Springtails are tiny creatures popular in terrarium, arthropods and reptile hobby. They are often used as feeder insects for small or juvenile exotic pets, and also clean-up crew to deal with molds in terraria or vivaria.
While you can buy springtails, it is often cheaper and more convenient to keep your own springtails in the long run if you are using them as feeder insects. After all, springtails are easy to keep and care for.
What are Springtails?
Springtails are tiny and wingless creatures with 6 legs. They are classified as insects in the old taxonomy. Certain species are asexual, while some reproduce sexually. Springtails feed on molds, algae, and decaying organic matter.
There are many species of springtails. Many of them are only 1-2 mm in body length. Certain species can reach 5 mm in length.
How to Get Springtails
You can buy springtails from breeders in exotic pet and reptile markets. Alternatively, you may be able to find springtails in your backyard. Look for soils which are excessively watered and moist leaf litter, and you will likely find springtails inside.
You can also set up traps to lure the springtails. Simply put a fresh mushroom or cut potato in a paper cup or any container. Then, place it overnight at places where springtails can be found – which are mainly damp soils. On the next day, you will find springtails inside your trap.
Since springtails are tiny, they do not require a large enclosure. A small container is sufficient, unless you need a lot of them for your pets.
If you are using a small container, such as a food tupperware, I recommend using airtight ones to prevent them from escaping through any small gaps around the lid. This may happen when their population explodes.
An airtight container can also prevent mite intrusion and infestation. Having said that, mite infestation is not common.
If you are using a bigger container (eg. a 5 gal container), your container doesn’t need to be airtight because it is spacious, and more unlikely that the springtails will escape.
Ventilation is typically not required. As long as you open the enclosure every 2-3 days to feed your springtails, there will be sufficient oxygen in the enclosure.
There are 2 methods commonly used to rear springtails – using soil versus using charcoal.
Rearing Springtail with Charcoal
This is the simplest and cleanest springtail rearing method. However, it requires more frequent, albeit low effort maintenance.
To rear springtails in charcoal, place large horticultural charcoal chunks into the enclosure. Water the charcoal to make it wet. Then, introduce the springtails onto the charcoal chunks. Feed them with a pinch of brewer yeasts every other day.
Brewer yeasts provide sufficient nutrients, including proteins, for the springtails to propagate. You can also use uncooked grain and some protein powders.
To collect the springtails, simply pick up a piece of charcoal chunk that has springtails on it. Tap the charcoal chunk at your terrarium or vivarium to drop the springtails.
In case you need to transfer a large amount of springtails from your culture to somewhere else, you can flood the enclosure with water. The springtails float on the water, and can be skimmed into another container.
Rearing Springtails in Soil
This is another method of rearing springtails. It is not as clean as rearing springtails in charcoal because you will be transferring the soil when you collect the springtails.
To rear springtails in soil, mix garden soil, coir, sphagnum moss and dried leaves into a container. Add water and mix evenly until the mixture is moist but not excessively wet. Then, put the springtails inside. Feeding is optional because the springtails can live on the dried leaves and mosses.
Since you will not be opening the enclosure for feeding, it is good to have vents on the enclosure. Otherwise, you need to open the enclosure once every other day to allow oxygen exchange.
While this method is not as clean as charcoal in terms of handling, it requires less frequent maintenance.
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Which Exotic Pets Feed on Springtails?
Springtails are perfect feeder insects for small predators such as newly born tarantulas, juvenile mantises, small mantises, small jumping spiders and ladybugs. They are not suitable for larger pets such as adult tarantulas, giant centipedes or adult Chinese mantis because they are too small.