Springtails in Terrariums: Little Helpers, Big Impact [Guide]

Springtails and terrariums are the bread and butter of the bioactive world. 

They’re the single most effective anti-mold solution we’ve ever encountered, and we continue to recommend a culture of springtails for every terrarium setup.

And the best part? They don’t really need any specific care. 

They’re so tiny that you barely notice them, and they’re quite literally sustained by the stuff we don’t want in our terrariums. Win-win.

We’ve been using these tiny janitors for years, and we’ve explored their use in a wide variety of different setups, from temperate to tropical.

This guide will cover everything you need to know about springtails in terrariums. 

Let’s spring to it!

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What Are Springtails? Meet Our Heroes

Springtails are an order of tiny wingless creatures known scientifically as Collembolas.

Over 9000 springtail species exist worldwide, and they’re found everywhere from woodland hills to icy caves.

Rest assured, these are hardy critters.

What they may lack in the wing department, they make up for with a unique appendage that allows them to quite literally “spring” into the air.

Hence their common name, springtails.

I hesitate to use the words “bugs” or “insects” here (despite them very much looking like one) because it’s now believed that they’re technically neither. Recent DNA analysis1 suggests they’re unique but pretty similar to crustaceans.

So perhaps our favorite bioactive pairing of isopods and springtails are more similar than we think (more on those later).

All that said, I’ll forgive you if you call them insects; I often do on this site just for the sake of simplicity.

What else am I supposed to call a tiny white jumping thing?

Next up, we’ll discuss why these insects creatures are so crucial in our terrariums.

Springtails in Terrariums: Usage & Benefits

Springtails are described as “omnivorous detritivores.”

Meaning they like to feed on decaying organic matter, but they’re not overly picky on what kind.

However, unlike other terrarium cleanup crew members, springtails are less interested in fallen leaves and things of that nature. Instead, they want what’s growing on it.

So it’s actually fungi2 (and, to a lesser extent, bacteria) that are the primary food targets. 

And the most common type of fungi in a terrarium? That’s right; it’s mold! 

Spotted at the area with the most mold.

Mold is a persistent threat due to the very nature of closed terrariums. Minimal airflow and moist, humid conditions are fertile grounds for fungi.

Thankfully, they’re good environmental conditions for springtails, too.

For humid terrariums, you can get both tropical and temperate springtail species. In most cases, both work well, so it’s not a deal breaker which you choose. 

We sell Temperate White Springtails (Folsomia candida) because they’re the most tried-and-tested species in the hobby. There’s nothing these critters can’t handle. 

terrarium springtails
👉 Grab a springtails culture here.

They have such minimal care requirements, and they fully self-regulate, so there’s really no reason not to add them to a given setup.*

(*Open terrariums are the exception here. Springtails thrive in moist, humid environments, and open terrariums don’t hit the mark on either front. Plus, springtails can probably get out of a shallow dish).

Plus, they help in other ways, too.

For starters, their feeding action indirectly breaks down organic material and replenishes the nutrients in the soil. This comes in handy in bioactive terrarium setups containing animals (or simple isopod cultures), helping to manage food and waste.

That’s partly why springtails and isopods make such an excellent bioactive combo.

How to Put Springtails in Terrariums

You don’t need many springtails to get started.

Just a single starter culture is typically enough to seed a project.

Naturally, if you have a huge terrarium, it’ll take some time for them to reproduce and fill out the space. But with a bit of love and patience, they’ll get there.

You can always buy multiple cultures if you want to speed things up.

Then, how you add your culture to a terrarium depends on the medium they come in.

We ship our springtail cultures on calcium-bearing clay. The clay is attached to the inside of the cup, and the springtails live on top of it.

springtail culture on clay in tub
It’s super convenient to both culture and ship them on nutritious clay (unlike other materials, the clay can’t move in transit and harm them).

And the fact that the clay is stuck to the container makes it super easy to transfer springtails

That’s the problem with springtails shipped in substrate. There’s no way to separate them, so you need to add the whole thing directly to your substrate (and hope it’s suitable).

Culturing/shipping springtails in substrate can work; it’s just a comparatively messy solution.

With clay, you simply need to invert the container and tap them out. Or, you can actually “wash them” into your terrarium with water.

Don’t worry; they’ll float right in! No harm done.

You can do the same thing with charcoal cultures, too.

How to Care for Springtails

Honestly, terrarium springtails require very little in the care department. 

Once a colony is established, it should need little to no intervention.

We’ve left springtails in closed terrariums for years on end and came back to find them thriving. So they don’t seem to need much in the way of fresh oxygen or supplemental food. 

(Just bear in mind that it can be difficult to assess how a springtail colony is doing in a terrarium. They tend to primarily live in the substrate, away from sight).

We spotted some of ours eating a dead leaf on the glass.

Springtails added to fresh terrariums may need a tiny bit of supplementation in the early stages because a newly planted terrarium isn’t producing much decaying organic matter. 

Just a light sprinkle of our Superfood Powder is more than enough.

However, please only use a tiny bit at a time. In terms of mass, springtails don’t eat a lot of food, so any leftover food will mold and rot.

I know it sounds like it could be okay (you know, producing more mold = good?), but you don’t want to create more work for them. And they’re not always capable of tackling bad mold outbreaks. 

That’s a Wrap, Folks

Springtails are the true heroes of our bioactive story.

Endlessly versatile and (thankfully) increasingly researched and understood – we have a lot to learn from these Collembola critters.

References

  1. https://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/11/9/169 ↩︎
  2. https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/38612 ↩︎

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