Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Sign of Spring

I kind of feel like I am the last one to know, but we noticed something today for the first time -- snow fleas.  Not a few but thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and I am sure, millions of them are out there, just in our little corner of the world.

The temperature spurted to a warm and sunny high of 47 degrees F today, yielding a welcome respite from the below zero temperatures and blizzard conditions of last weekend. Massing on top of the softening snow were brigades, divisions and armies of the fleas. There were dozens, even a hundred or more in a single square foot.

Snow fleas are seen here as little black dots in foreground.

Snow fleas are part of the food chain that decomposes organic matter and returns nutrients to the soil.
Snow Fleas are not fleas at all, but a type of insect called a springtail. Springtails get their name because they have two long things that look like tails sticking from their abdomen (back body section). The "tails" can fold under the body and are held by two hooks under the body.
When the springtail releases the hooks, the insect goes flying in the air.
Snow Fleas are very small, about 1/16 inch long. They are dark blue, have short antennae, and have two eye clusters (with 16 eyes in each).
Snow Fleas, and other springtails, live in soil, leaf littermossesfungi, and along shores of ponds. Sometimes they can be found on the surface of ponds. Since they are so light, they can walk on the surface without sinking.
They eat old dead plant matterbacteria, fungi, algaepollen, roudworms, rotifers, and sap. Roundworms and rotifers are tiny microscopic animals.
When I realized those little black dots were fleas I thought here today, gone tomorrow. But not so. The little buggers manufacture their own antifreeze.

Snow fleas in particular are able to withstand the bitter temperatures of winter thanks to a “glycine-rich antifreeze protein,” as reported in a study published in Biophysical Journal. The protein in the snow fleas binds to ice crystals as they start to form, preventing the crystals from growing larger.

Approximately one square foot of flea covered snow.

Why are they called snow fleas?
During very cold Winter days, Snow Fleas are not very active. But if it warms up, Snow Fleas will become active and look for food. They may even crawl out onto the surface of snow. This is how Snow Fleas get their name. People notice large amounts of them, like black dust...
And so it goes.

1 comment:

  1. Some of your stuff is absolutely off the wall and fascinating