What are the Little White Bugs in My Worm Compost?

What Are The Little White Bugs In My Worm Compost?

A worm bin is like a box of chocolates… You never know what…Wait…yes, you do.  But could there be more than meets the eye?    

Red wiggler composting worms can be expected in every compost bin for certain.  But after the lid is thrown wide and the bedding is pushed aside – we reveal the variety that offers a surprise every time.

Just beneath the surface of our worm compost exist multitudes of minuscule creatures.  A vast majority of them go unnoticed.  What story do they tell and what happens when they grow up and multiply?

How should we react to a thriving population of pale squirming, springing, and surprisingly abundant little white things living in our worm bin?  Truth be told, finding bugs in our bins should come as no surprise.  It comes with the territory, and it’s a territory teeming with life!

Discovery

The vast majority of the microscopic life within the bin is overlooked by the human eye.  However, there is one little white bug that often becomes the well observed companion of the red wiggler.  Inspect your worm compost and see for yourself!  

Tiny white cohabitants in the worm bin start out as few but can quickly multiply.  Look closely.  Do you see very small and quickly squiggling white bugs?  You are most likely to find them working on food scraps just like the worms.  In bright light you may see the faint blur of what looks much like the spray from popping bubbles off a freshly poured soda. Now that you know what you’re looking for, you may find their numbers are immeasurable!  

Perhaps this very discovery has triggered your search for answers on the Internet – hesitant but eager to know if you should be grossed out, freaked out, or amazed by these little buggers.

Oh, that’s you!?  Perfect, let’s get into it!

Let’s really get into it- when I lift the lid of my worm bin I see brown all across the top.  A few crushed leaves shift as worms slide out of sight. Everything else seems pretty quiet.

So, I use my little hand rake to drag some of the top layer aside, and there they are!  I see worms aplenty right alongside tiny white guys all going to town on some mushy old pumpkin.  The worms devour the pumpkin and don’t seem to mind at all that the white bugs are sharing their meal.

But who are they?  A closer look reveals that the “friends” are tiny- only a few millimeters long. None are on the worms.  They definitely congregate on the food and, whoa!  One just jumped!

Common White Springtail

That jump is the giveaway that we’re spying on springtails. Truth be told, these guys have been in my worm bin since day one.  They came right along with the handful of red wigglers and finished worm compost handed down to me to start my own bin.  I’ve learned not to mind them at all.

What Are The Little White Bugs In My Worm Compost? - 2

The little white creature to the right is a springtail. Now you know!

If you open your bin to find your red wigglers are cohabitating with tiny white invertebrates like these, it is probable that you too may be hosting springtails.  

Springtails aren’t at all “ew”!  They’re cool – Let me tell you all about them!

The Good News

First, forget any idea of these bitty animals taking over your home.  They are living snug in the worm bin because it’s a dark, very moist and nutrient-rich place to stay.  

As long as your home isn’t much like compost, the springtails should stay right where they are!

The second thing to hear confidently is that the springtails are NOT there to harm your worms!

The worms and the springtails have a symbiotic relationship that can be part of a healthy worm bin ecosystem.

Springtail Etymology

According to the Penn State Department of Entomology, the springtail is a small and naturally abundant invertebrate with complex mouthparts used to suck fluids from decomposed foods and fungi. What makes them unique is a forked tail-like appendage called a furcula under the abdomen that launches the springtail into the air for a quick getaway.

Talk about fight or flight!  I don’t often see them flung around, but when I do I think it’s entertaining.  What can I say?  Cheap thrills.

One thing they have in common with red wigglers is that springtails feed heavily on microbes and decaying organic matter.  Specifically, springtails seem to be particularly fond of fungi.  

I often find springtails in my worm bin huddled in little masses on food scraps left after worms suck up the softest, most easily consumable parts.  When I dig around a bit more… sure enough, I find another white wiggly bunch going to town on an old banana peel and zucchini end I tossed in.  Yummy!

Overall, springtails are beneficial in your vermicompost to keep molds in check and begin the process of decomposition on more fibrous plant matter, like that old banana peel.

How Much is too Much?

So, we know they aren’t harmful, but is it possible that there can be too many?  The answer is, technically, no.  However, vermicompost systems that seem overrun by springtails can be managed in such a way as to reduce their numbers.  

