Tracey, a beekeeper in Seattle, wrote to say she and her husband noticed “little jumping bugs (wingless) hanging out with dead bees on the bottom board” of her hives and asked if I would look at some photos. She said, “It’s pretty tiny, maybe 1 mm, and it can hop straight up a good 4-8 inches when I ran my twig across the bottom board. Like popcorn exploding or a seedpod, almost.”
I could not identify the critters so I sent the photos to my friend Tim Eisele in Michigan, author of The Backyard Arthropod Project. He knew immediately they were a type of globular springtail. This was all news to me. Tim said:
They are fantastically hard to photograph, both because they are so tiny and because when they jump it is as if they vanish completely. I’m impressed that Tracey got pictures at all!
Springtails like these live pretty much everywhere that there is a bit of moisture and mold, fungus, or something decomposing to eat. As far as I know, none of them are parasites, predators, or harmful to bees or people in any way. They are pretty fun for small children once they find out that they exist. My daughters love poking them to make them jump.
Elated to put a name to the face, Tracey said, “It makes sense why I found them when/where I did: the bottom board and entrance had many dead bees, moisture, and fungus (on decomposing bees) so the springtails were definitely enjoying a picnic.”
It seems that poking at these little guys is quite the human thing to do. Apparently, Tracey’s husband was having as much fun making them jump as Tim’s children. Why do bugs bring out the kid in us? I have to admit I checked a couple of my own hives for springtails after I learned all thisbut no luck.
Below are Tracey’s photos followed by a short video taken from the BBC’s “Life in the Undergrowth” documentary series. Very cool.