What’s hopping on my bottom board?

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 this—but 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.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Springtail by Tracey Byrne.
Springtail by Tracey Byrne.
Springtail by Tracey Byrne.
Springtail by Tracey Byrne.
Globular springtail. Courtesy of Tracey Byrne.
Globular springtail. Courtesy of Tracey Byrne.

Comments

Tim Eisele
Reply

Wow. I hadn’t seen that “Life in the Undergrowth” video, and did not know about the grooming fluid tubules.

At least some of them are so water-repellent that they float on the surface of water (probably because of that grooming fluid), which would be an easy way to separate them out of other debris if you want to find some.

Rusty
Reply

Tim,

I might try that . . .

Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC
Reply

Wow! Fascinating. Rusty, thank you so much for keeping an instructive and often entertaining blog going for bee lovers. I’m trying to help 4 colonies of bees new to our meadow to pass the NY winter. I am learning so much with the bees and with your help. Thanks again.
Peace,
Bernard

Rusty
Reply

Thank you. You are very welcome.

Pat
Reply

I’m pretty sure I saw some of those too, last summer on my sticky boards during mite counts. I wondered if they were anything to worry about, so I’m glad to know they are harm free. I guess that would be one way to get a good photo of them – glue them down.

Rusty
Reply

Pat,

It’s amazing what we see on our bottom boards. In our quest for mites, We concentrate and observe at a higher level than normal. I’ve seen many bottom board inhabitants I’ve wondered about and worried over.

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