Wild Fact #846 – Fleas?!? In the Winter? – Snow Fleas

Photo by zxgirl

I had so much fun yesterday talking about the Daddy Longlegs that I wanted to carry that fun into the final fact of the week.  We are going to look at another obscure arthropod called the Springtail, better known as Snow Fleas.  There is no need to get grossed out and close the website down since they are not really fleas. So, have you ever witnessed snow fleas? Well, you may have but just thought you needed a trip to the optometrist instead.  As their name suggests you can find them during the winter on top of the snow.  They appear as little blue/purple/black specks that look like ashes or pepper spread out on the snow.  They are usually spotted at the base of trees and they may be there one second and gone the next! So, have you ever seen these little creatures before?

Springtails are one of the most primitive insects known to man.  Actually, I lied since they are no longer classed as insects! Either way, these little hexapods are over 400 million years old. Just to put that into perspective, at this time, fish hadn’t even evolved legs and left the water! Now that is old! Believe it or not springtails are very common and in some areas there can be more than 250 million per square acre! We probably haven’t noticed them since they are usually smaller than 3 mm (0.12″). There is absolutely no reason to be afraid of these little guys. In fact, spotting them around your garden is a sign of rich, organic soils and these little guys will very rarely cause damage to your garden. I recommend you enjoy their presence and marvel their ancient biological form.

Snow fleas are able to thrive during the winter, as well as in the Arctic and Antarctic, by having a special antifreeze inside of them that prevents them from freezing.  This antifreeze contains an unique protein that hasn’t been discovered anywhere else.  Scientists believe they may be able to use this special protein to save human organs for a longer time before transplantation.  Who would have thought that such a tiny little snow flea could be so useful for humans!

If there is snow on the ground right now and it is sunny out then I want you to take a trip outside and see if you can spot any snow fleas jumping around.  Check at the base of the trees or near your garden!  Have a great weekend!

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