Snow Fleas? Keep an Eye Out for them this Spring

Dominic Gawel | | BrainsBrains

Snow Fleas? Yes, they are a real thing. These critters look like black pepper sprinkled on the snow that is moving. They are harmless and an essential part of the ecosystem where they help break down organic materials. As the snow begins to melt this spring, keep your eye out for Snow Fleas!

Snow Fleas are not actually fleas at all. The borderline microscopic creatures are considered hexapods which is a subgroup of anthropods. Their scientific name is Hypogastrura harveyi but they are often referred to as springtails. Snow Fleas are called fleas because they look like fleas and jump like fleas. These tiny beasts can jump several inches!

Snow Fleas do not jump with their legs nor do they have wings. They have a small tail-like device called a furcula. The furcula folds underneath the “springtails” and releases like a spring mechanism. They can escape from predators this way.

A chunk of snow covered in Springtails! Credit: Paul Edem

The tiny hexapods are unique in their survival. They come out as snow begins to melt and can sustain life in the ice with a protein they produce that keeps them from freezing. The protein is similar to antifreeze and has a lot of the amino acid glycine. Glycine prevents large ice crystals from forming.

They can be found in dirt, moist places, and foliage when they are not on top of the snow in late spring. They thrive off of small pieces of organic material that appears as snow melts.

When you spot these on a spring ski tour, let them be and appreciate their tenacity and resilience to survive and adapt to such harsh conditions.

Snow fleas… Credit: Farmers’ Almanac

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