot brighter of a red color. From what I could see, I think they have 4 legs and 2 long antennae. I couldn’t find a picture of a Running Mite that looks like this bug or else that’s what I’d say these are. They don’t seem to be biting and I only itch when I think about them. Any help would be grateful.
Thanks,
Chuck

Hi Chuck,
You do have Running Mites and you don’t have to worry about being bitten or itching.

Letter 6 – Small Bugs might be Mites

 

Subject: Bug that can’t be identified by exterminators or by looking on the web
Location: Albuquerque, NM
May 22, 2014 12:23 pm
Please help, I have a bit of a problem! I have had these bugs dropping in my house from a skylight. I have had 3 different exterminators come and can’t identify them. They are a yellowish color and .1 cm in size. I need to know what they are to get rid of them. There are several hundreds maybe more that are finding their way in my house. It seems to be some sort of freshly hatched bug but have no idea what class they fit in. PLEASE HELP! The photos attached are of a few of the bugs stuck on a mini lint roller, the tape is 3 inches long and the roller it’s self is small enough to travel in a small purse. Please contact me as soon as possible. Thank you so much for your time and help!
Signature: Sincerely, Rebecca Rockett

Mites perhaps
Mites perhaps

Dear Rebecca Rocket,
We cannot identify what we cannot see, and your images lack any critical detail.  Our best guess, based on the size you have indicated, is that you are being troubled by Mites.

Letter 7 – Unknown Mite

 

Subject: Mysterious bug
Location: El paso living room
February 10, 2016 8:16 pm
I am concerned for my dog and family and would like to know if serious.
Signature: Don’t know

MIte
Mite

This is a Mite, and some species are parasitic on pets, birds and a variety of other creatures, but we do not believe this is a Parasitic Mite.  Other Mites are predators.  Mites tend to be very host specific.  We do not believe this particular Mite is cause for concern, but we are not experts in Mites.

Letter 8 – Unknown Mite from Vasquez Rocks

 

Bronze Mite from Vasquez Rocks
Tue, Apr 21, 2009 at 4:07 PM
While hiking in the Vasquez Rocks north of Los Angeles, I saw an absolutely remarkable flash of bronze scurry over a rock. The image does not do it justice by any stretch of the imagination. Although very small, the totally metallic sheen on this guy made him stand out quite conspicuously in the bright sun. Would you happen to know what this one is? Velvet mites were everywhere but this one was much bigger; about 2.5mm in diameter. Thanks in advance!
Adriano
Vasquez Rocks, California

Unknown Mite
Unknown Mite

Hi Adriano,
While it looks different from the Velvet Mites or Angelitos we often get photos of, we suspect your unidentified Mite is closely related.  Perhaps an acarologist will write in with a proper identification.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

7 thoughts on “Mites vs Springtails: Essential Guide to Identifying and Managing Them”

  1. Do you own a hamster? or other small animal? I went through a terrible time trying to figure out what was biting me and they bite at night! It was a tropical rat mite diagnosed by the University of Florida. This mite needs to be killed on the animal who is the carrier. I can tell you it reproduces from a larvae, every 7 days so getting treatment for the animal is key my vet gave me drops for the hamster to take weekly this took over 6 months! I wll never buy another small animal before having a vet check.

    Reply
  2. This is a pollen-feeding mite known as Balaustium (family Erythraeidae). They’re often found on porches or decks in the spring when trees are shedding pollen. The “running mites” are predatory mites in the family Anystidae, genus Anystis. Balaustium mites are darker red and somewhat elongate, while Anystis are more orange and round in shape.

    Reply
  3. This is a species in the family Erythraeidae. There is a great diversity of these mites in dry areas in the southwestern United States.

    Reply
  4. When I open my car looks like white cotton comes out then they bite me.ture into black dots like fleas I had rats in my garage and bird in my dyerand I see little sinew things on my rug.

    Reply

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