A flea, or not a flea?

|  February 20, 2014

Cat-FleaYour customer calls and complains of small insects he thinks are fleas jumping around the house. You know they’re not fleas because it’s the wrong time of the year. While inspecting, you identify the problem as springtails. Why are they here now? Where did they come from? What should you do? All are valid questions, but first we should learn about this occasional invader.

These tiny insects rang in size from 1/32 to 1/8 of an inch. They can jump a good distance for their size — as far as 4 inches in some cases. The jumping is performed by an appendage attached to bottom of the abdomen called the furcula. This spring-like appendage is held folded up under the abdomen and released to propel the insect upward and forward. The action is quick. In some species, they can react and jump in less than 50 milliseconds. To compare it to something common, the average person requires about 350 milliseconds to blink their eyes.

Springtails are moisture-loving insects. Their body loses moisture quickly, so they’re always looking for high humidity and moisture sources. Because of this, one of the first things you should do is locate the source. Of the more than 675 species found in North America, the majority will dwell outdoors until their environment becomes too dry to survive. This is when the invasion happens. Once indoors, they will seek areas of high moisture and humidity — areas you need to identify and work with your client to remove.

The Solution

Controlling the insects is normally done first with a vacuum cleaner to pick up the ones on surfaces, followed by lowering the humidity inside. Infestations might occur inside wall voids if moisture is trapped inside. A moisture meter can be helpful. Check to make sure no weep holes on the exterior of the structure have been closed off. These are designed to reduce the amount of moisture that can build up inside exterior walls.

Additionally, check plants, appliances with condensation catch pans, around sinks and toilets, and any other sources of high moisture and humidity. Many of these insects feed on mold and algae, so don’t forget to look for these conditions as well.
Pesticide applications aren’t always needed to control springtails because moisture reduction alone will control them in most situations. If the area can’t be dried out, you might need to use an appropriately labeled pesticide. pmp

You can reach Meek, international technical and training director for Orkin, at fmeek@rollins.com

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