Springtail Clay Info / FAQ / How To
I began making calcium bearing clay for a substrate in my dart frog vivaria. The clay provides a secondary (environmental, as opposed to dietary) source of calcium and other trace minerals for the frogs. This can be particularly useful for obligate species and froglets that may be too small to reliably and consistently take calcium and vitamin dusted flies.
In my vivs springtails were thriving in the clay substrate, so I began trying out the clay as a medium in my springtail cultures. No surprise that it worked very well! But the biggest benefit was the ease of feeding out of the clay cultures – just tip the cup up and tap the springtails out. The clay stays in place.
At that point, I was still using the pellet form of the clay for cultures – the same thing that I use for substrate. The purpose of the pellets in the vivarium is to allow for better water drainage through the clay. While it worked very well, I realized that the pellet shape of the clay wasn’t necessary for springtails and that by selling the clay in powder form I could save myself a lot of time and labor, and pass that savings on in the form of a less expensive product.
What is the advantage of clay substrate for springtails vs other substrates like peat or charcoal?
The big advantage is ease of use. It is just so much simpler and faster to get your springtails out of clay based cultures than from cultures using any other substrate. Just tip up your culture to a 90 degree or slightly inverted angle and shake, or tap on the bottom. The springtails come right out and the clay stays in place. There may be other advantages too, though they aren’t as easily provable and I can’t claim them for certain. I do seem to have fewer mite issues on clay than with charcoal cultures. This could be due to other factors than the clay itself, but I have only lost a couple of cultures to mites over many hundreds of cultures, and those cultures were quite old. Another possible advantage of the springtails living on clay is that they inevitably ingest some of that clay and the calcium and other minerals are then passed on to the animals when they are fed. Again, I’m not making any claims. That’s something that would need to be tested in a way that I do not have the ability to test. Just an assumption.
What is the clay? Why is it special?
The clay is a mixture of several different clay types and a few other ingredients to add some organics and additional calcium. One of the main ingredients is a high quality Montmorillonite (calcium bentonite) clay that is itself high in calcium and rich in other trace minerals. That particular clay has long been used as an additive to koi ponds to improve the health and color of the fish and the quality of the water. Again, the original intent of the clay has always been as a vivarium substrate to improve the health of dart frogs. But it worked so well as a springtail media that I kept the recipe the same.
How To Set Up Your Cultures With Springtail Clay Powder:
- Decide on your container: I have found that an 8 oz deli cup makes the perfect springtail culture container. I’ve tried larger containers and feel that there is no real advantage to one large container over several smaller containers. 8 oz seems to be a good size for holding plenty of springtails while still being very easy to handle for feeding out. But, by all means, experiment. I know some people do prefer larger cultures.
- Weigh/Measure out your clay and water: *This part can be dusty. Work outside if possible and protect yourself from the fine particulate dust* The important thing here is that the clay and water are mixed at a ratio of approximately 2:1. 2 parts clay to 1 part water by weight. The most accurate way to do this is with a scale. For an 8 oz deli cup, 2 oz of clay is the minimum I would use for a culture. 3 ounces works very well and is recommended. Once your clay is in your container, add ½ the amount of water by weight. In practice I find that just a fraction more water than the 2:1 ratio works well. (For example: If you added 3 ounces of clay, add 1.6 – 1.7 ounces of water. The scale should now read 4.6 or 4.7 ounces.) If you don’t have a scale handy, 2 ounces of clay is almost exactly ⅓ of a cup. So mix ⅓ cup clay to 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) water for the minimum recipe for an 8 oz culture.
- Stir: Pretty obvious. But use a small stir stick (or your finger) to mix the clay and water to a consistent paste. If your ratio is right it should be a nice damp mud, not watery. Alternatively, you can just add the water and let the mixture set for a few hours or overnight until the water is uniformly absorbed.
- Spread the clay out into your container: This step isn’t 100% necessary, but I do recommend it. Use your finger to spread the clay into an even layer inside your container. Spread it up the sides of the cup, not just the bottom. The more area that is covered, the more liveable space that your springtails will have to thrive.
- Add springtails: Once your wet clay is in your container, it’s time to add the springtails. Collect some from an existing culture and sprinkle them onto the clay. If you have charcoal cultures, I find the easiest way to collect them is to flood the culture and then blow the floating springtails off the surface with a straw. Don’t try to blow them directly onto the new cultures. Use a large container so that you don’t lose springtails as they will tend to fly in directions you don’t intend. Then transfer them to your new culture.
- Feed: Springtails can eat a variety of things; rice, mushrooms, yeast, oats, fish flakes, etc. (They are actually feeding on the molds and fungus that grow on the surface of the food items in most cases.) I have found that the easiest and cleanest food with the least chance of introducing mites, is plain active dry yeast / baker’s yeast. It’s cheap and available at any grocery store. When you start your culture, feed just a small pinch. It may take a week or two for the springtails to consume this initial feeding. Check in once a week or so and refeed when necessary. It is important not to overfeed – especially new cultures. Excess yeast can suffocate the cultures with CO2.