Silver / Gray / Black Springtail (Tomocerus sp.) care info

taherman

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Here's some info about the large silver springtails (Tomocerus sp.) that I've started culturing this past year. They seem to do very well in captivity and may provide a great, easily cultured food source for small terrestrial amphibians which are able to feed on fruit flies or pinhead cricket sized prey. Let me know if you have any questions.




Adult silver springtails can REALLY jump (4-5”+?) and can easily escape from a deli cup when the substrate is filled to the top. As such, I typically leave the top 1.5-2” empty in my cultures to reduce escapes. If possible, open the culture and transfer the material over a clean, dry, empty plastic shoebox or sweaterbox. This will catch any jumpers during the transfer, and you can easily tap them back into one of the cultures (see Harvesting).

Substrate
The substrate I have used with best results is the “small” coconut chips, which are available from Roberts Flower Supply (www.orchidmix.com) and probably many other orchid supply vendors. Standard ground coconut pith (coco peat, Bed-A-Beast, etc.) will work, though due to the large size of the adults you end up severely limiting the available surface area for them to colonize and cultures are not nearly as productive. The large chunks also prevent the substrate from becoming completely waterlogged and densely packed, which will drown out the springtails if you add too much water. Large charcoal chunks, tree fern fiber or many other substrates may work, though I have not tried them. The coconut chips are very economical, environmentally friendly, productive, and easy to harvest from so I haven’t looked much further.

Moisture
Unlike the commonly kept white springtails (Folsomia candida), silver springtails will not thrive in a completely soaked culture. I typically keep the cultures damp enough to keep humidity very high, with the uppermost coconut chips fairly dry, and the bottom chips wet, with a few mL of standing water in the bottom. If you are leaving the cultures for more than a week without tending them, ~1cm of standing water in the bottom will prevent them from drying out completely. I use reverse osmosis (RO) water to avoid mineral buildup in the cultures, though this may not be essential. Moisture can be increased by misting, or just pouring the water straight in.

Feeding
Silver springtails feed readily on normal baking yeast. I have found this to be much cheaper when purchased in bulk from a local health food store (~$3/lb) compared to a grocery store (almost as much $ for several tiny packets). About once a month, or if I’m starting a brand new culture, I sprinkle some Sera Micron fish food on top. This again may not be essential, but I imagine it may help to improve the nutrition of the springtails (and whatever you feed them to). It also seems to start some fungal growth, which the springtails will also feed upon. Just like the substrates, I have not tried too many different foods because yeast is easy and seems to work well.


Temperature
These springtails were first collected in northern Ohio, and as such must be able to survive everything from subfreezing temperatures to well over 80°F. My cultures have continued to reproduce from 45-80°F+ and survive refrigeration with no problems. Optimal reproduction seems to be between 65-75°F.

Harvesting
Substrate choice will factor into your ability to easily harvest silver springtails. As with white springtails, a variety of methods can be used, with slight modification. Substrate can be transferred directly from the culture to “seed” your vivaria. A porous chunk of cork bark can be laid on top of the substrate and tapped into your vivarium or a new culture when the springtails have colonized it. Floating silver springtails out of the substrate is not nearly as effective as with white springtails in my experience, as larger adults will often become trapped under the water surface and lost. A standard kitchen strainer works well for sifting out large quantities of young springtails, however the adults are large enough that they do not easily pass through the screen and may become trapped or crushed during the harvesting process. The best way to harvest that I have found involves “plastic canvas” which can be found at just about any craft store (like Michael’s). The openings in this mesh are large enough to allow adults to pass through, and the springtails cannot easily climb on it. I rolled a sheet into a cone-shaped sifter and held it together with small zip ties. This can be used to quickly harvest large numbers from coconut chip substrate by gently sifting them out over a clean, dry plastic shoebox or sweaterbox, and then tapping them out of the plastic box into an empty deli cup. A mesh size slightly larger than the plastic canvas may work even better. One idea would be to use an even larger grade of coconut chips and construct a sifting cone out of the black plastic “gutter guard” mesh.

Pests
As with just about any damp organic culture, a variety of mite species will almost inevitably colonize your cultures. For the most part these do not seem to affect silver springtail cultures until they reach biblical proportions (mites crawling over every surface in the culture and aggregating in clumps). From what I can tell, many of these mites may actually originate in the yeast itself. Microwaving your springtail feed yeast for 45 seconds seems to reduce the mite numbers substantially. This probably kills the yeast, but in my experience microwaving does not affect its palatability to the springtails and cultures continue to thrive on microwaved yeast.
Methods used to minimize mites in other insect cultures, such as keeping cultures on paper toweling treated with an avian mite spray, and regularly rotating out old cultures also help to keep mite numbers down. If cultures become very badly infested, the cultures can be sprayed down thoroughly and then flooded. Although this will result in the loss of some springtails, the mites will become trapped under the surface of the water, and “clean” springtails can be blown off the water’s surface into a clean container with a turkey baster, for use in starting fresh cultures.


Please experiment with the culturing methods. This caresheet only contains what info I have personally figured out in the past few months, and I’m sure the amphibian keeping community can improve upon it. Let me know what you figure out. Thanks!


-Tim
 

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Mark

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It's a great care sheet, Tim. Thanks for taking the time to put it together. It would be good to see larger spring tail species available to hobbyists.

I had good success with both orchid bark and lump wood charcoal (untreated). Whilst orchid bark produced slightly higher yields the charcoal was far easier to harvest - just pick up a chunk and place it in the enclosure or tap them off. The charcoal must be kept wet; I sat mine in a thin layer of water.

At first I used a commercial spring tail food which was very expensive. I had just as good results with a combination of fish flake and ready brek (a flaked oat cereal).

Does the species you have reproduce as quickly as the white tropical varieties available commercially?
 

taherman

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Hi Mark,

They do seem to reproduce every bit as fast. New cultures are loaded with juveniles within a few weeks of seeding them.

I'm going to try feeding some cultures at home with baby food oatmeal in addition to the yeast. Maybe the carbohydrates would help the adults grow out faster.

With luck these things will spread pretty quickly over here, and it will probably just be a matter of time before they work their way across the pond...
-Tim
 

Lamb

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Any idea of the nutritional value (for the sals) of springtails vs fruitflies?
 

taherman

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No, but we might get the opportunity to have them analyzed in the next few months. If that happens I will share the results.
 
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