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Snow Fleas

Have you heard of snow fleas? When I first heard of them, I thought I was being set up for a joke. But they are for real! Snow fleas are small, about a tenth of an inch long. And because they are small and dull colored, they are seldom observed even though they are active over much of the year. But it is around this time of year that they are perhaps the easiest to spot.

Snow fleas spend most of their time in the leaf litter, such as in the woods, feeding on decaying plant material, fungi, and such. On warmer days during late winter and early spring, they may come up through the snow and congregate on the surface. I have found a good place to look for them is on the snow around the base of some trees, in the spring when the snow is rather wet. Initially the snow may appear to be a little dirty, maybe due to some blown dirt, ash, or other material. But if you watch more closely for a bit, those tiny black flecks sprinkled around on the snow may move! Some may just seem to disappear! And if you slowly wave your hand across the snow, you may notice even more movement. Those are snow fleas!

Most of the snow fleas I see look dark gray or perhaps black, almost like small bits of ash. They are harmless. They do not bite, sting, or suck your blood. And they are not real fleas. Snow fleas belong to a group of arthropods called springtails. As the name implies, springtails move around by a rather unusual mechanism. They have two prongs toward their rear end that bend around and underneath the abdomen where they are held in place by two small hook-like structures. When they open their hooks, the prongs spring out, causing the snow flea to “spring” up through the air. Snow fleas have been classified as insects, but more recently it appears they are in the process of being removed from Class Insecta and placed in a new Class (Entognatha).

So, if you have some time in the near future on a nice warm day when the snow is melting, make a point to go for a walk in the woods or around some trees and see if you can find some snow fleas! And if you can find them, I think you will enjoy it. And they will likely provide you with some good entertainment. Plus, you may also be able to create some good entertainment with a few unsuspecting friends or relatives.

More Information on Snow Fleas and Springtails

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota"and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers.
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