Unknown Things are Springtails

Unknown nymphs
Location: Mundlein, IL
January 27, 2012 10:30 pm
Enthusiastic fan, first time posting. I’ve used your archives to help identify insects in the past, but always knew the day would come when I would have to post a photo and ask for help. It seems that day has now arrived.


While cleaning a basement in suburban Illinois, I found 8 dead nymphs in the bottom of an empty coffee mug. They appear to have gotten trapped in an early stage of their life cycle – I found two moltings in the mug with them. The nymphs are about 2 mm in length. They are reminiscent of tiny, hairy, wingless mosquitos, with big black antennae resembling spider forelegs. Their actual legs seem smaller and lighter in color than the antennae. The head and thorax are very small, bent perpendicular to the rest of the body, giving the body an ”L”-shaped profile. Half of them have a hairless, white, curling double-tail sprouting out the anus, the other half don’t (sexual dimorphism, or saprophytic fungus?).
The mugs were dry and empty when placed, so it seems unlikely a brood of mosquitos would have been hatched there, or arrived by flying there from some other location (and then unable to fly away). I suspect rather they are some flightless species that hatched in a crack somewhere and dropped down from the shelf above. However, they appear to me as such a Frankenstein collection of stitched-together parts from different creatures, I haven’t been able to classify them any narrower than Order Insecta. If these are indeed a brood of nymphs, what do you think the parents might look like? (And are they still out there, lurking in my basement?)
I tried to take photos with a macro lens and through a microscope, but the camera seems to have its own ideas about lighting no matter what I do. Through the microscope, I can clearly see the head, eyes, antennae, thorax, hair, legs, and erstwhile twin tails – if there are wings, I can’t discern them.
Please help – I’ve been showing off bug-identifying skills with which your site has empowered me, this has me stumped and a certain rep may be at stake
Thanks in advance!
Signature: A. P.


Dear A.P.,
We are so sorry we are unable to provide you with instant gratification.  We are not even sure how to classify these Things.  Hopefully we will have some luck with research, or perhaps one of our readers will be able to provide us with some assistance.


Update:  Two different readers commented that these are Springtails, and it seems so obvious now we feel silly for not being able to provide an identification.  This image from our archive is a perfect match.  Springtails are benign creatures that are sometimes considered a nuisance if they are plentiful.


5 thoughts on “Unknown Things are Springtails”

  1. Thank you very much!
    I’m as delighted by the identification as by (surely pretended?) initial wonderment. Your plan worked beautifully. Family now believes I discovered an invasion of alien brainsuckers – I’m a hero, and we’re all moving to Hawaii. (which I already warned them is infested with the indigenous, Porsche-Fearing Garage Tarantula)

    I especially liked the drawing of 6/23/2010:

    Thanks again for prompt reply.
    Until next time,


Leave a Comment