Springtail fleas or snow fleas are not fleas at all; they belong to the Collembola order, Hypogastrura genus and the phylum Arthropod.
Physical description of the hypogastrura nivicola
Like most arthropods, Springtail fleas have pale (sometimes spotted, striped or colored) bodies that are divided into several segments measuring about 1/16th of an inch long. They have simple mouth parts which are utilized for piercing and sucking. There are eight simple eyes and four segmented antennae located in the head region.
Springtail fleas get their name owing to a special set of appendages present below the fourth abdominal segment. This appendage, called the furcula, is normally held in place by another special body part (tenaculum) present below the third abdominal segment. On releasing the furcula, the springtail fleas are capable of traveling, jumping or flying through the air nearly 100 times the length of its own body.
The hypogastrura nivicola are also famous for another special suckerlike organ present below the first abdominal segment. This body part allows adhesion, absorption of oxygen and also the ability to drink water from the soil.
Life cycle of the Collembola
Under favorable weather conditions, the hypogastrura nivicola are capable of multiplying very rapidly to the order of thousands per square foot. On drying up of the soil, they need to migrate in search of water.
Springtail fleas generally mate in the spring season and lay hundreds of eggs. They are immune to the cold and can even reproduce in temperatures as low as 40F. The springtail fleas can work their way up to the surface of the snow, earning them the name of ‘snow fleas’.
The eggs develop into nymphs which turn into adulthood in just three weeks provided the weather conditions are right. They have several predators: beetles, ants, centipedes, mites and many other insect-eaters are a threat to snow fleas.
Humans and the hypogastrura nivicola
Springtail fleas do not bite humans and are harmless to most animal groups. However, they migrate during the hot weather from the lawns into the homes. The fact that they are immune to most insecticides makes it difficult to control them.
The collembola family is important to humans, as they make excellent decomposers and recyclers of organic waste. However, for farmers growing mushrooms or those maintaining greenhouses, the snow fleas can be pests.
Springtail or snow fleas prefer moist living conditions found along the pond shores, leaf litters and moist soils. They feed on dead and decaying plant matter, wood, pollen, algae, sap, fungi, mosses etc.
Treating snow fleas in the homes
Snow fleas mainly come inside the homes during dry and hot periods when there is a shortage of moisture and food outdoors. They may be seen in areas where there is water such as baths, sinks, tubs, around the faucets or near household plants etc.
As stated above, the collembola fleas do not bite humans, nor do they cause any destruction to the property. They are actually a required part of the eco system as they are good recyclers of organic materials. However, they can be a nuisance to control especially since they are immune to most household insecticides. Nevertheless, there are a few garden and yard insecticides which claim to be effective against the snow fleas.
The best way to prevent the hypogastrura nivicola is to provide other water sources outdoors in order to divert them from coming indoors. Reducing the presence of moisture inside the homes can also help prevent collembola infestations.
Snow fleas can be present in the indoor plants; but they do not cause any damage to them. If you are annoyed by their presence, you can simply allow the plant soil to dry out for a few days so that the springtail fleas die out from the lack of moisture.