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:[quote]
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.[/quote]
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.
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.
I might try that . . .
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.
Thank you. You are very welcome.
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.
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.
These can live inside humans. They are nesting inside my body and have absolutely wrecked my life. After scrubbing down with salt, castile, and iodine in the shower, I see hundreds coming out from my skin. Usually while the shower floor is wet, I can wash them down the drain. If any are left, they will migrate out of the bathroom, making popping sounds, and re-infest everything. They like to nest inside human orifices causing major health issues. I would take these very seriously and children should not go near them. Our healthcare system is not treating human infestations.