Written By Karl VonBerg.
Posted on February 27th, 2020.
Bugs on snow? What?
I was enjoying a walk in the retreating snow on a calm 45-degree day in March.
As I retraced my footsteps, I saw a bunch of tiny black specks in my tracks.
This was odd because the snow was wet and things wouldn’t have blown into my tracks. I stooped down for a closer look and that is when I realized, “The black specs are moving!”
They are alive! Now I was intrigued. How did these little guys get here? What are they? What are they doing? I realized they actually jump a long way for little critters! Sometimes as I watched the little 1/10thinch critters they would spring several inches! That would be like us jumping over 100 feet from a standstill! Humans can’t even come close to that in a running long jump (The world record held by Mike Powell (USA) since 1991 is 29 feet, 4 1/4 inches).
I had to find out more about these guys. I headed back where I could get internet service and found out they are known as Snow fleas or Springtails.
They aren’t actually a flea or an insect, although they get called that a lot. They don’t actually jump, but have a special appendage that they can fold under their body and hold in place with a little catch. When they release this so called furcular, it can send them up to 100 times the length of their bodies! Quite the pole-vaulter!
These Springtails are an Arthropod like spiders and yes, ticks. Springtails are in an order called Collembola. They have several segments, eight simple eyes and four antennae.
So how did they show up in my footprint? Springtails live on and in the soil. They move through the snow and often can be seen on the snow around a tree trunk. They are one of the most abundant critters on the earth! There can be 5,500 in one square foot of soil! You just don’t see them on soil because they blend in.
They are decomposers and recyclers of organic waste. They break down insect poop and dead and decaying plants, like leaf litter, helping create rich soil. They are a great help unless you like to grow mushrooms, which they are chewing up.
So, how do they survive on the snow! They have antifreeze in their bodies! A special protein that keeps them from freezing.
Now that you know more about Springtails, it is time to check them out in real time. So wait for a calm day with snow when the temps are in the mid to high 30’s and go explore around some tree trunks and see if you can see these little guys jumping around!