Soil Problems

Hi, Bugman. I’m writing in regards to an insect problem I have with a few of my houseplants. In two of my larger pots, I have what appear to be extremely small mobile grains of rice crawling through the dirt. I would have attached pictures, but I couldn’t get a decent closeup. After searching around on the net, I suspect they could be mealy bugs, but all of the pages I viewed describe mealy bugs in conjunction with African Violets. Citing a website dedicated to homemade pesticides, I concocted a dish soap/jalapeno juice solution to spray them with, and minutes after using it, I discovered what appear to be miniature white night-crawlers swarming to the surface for air. The plants that are infected with all of these bugs aren’t having any problems growing at all. In fact, my ficus tree is among the most forgiving, as he’s been moved several times, and he doesn’t seem to care where he is, as long as he’s got bright light. I’m not sure what to do about the bugs, however, and if you could help, I’d greatly appreciate it.

Hi again. I sent you an email earlier about tiny white bugs in the soil of some of my plants. I managed to get a picture of two of them for better i.d. I can’t find my jewelers lupe to magnify them. Let me know.
Thanks again.

Dear Jace,
While it is impossible to be perfectly accurate based on your amusing photograph, I will venture an educated guess. My money is on the maggots of a Black Gnat, Bradysia impatiens. This is a type of root gnat from the Family Sciaridae. The adults are the tiny black gnats that flit in your face while you are watching television and that always seem to get stuck in fresh paint, writes Hogue. He continues “The larva lives in decaying plant material, such as compost, peat, and sphagnum; it also commonly infests the roots and stems of various herbaceous plants. The insects may develop in the media used for potted plants, which explains its mysterious appearance indoors.”

Hmm. That’s a good guess, but I can make out legs on these. I found my lupe at work, so when I get home, I’ll attempt another photo shoot.
Thanks for your time. 🙂

Beetle grubs can often be found in soil and they have tiny legs. Perhaps it is a species of flea beetle or a weevil. It would be nearly impossible to make an exact identification based on a photo.

Thank you so much for the input. They don’t seem to be hurting the plants, but I just wanted to know if I should start a program of mass annihilation. This picture is probably going to be the best I’ll get of one of the little farts. Beetle grubs? Wouldn’t there be adults all over too? These pots have had these bugs for a while, one of them I can remember as far back as March of 2002 having these in it. Oh well, thanks again for all of your time, and keep up the great work on the website; its been severely educational.

Ed. Note: Before we could even respond to this photo, Jace sent the following proper I.D. from a website.

Bugs: Discovered!

I have scoured the internet for these bugs, and I believe I have identified them! Thanks to you and the Missouri State University Entomology Department, not only have I IDed the first insect, I found out that I have two different species living in my plants. The first one (that I kept sending pictures of) are Onychurius pseudofimetarius. These did not jump and moved slowly so as to be the only ones I could catch.

Onychurius pseudofimetarius
Onychiurus pseudofimetarius is eyeless, and has an unpigmented, translucent white body. The body shape is fusiform, or torpedo like, the antenna are not longer than the head, and there is no apparent furcula. It lacks spines on the tip of the abdomen, a feature which distinguishes this species from Onychiurus ramosus #362. (Family: Onychiruidae)

After digging around more in my plants, I captured that much more active, hard as hell to catch version called Isotoma nigrifrons.

Family: Isotomidae
This group typically has neither scales nor a furry appearance. The third and fourth abdominal segments are about equal in length along the middle of the back or are about the same size as the other abdominal segments. The third antennal segment is not considerably longer than the fourth.

Isotoma nigrifrons

These bad boys were very fast, and jumped like fleas, so I wasn’t able to catch any before. A Q-Tip dipped in Raid ant killer was used to get one to slow down long enough for inspection. That’s when I found his distinct furcula, and was able to identify him and his cousin as springtails, or part of the Collembola family.

I’ve never been really all that interested in entomology, but If I didn’t find out what these were, it was going to drive me insane! At least you’ll know what they are if anyone else decides to ask you after staring at their potted soil and noticing minute ecologies living there.

Awesome sleuthing Jace. Here is some additional information. From Essig: "Springtails inhabit moist localities and are found in rotten logs, wet leaf mold, and in the soil where the immature stages live mostly hidden from the light." Essig call Onychiurus pseudarmatus the Seed Springtail, and writes it "is a shite slender species 3mm. long and with the antennae shorter than the head. It has proven to be a pest by destroying germinating purple vetch seed in Humboldt County, California." Hogue states that these ancient and primitive insects "are among the most numerous of animals found in the soil and are also commonly encountered in compost piles and grass cuttings, in turf, under flower pots, in cellars, or among stored plant bulbs — wherever it is humid and dark.” I have a great book, The Encyclopedia of Natural Insect & Disease Control by Roger B. Yepsen, Jr. that recommends an infusion of garlic in water to help rid the soil of springtails. Try crushing the garlic in water and letting it sit before watering your houseplants.

3 thoughts on “Soil Problems”

  1. I have bugs that you only see (if your lucky) when you move the soil.
    I have looked everywhere and cant find what they are, they have almost no color or a silver glint when they crawl. they do not jump, fly, or group in water. what are these things

  2. I have bugs that you only see (if your lucky) when you move the soil.
    I have looked everywhere and cant find what they are, they have almost no color or a silver glint when they crawl. they do not jump, fly, or group in water. what are these things


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