I usually try to make a point of not repeating myself too much here on the blog. Unless I have something new to add to what I’ve said before, I’ll normally avoid posting about something again. I’ll make an exception for snow fleas. Ever since I discovered them last winter, I find myself inordinately pleased to spot some during my hiking. I’m not sure why; they’re not (it turns out) uncommon, nor are they particularly special to look at. But something about them just tickles my toes.
I saw my first snow fleas this weekend, on a “balmy” afternoon where the sun had been out for a bit and the temperature had climbed to reach the freezing point (0/32). Most likely they’d already been out and about for a while, and it just took me this long to pay attention. It’s not as though they jump out at you, exactly. In the photo above, for instance, I counted about 60. But they’re a very underwhelming 60, and one could be forgiven for thinking they were simply specks of dirt, debris, or maybe little grass seeds that had scattered on the snow.
They usually move about in groups, however, which tends to make spotting them easier. One tiny speck is easy to overlook; dozens of tiny specks might actually be something interesting. If you peer close enough, you can see the tiny legs and antennae that identify them as invertebrates and not scattered seeds.
A few interesting facts about springtails:
- They’re not actually insects, but are part of a sister class to insects, the Entognatha.
- They’re the only six-legged critters to be found wandering about Antarctica of their own accord.
- They prevent themselves from freezing through a special antifreeze protein in their blood, which is being investigated for use in extending the transit life of transplant organs.
- No one seems to know what they’re doing on the snow in the winter. One hypothesis is that they feed on algae that grows on the snow or on tree trunks.
More info recounted in last year’s post, if you’re interested.