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

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!

15 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Candy & Garry March 26, 2010

    Thank you Nathan from the girls at work for doing a fact on the “snow fleas”. Maybe our “time out” talking about your all your wild facts will bring to surface some other interesting topics for your blog. I can’t believe the colours, I would have thought they would have been a dull black, brown or grey.

    Have a great weekend!

    • Avatar
      Nathan March 26, 2010

      No problem! You ladies just make sure you keep talking at work and providing me with some interesting ideas. That goes for anyone! If you have an animal you would like to see up here than don’t be afraid to let me know.

      As for the colour of the snow flea. I have included another photo of them which shows what you would typically see up close (remember they are only 3 mm long). The orange-yellow colour in the top picture is most likely the result of looking at them under a high powered microscope.

      Have a great weekend!

  2. Avatar
    Sparkle March 26, 2010

    Ewwwww! A flea with antifreeze inside it? That is DOUBLE bad for kitties, since antifreeze is poisonous to us. I don’t care that it isn’t really a flea at all and it doesn’t actually contain CAR antifreeze, I’m still glad it lives in snow and we don’t get snow where I live.

    • Avatar
      Nathan March 28, 2010

      hahahaha!

      I didn’t even think about the dangers of eating anti-freeze! Imagine how many snow fleas you would need to get a gallon of anti-freeze!

      It must be nice not having snow where you live!

  3. Avatar
    Fisher March 27, 2010

    This is an amazing blog – who knew? I don’t see snow anymore since we left Colorado, so I am not concerned for myself. I think it will be good for others though if the scientists take care of the little critters!

    • Avatar
      Nathan March 28, 2010

      Thanks for the compliment, Fisher!

      Not having snow after living in Colorado might be tough for some to take! You must miss it a little bit, especially if you are a skier!

      It is definitely important to manage ALL of the Earth’s little critters as well as the big one, including humans!

  4. Avatar
    Celine March 31, 2010

    Hi!

    Neat blog! How come these snow fleas are not classified as insects?

    I always thought the black flecks at the bottom of trees was ‘tree liter’ or little pieces of the tree that fell off. I guess I never really investigated thoroughly enough to discover that the tree litter moved! Thanks for the facts!

    Celine

    • Avatar
      Nathan March 31, 2010

      That is a great question, Céline! Basically, the bodies of springtails are slightly different than insects. For example, they don’t have the proper compound eyes, their abdomen has fewer segments and they continue to molt throughout their entire life. These are just are just a few of the main differences.

      The black flecks could still just be tree litter; until it hops away from you! Make sure you take a good look at the snow the next time you are out and about on a nice sunny, winter day!

      I wanted to thank Bug Girl over at http://membracid.wordpress.com/ for providing a few of the specific difference between Springtails and insects!

  5. Avatar
    hailey April 22, 2010

    wow how cool

  6. Avatar
    Cheryl and kids, Ariel & Jack November 14, 2010

    Thanks for the snow flea facts. We just got 10 inches of wet snow yesterday, so when I walked our 2 big dogs this morning you could really see the snow fleas. We maple syrup, so have plenty of downed leaves to feed these critters. Thanks for letting us know that is what they eat because I thought they might be like other fleas looking to feed off the dogs or our legs. Before the snow last week we found trillions of the fleas on a wooden bench we have in the woods. It looks like pepper, but only it moves. Thanks again

    • Avatar
      Nathan November 14, 2010

      Hi Cheryl and kids!

      Ten inches of wet snow?! Yuck. You folks can keep the snow your way. At least you had the opportunity to see some snow fleas. That is awesome.

      The snow fleas must be loving your house with all that food around.
      Thank you so much for sharing your story. I love hearing about animals like this.

      Have a great day!

  7. Avatar
    Pammie Sioux February 12, 2011

    Thanks for the info. My grandfather showed me snow fleas near his home in the Adirondacks aout 50 years ago. Some friends have never heard of them so I sent them your info via Faceook. Have a great winter.

    • Avatar
      Nathan February 15, 2011

      Glad you were able to show your friends that Snow Fleas really do exist :)

      Thanks for stopping by Wild Facts!

  8. Avatar
    Cara November 12, 2011

    We live in Michigan; and noticed tonight while walking through the woods, that there are trillions of these all over fallen leaves too. It looks like a trail winding it’s way through the woods, and when you see the dark spots, if you look closely, they are moving. We have only had a light snow so far this fall, and have never noticed them before we have snow covering the ground. It is actually a bit creepy to walk over these little things!

  9. Avatar
    Michele January 06, 2013

    Thank you so much for the very helpful info. I see snow flees in our yard every year. They are usually on the outskirts of our yard, around the trees, but this year there are so many. They are all around our house, up our steps and coming into the garage. We have three dogs and I was concerned about them biting the dogs and my kids. I am so fascinated with the info I have read. Thank you again.

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