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Springtails - Culturing and Care

Posted by Glass Box Tropicals on Feb 12th 2021

Springtails - commonly referred to as “Springs” in the terrarium and dart frog hobbies - are a key part of a healthy ecosystem within your tank. Once a sustainable population is established, the Springtails can also provide an alternative food source for terrarium animals, such as dart frogs and smaller geckos. These insect-like creatures are typically considered to be detritivores, meaning they feed on dead organic matter (a good reason to use lots of leaf litter!).

Background: Springtails (Collembola) were once considered to be insects, but now instead are categorized as hexapods. We use the term “microfauna” (microscopic animals) on our website, as it more accurately describes the Springtails. Springtails are extremely small. The two species that we commonly offer only reach about 1/16” as adults, and the offspring only about 1/32”. As mentioned, Springtails are detritivores. This means that they feed on dead organic matter. Occasionally, they have been observed feeding on plants, pollen, animal remains, minerals and bacteria. In a terrarium, however, since there is typically an abundance of dead organic matter for them to feed on, you will rarely, if ever, see them feeding on any plants. Fungi is typically their favorite food; they are thus excellent for helping control fungi outbreaks (commonly seen as mold) that are common in terrariums.

Care of Springtails: Springtails are very easy to care for, but they do have some rather specific needs that must be met when cultured outside of a terrarium/vivarium.

To begin with, we always recommend culturing them in ½” charcoal (not activated). We have tried many other substrates and have always come back to this option for the Temperate and Tropical white springtails that we routinely offer for sale. Other substrates lead to issues with keeping the moisture even throughout the culture. The use of other substrates also tends to lead to mite and fungus gnat infestations which can cause your entire culture to crash (i.e. completely die off). The use of ½” charcoal seems to eliminate both of these issues.

Next, it is important to realize that the springtails that we are culturing require high humidity at all times. Typically, it is recommended to keep about ½” of standing water in your culture in order to provide a good source of humidity. As you feed them, you should also check to make sure that the charcoal still appears to be moist or wet on top. Springtails cannot swim, so they will not use the flooded areas of your culture. While humidity and moisture is important, be sure not to keep too much standing water in your culture.

We highly recommend the Glass Box Tropicals Springtail Food for feeding your springtails. This food was developed over several years of trial and error. It is made from high quality food grade ingredients and is one of the most complete Springtail foods currently on the market. It includes several types of yeast, rice flour, mushroom powder, and many other ingredients to aid in creating one of the most complete diets for your springtails. For best results, you should sprinkle on just enough for 3-4 days of feeding. It is best to feed small amounts more frequently, rather than one large amount. Also, seeing mold forming on the top of the culture is a good sign, as that is what the springtails are actually eating! (Note: Fish food flakes have become a popular food for springtails, but this can lead to mite issues in your culture.)

Finally, springtails thrive in a terrarium setting due to their light and temperature preferences which correspond to typical tropical terrarium conditions. When cultured outside of a terrarium/vivarium, it is recommended to keep them in the same temperature range (65-75℉). When kept out of this temperature range, they do not produce as well for us. Ambient light from the outdoors also improves the cultures, as it keeps them on a natural circadian rhythm (the 24-hour cycle of day and night that almost all plants and animals depend on).

Culturing Springtails: Springtails are extremely easy to culture and require very little attention to thrive. To start a culture, you will need:

To make a master culture:

  1. Gather all of the above supplies

  2. Open up the 6.25qt Sterilite Container (or any other container that has a lid)

  3. Fill the Sterilite Container about ⅔ full of ½” Charcoal

  4. Add room temperature RO water to the container until there is ¼-½” of standing water in the container

  5. The entire Starter Culture of Springtails may now be added - once emptied, you may want to rinse the container out with room temperature RO water to get all of the Springtails out.

  6. Sprinkle a small amount of Glass Box Tropicals Springtail Food onto the top of the charcoal. You want to only sprinkle as much as the springtails will eat in 3-4 days. Typically this is equivalent to one small pinch, sprinkled on top of the culture. It is better to feed more often with smaller quantities rather than less frequently with larger quantities. When you first start, you may want to check your culture every 2 days so you are can get a better idea of how much to be feeding.

  7. Put the lid on the container and place it in an area that will receive ambient light and ambient room temperatures in the 65-75℉ range

  8. Continue to feed every 3-4 days or as you see the food disappear. When feeding, misting with RO water may also be necessary to maintain ample humidity.

Harvesting Springtails: Even though springtails are only 1/16” as adults, it is extremely easy to harvest them for seeding tanks as well as feeding froglets. Due to their small size, they will actually float on water because they do not break the surface tension. So to harvest, simply add more RO or spring water to your culture and watch them all float up to the surface. You can then simply dump them into your terrarium/vivarium or into your froglet grow-out tank.

You should be sure to always leave a decent population in your culture if you plan on keeping it to produce more springtails. If you harvest too many, it may take several months to build up to a large population again.

Other Tips and Tricks:

  • If you see a lot of small round things moving around in your culture and reduced numbers of springtails, you have a mite infestation. The best thing to do in this case is throw away the culture and start a new one. DO NOT try to save any springtails from the culture that has mites in it. If you get even a couple in your new culture you will end up in the same situation. Either start a new one from an uninfested culture, or buy a new Starter Springtail Culture.

  • Ambient lighting is important. Springtails do not need direct light, but do seem to benefit from a day/night lighting schedule. We keep ours in a closet that is in our frog room; here they get some light from the timed lights on our frog tanks.

  • Do not allow the culture to dry out. Springtails can go weeks without food, but they cannot live in a dry culture.

  • If you notice your culture starting to smell, cut back on the feedings. Any odor is usually associated with excess food in the culture rotting, or possibly too much CO₂ build-up.

  • If you ever open your container and see all of the springtails sitting still and not moving, try leaving the culture open to fresh air for 15-30 minutes. Sometimes the CO₂ levels get too high, and the springtails just need fresh air.

  • If you open the culture and see more than 50% of the top of the culture covered with springtails, you should harvest some in order to start a new culture, feed animals, or seed a tank.

  • The containers that we ship springtails in are good for temporary culturing but are not meant for long term containment. If you plan to culture, you should purchase one of our Springtail Culuting Kits.

  • Do not keep your springtails near your fruit flies, as the mites that are very common in aging fruit fly cultures can infest your springtail culture.