Q: I have an old bonsai and I have found tiny white insects all over the soil. Whenever I go near the soil and disturb anything they jump all over the place. Otherwise I never see them. What are they?
A: These tiny primitive wingless insects are called springtails and are in the order Collembola. They are very small, usually less than 6 mm long and often colored white or gray. They have a fork-like tail on their abdomen which allows them to jump through the air for several centimeters if they feel threatened. Their common name, “springtail,” originates from this peculiar behavior. They feed on many living and dead plant materials and are often found in moist soil of house plants. In fact, they are so abundant that they are found in soils throughout the world. They are especially troublesome on barefoot nursery seedlings.
pringtails are no longer a threat once the stems become woody. Although no damage has been reported on container seedlings, springtails are important pests in other crops using artificial growing media where they may feed on root tips. If large numbers are visible and damage is present, it may be necessary to apply an insecticide. In addition, if you wish you can replace the soil and try to gain control of their numbers. If you decide to change the soil, be sure you are very gentile with the roots of your plant. Plus, you may need to cut back on the amount of water you are giving your houseplants. Remember, these insects prefer moist soil so by creating an uncomfortable environment you can control them better.