Springtails are everywhere.
As one of the most ubiquitous macroscopic critters in the world, springtails are hard to miss in paddocks.
Whether they are seen floating en masse on the surface of puddles, or scurrying and jumping about in soil, the sheer abundance of springtails has many asking –
What in the world are these ‘insects’ and are they eating our crops?
Springtails are not actually insects, but a separate class of invertebrates called collembola. There are thousands of collembola species in the world, and their body shape varies from globular to elongate.
The most infamous springtail in broadacre crops and pastures in Australia is the lucerne flea (Sminthurus viridis), known for chewing holes and windows in leaf foliage. Every winter cropping season, there are reports of lucerne flea in establishing canola and cereals, and this year is no exception.
Despite the notoriety of lucerne flea as an agricultural pest, the good news is that there are very few pest springtail species – most are actually beneficial to soils. That is, springtails largely consume decaying vegetation or fungi, and play an important ecological role in the decomposition process.
With the exception of lucerne flea, our experience is that springtails largely do not cause economic damage to crops and are little cause for concern.
If damage is seen in establishing crops, it can be easy to point the finger at springtails as they are often present in such large numbers.
If you do suspect that springtails are causing damage, determine whether they are physically capable of such symptoms. Springtails have mouthparts that are designed for chewing. In the rare case that they are feeding on plants, one would expect to see small pits or bits of leaf tissue removed, perhaps similar to lucerne flea damage but not as extensive.
If damage such as silvering, chlorosis, distortion or cupping is present, springtails can be ruled out as they are symptoms of pests with sucking mouthparts such as aphids and mites.
If you would like assistance identifying the cause of crop damage, please get in touch with the PestFacts south-eastern team (firstname.lastname@example.org or 03 9349 4723)
Are you experiencing or suspect lucerne flea damage in establishing crops? For further information on lucerne flea including identification and management assistance, visit our comprehensive PestNote.
Daniel Andrews – Rodwells (Northern Country VIC)
Neil Durning – Riverina Independent Agronomy (Riverina NSW)
Cameron Morris – Landmark (South West VIC)
Craig Muir – AGRIvision (Mallee VIC)
Alex Tier – AGnVet Services (Riverina NSW)