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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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!
These bugs are trying to come out. If I open the lid for few hours, as you said, will they escape and go in pots which are placed near by my compost bin. What to do
Good question! Springtails are particularly attracted to moist environments. That’s one reason they love a nice moist worm bin. So, well-watered house plants may be an alluring hang out for the springtails in your bin, especially if the conditions in your worm bin become too dry for them. Allowing potting soil to dry out between waterings will discourage springtails from staying if they should find their way into your potted plants. Let us know how it goes!
I had a very successfull outdoor worm trench that I maintained in a covered window well of my home. But on the third year I was horrified at 2 predators that I saw and so now I’m trying to get a Worm Inn started inside. I had tiny skinny white millipedes about 3/8″ long. They were often stuck on the sides of the worms, not attached by the mouth, but I would still need to pick them off. This last summer I also noticed that soil was collapsing in from the sides where the galvanized tin met the house. And small 1 1/2″ holes burrowed beside the window well. I had some kind of a mammal Now I live in a climate zone 3 in Alberta Canada. I don’t know what it was. I’m guessing a mole, but here in Calgary I’ve never heard of anyone having them.
Thanks for sharing your unique experience! I hope that you find raising worms to be less complicated in your new digs!
Hi, Francesca! Thank you for your post! In the photo with the white springtail on the right, what is the creature on the left? I have those in my bin and I’m actually researching what they are. Thank you!!!
Hi, Mars! Thanks for asking. I’m curious too. I’m not 100 positive what that other guy is, but I think it is some variety of a fly larvae. There are many flying insects that may find our worm bins the perfect breeding and laying ground for their next generation. Anyone else know for certain?
Hi, Mars! Thanks for asking. I’m curious too. I’m not 100 positive what that other guy is, but I think it is some variety of fly larvae. There are many flying insects that may find our worm bins the perfect breeding and laying ground for their next generation. Anyone else know for certain?
Hi. I think the insect on the left is a fungus gnat larvae. Fungus gnats are attracted to damp soil and lay eggs on the surface that start the life cycle… I have a bad problem with white rice grain looking worms/larvae that I think are the springtails you are talking about here. In the compost bin they may be harmless, but in flower beds of crinums and bulbs, they wreak havoc. In a humid environment like Houston, it’s difficult, even with well-draining soil, not to have damp conditions often. Amaryllis bulbs and white spider lilies are susceptible to red blotch, a fungus that causes some rot. It can be kept in check and not kill the plant, but if the bugs move in and start gnawing on the decay, they destroy the bulb and move on to the next. Does anyone have experience with this?
Thank you very, very much for the springtails information. I had no clue, thought they were the eggs which turned into white baby worms. I’ve never seen cocoons or eggs, but have plenty of baby worms.
Is it ok to add ground up 600mg calcium carbonate with 800IUVitaminD3 tablets to their diet? I’ve not yet done so because other included ingredients are maltodxtrin, hypromellose, mineral oil, titanium dioxide color, glycerin, triethyl citrate, polysorbate 80, croscarmellose sodium, carnauba wax, cholecalciferol. None of that sounds safe for my wee ones so I thought about just throwing it out into the yard compost.
Oh! So glad the springtails article was able to clear up some questions for you!
I love how industrious we worm farmers can be about finding things to offer our compost creators! Sounds like you’ve got some old vitamins to use up. I used to shove mine right into my potted plants- that was before composting! But, because of the many ingredients that I’m really not sure about, I’d suggest crushing these pills and maybe sprinkling it over your hot compost, yard, or only in small doses adding some to your worm bins to see how it goes- if they are well established. Always better safe than sorry, right?
Will they harm my olants i have where I spread the mulch , they r in my mulch , i have had a couple years in bags
Hello Helene. Adding finished worm compost, or the worms that are in there, should not harm your plants. In fact, the added nutrients and living organisms are a benefit to soil, roots, and plants. It should help them. Hope you are pleasantly surprised!
How do I prevent earthworms coming from my lawn into my house which has a ceramic tiled floor through a closed sliding glass door which has small openings in its slide rails?
I use our compost to germinate seeds and these little buggers have been eating the seeds, only certain varieties. Never had this issue before – Thanks for the info!
Hi Bonbon, that is so interesting. I’ve had ants take my seeds away to feed them to their babies before! So frustrating!
Would freezing the worm castings kill any remaining springtails? My bin has what looks like sparkly specks that wiggle. I’m assuming they are baby springtails. I use my castings in my seed starting and really don’t want any critters in with my seeds and seedlings.
Hi Linda. I believe that freezing the castings would kill the springtails. Along with other organisms in the process. However, I don’t think a quick freeze should drastically alter the nutrient content of your fertilizer. I think it should work! Interestingly, if you have red wiggler cocoons in there too, the freeze isn’t likely to damage them at all. Let us know how it works out!
Well, I put my bags of castings out in my little greenhouse that I do not heat in the winter, knowing that it would freeze at night. Perhaps because this has been a mild winter and my greenhouse warms up during the day, the castings may not have frozen completely through and the springtails are still moving around. I’ve now put the bags of casting into my deep freezer. I’ll check them after a few days when I know they have been completely frozen.
The freezer worked! My worm castings still have the tiny white specks, but they are no longer moving. I’m now comfortable using the castings in my seed starting.
I was concerned about the springtails in my leachate. I think I will try freezing it before I use it. Thank you.
Hi Brenda, those springtails shouldn’t cause any problems when you use your leachate to make worm compost tea. They are fairly harmless anyway, but will likely drown in the process of diluting and possibly aerating your leachate into a worm compost tea. Freezing it will definitely take care of the springtails though!
“As long as your home isn’t much like compost” LOL
Many thanks, Francesca.
I stuck some in a sellotape and put in a microscope and I couldn’t see their tales – I am freezing others and see if I get a better picture, but your description of jumping and hiding in the dark settle it for me. I am glad they are friends and, yes my junior wormery is too wet so I will put up defenses and rebalance the moisture give more territory to the worms
Great information! Very useful, complete and down to earth. Thanks!
Thanks for the information! I think I have springtails. There seems to be heaps in the worm wee! (My daughter thinks the worms all start seeing when I add water to their farm and some flushes through 😂) I don’t want them in my veggie garden. They seem to have thrived since I moved the farms into the garage to avoid cooking the worms during some scorching hot days… but I also added mushroom peels for the first time recently so maybe they liked that. I think I’ll try to dry out the bedding a bit to see if that helps. Thanks
Thank you for the great info and amazing writing. We “worm lovers” highly appreciate all the details. Happy composting to all readers.
Do these Springtail like dry corn? We had what my husband believes are these little guys making a home in our corn bin. He found what looked like long white string material through out the corn. Is there a way to get rid of them?
If the bugs in your corn bin look exactly like the ones in the picture in this article, then it most definitely are springtails. This critters like areas that are wet or has moisture. As such, you must make sure that your corn bin is totally dry to prevent getting springtails into your corn bin.