How to culture Springtails for the vivarium
What are springtails?
Springtails are a small insects that are used as ‘clean up crews’ in the live vivarium. Being that springtails are detritivores, they spend thier lives consuming detritus (decomposing organic matter) contributing to the overall natural cycle within the vivarium. Springtails are easy to keep and breed so they also make a great source of food for small frogs and other amphibians.
What will I need to create and maintain a breeding culture of springtails?
There are multiple ways to setup a colony of springtails, our preference for ease of feeding and the benefits of added calcium we use a clay substrate but charcoal or soil can be used.
Items that you will need
- 16 oz deli cup or similar sealed container
- Calcium bearing clay or choice of substrate
- Starter colony of springtails
Deli cups work well as they easy to maintain and can be opened and closed many times over the life of your colony. 16 ounces is a great size as it gives them some room to climb the sides and enough oxygen to go days without opening.
Substrates for keeping Springtails.)
Calcium bearing clay
Clay is the ideal substrate because it sticks to the container well and you can just ‘tap-out’ the springtails as needed for feeding or adding to the vivarium. Red clay is mixed with calcium so as the springtails mill around the container the idea is that minute amounts get on the springtails and in-turn are eaten by the frogs taking in the extra vitamin which can be very useful for baby frogs not yet able to take a vitamin dusted fly.
Natural charcoal or better yet horticultural charcoal also works well but can be extra work getting the springtails out. Typically the charcoal is filled about halfway of the container and then half way up the charcoal is filled with water.
Soil is used as a substrate widely in Europe because of its ability to naturally break down and feed the springtails. Kept moist soil can produce very well and last a long time.
Springtails to start a colony.)
Choosing the right springtail
There are many types of springtail and they are found all over the world but for our purpose Folsomia candida is the most commonly used springtail in the hobby for their ease of breeding, size and ability to thrive in vivarium conditions.
You only need a single starter colony to start multiple other colonies as they will begin breeding right away. Generally it takes 4-8 weeks to really notice that they are producing well.
Food for springtails
Springtails feed on the biofilm that grows when organic material begins to breakdown. We can optimize this in our own breeding cultures for better results using a variety of common foods that are easily available.
Ideal foods include a source of protein and carbohydrates like brewers yeast, rice, flour, oats but many other organic materials can be used.
We do recommend our own springtail food as it has been specially formulated with proteins and carbohydrates to boost production.
Feeding your colony of springtails depends on how large your colony is but generally you only need a small pinch of food, about enough to be consumed in 2-3 days and remember that they don’t eat the food but what begins to grow on the food. You can adjust your amount over time as you see how much the colony eats but try not to over feed as that lends to oxygen depletion and can choke out the entire colony in no time.
Caring for the springtails.)
General care for springtails
Springtails are low maintenance and really only require that you keep them moist, air out the container every few days and provide food 1-2 times per week. A healthy colony of springtails can last for years and be used to seed new vivariums and feed frogs.
75-79 is the ideal temperature as too cold or too hot slows production.
Watering the springtails
Moist with some pooled water is best as it promotes breeding, you want most of the area to show some substrate to be available for food to sit on and eggs to be laid.
Airing out the springtails
While food breaks down and springtails reproduce they will use up the available oxygen, every few days the culture needs to be opened and allowed to refresh the available breathable air. Tap the top to knock them down and remove the top fully for a few seconds allowing for any gasses to exit. You may notice a funky smell that is typical of the organics breaking down which is okay.
General Tips & Tricks for keeping springtails
How do I get the springtails out?
For clay you just flip the culture over and tap them out where needed, leave some behind to keep the culture going. Charcoal and soil can be flooded with water and just remove them as they float on top then remove majority of the water.
Do springtails need light?
Ambient room lighting is more than enough.
Will they live outside of the container or vivarium?
No, typically this species requires a more tropical environment to survive but if your house is super nasty they might.
Will they drown in water?
No, springtails float on top of the water. A little standing water in the container promotes breeding.
Why must the container be sealed?
Common mites can invade and out compete the colony, springtails are best kept away from where you keep your fruit flies.