Round ’em Up and Ship ’em Out

To say that the population of springtails in your worm bin is a bit out of balance is a purely personal choice. Whether there are very few or many, if you are a bit squeamish about them, gather some for removal by laying out a piece of milk soaked bread-type bait. Doesn’t matter what kind- be resourceful- they aren’t very picky.

The springtails will migrate to food left on the surface of the bedding. Once they climb on you are free to simply carry them away. Yay! Free ride!  

Rather than destroying them outright, bring the springtails outside where they can find a new purpose as food for birds or to break down organics in soil.

Dry Out

Another way to have fewer springtails in the bin is to create an environment contrary to their preferences.

Springtail populations surge in particularly wet conditions.   If this happens and you aren’t a huge fan, let your bin dry out a bit and you should soon notice fewer little white guys squirming around.

You’ll find more ways to lower the moisture content in your worm bin in our helpful tips below.

Always use a moisture meter as your guide when adjusting the humidity in the worm bin to create and maintain the most ideal moisture conditions for your worms.

Remember that any method used for removing springtails will only keep the populations down for a time.  For any lasting change, we need to maintain our bins in such a way that discourages guests in general.

What do Springtails in the Worm Bin Tell Us?

Again, composting worms are seldom troubled by the presence of springtails in the bin.  But they may potentially react poorly, or even die, from extremes of the conditions that attract springtails in the first place.

If you have a sudden increase of any creature besides compost worms in your worm bin, pay close attention to these probable causes and coexisting dangers:

Too much water in the bin

Beware of drowned worms.  Composting worms need moist skin to breathe through, but too much water is bad. They require moisture levels to stay between 60-75%.

Too much food in the bin

Beware of uneaten food.  Piles of uneaten food create a toxic anaerobic situation with stinking bacteria.

Toxic gasses in the bin

Beware of acidic gases from fermented foods.  Acidic conditions may lead to protein poisoning.

Put Up Defenses

Since our compost worms are meant to be king of the castle in their bin, we can choose to do a few things to tip the scales in their favor.  Each of the following create a more hospitable environment for red wigglers and one less tolerable for the tagalongs who show up every once in awhile.

  • Amend

Sprinkle pulverized egg shells onto the bedding or add it to feedings.

  • Air-out and Absorb

Allow some excess moisture to evaporate by leaving the lid off for a few hours each day or absorb it with coconut coir, paper, or cardboard.

  • Avoid feeding

Withhold food until you see all scraps have been eaten.

  • Aerate

Gently fluff the bedding a bit each week to make sure clean air replaces any stale or sour air.

  • Active Removal

Bait with milk-soaked bread.  After a few hours, the bread can be removed along with whichever white bugs hop aboard.  You can leave that little buggy bread nugget for a bird to find, or maybe your pet fish would enjoy that treat instead.

Victory!

Now that you know who’s bugging your worm bin and what they are telling you, you can take a few steps to rebalance the moisture and maintain pH so that your worms can reclaim their territory once again.

What surprising, shocking, or scary experiences have you had with bugs visiting your worm compost?  Join our community of worm farmers and share your experience today.

Happy worm farming!

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Readers Comments (4)

  1. Thanks for the info!
    I have been looking for information on the internet about these little white bugs, and this is the first I’ve found. I agree that they seem benign…actually quite helpful in the worm bin. My bins with higher populations of these guys seem to produce castings more quickly.

    Reply
    • Diana,
      Thanks for sharing your insight with all of us at The Squirm Firm! It’s great to hear we are a useful resource for you and your red wigglers!

      Reply
  2. I am think about starting a worm farm on our ranch just north of Reno, NV. what kind of base do i need to get my worms going, can i add food to the soil from the ground here

    Reply
    • Thanks for your questions.
      I recommend starting out with something that has the largest surface area you can manage. Storage bins are often a good size to process the amount of food waste an average family creates. Otherwise, the Worm Factory 360 is a great worm composting system for anyone. It makes harvesting simple and is a well-designed product.
      As for your Reno soil, I would suggest that a few cups of your native soil would add some of the biodiversity and microbes that could start a bin working, but definitely recommend using a bedding that incorporates shredded paper, and the proper balance of greens and browns as you go on.
      Best of luck with your worm composting project! Sign up for the Squirm Firm newsletter today for all the support you need to get started!

      Reply

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