What are these microscopic bugs in the soil of my Maidenhair fern?
April 25, 2020 10:08 AM   Subscribe

Just when I thought this one was actually going to be okay.

I tried to take a picture but the bugs are just too small, even when I blow up the magnification. I would say they are one-fourth to one-half the size of a grain of rice. They do not fly. They're dark colored - brown with maybe a glint of maroon in the light. They just crawl around in the soil. I've been searching online but haven't come up with anything. Fungus gnats keep coming up since the soil is kept moist, but as I said these don't fly, and I've seen them in the plant for the past few weeks, so I don't think they are baby/pre-flight gnats (?). I don't see the bugs in any of my other plants. I bought this one at a local plant store about six weeks ago.

The plant seems otherwise healthy. It's growing new fronds and the more mature leaves recently began producing spores. The more mature fronds do some to be shriveling at a high rate, but that could be because of my care, as I've never had good luck with this particular plant. (This is my third try.)

So what are these? And if I can't identify them, what would be a good all-purpose bug killer that would be likely to be effective but not kill this diva? Thanks.
posted by unannihilated to Home & Garden (4 answers total)
Based on the description, my guess would be springtails, though the ones I've had in plants before were gray rather than brown or maroon. They were about the size you're talking about, though, and didn't fly. (I can't give you a recommendation for getting rid of them because I threw out the affected plants instead.)
posted by Spathe Cadet at 10:18 AM on April 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

If they are springtails (likely), they don’t hurt plants, because they are detritivores and only eat dead plant matter.

You can try letting the soil dry out more to get rid of them but if/when I see springtails, I ignore them, because their presence will help aerate the soil and make nutrients more accessible to the plants.
More information from UMN extension service here .

(Also fungus gnats are true flies, their babies are maggots)
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:40 AM on April 25, 2020

(I should note that I discarded my plants mainly because they were already doing badly, not because I thought the springtails were harming the plants.)
posted by Spathe Cadet at 10:47 AM on April 25, 2020

I've had these in two maidenhairs which have survived for at least three years. Spacing out the watering seems to help with the fungus gnats.
posted by quercus23 at 12:14 AM on April 26, 2020

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