Sunday, February 1, 2009

Snow Fleas (Collembola)

According to EEK (Environmental Education for kids):
On a warm, sunny winter day, take a look at the base of a tree where the snow may have melted down to expose some leaves, or where the snow is shallow or hollowed out just a bit. There you'll find a sprinkling of what looks like "pepper" or "ashes" on the surface of the snow. Each speck you see is a snow flea. Once you find them, watch closely and see what they're up to.

It was a warm, sunny winter day today, so we decided to go and look for snow fleas. We looked around many, many trees, and were rewarded by three snow fleas that we found around the base of one tree! We tried to take a picture, but our camera wasn't good enough to capture the image of such a small thing.

Here is some more interesting stuff about snow fleas from the EEK website:

Snow fleas are actually tiny insects which come out on warm, sunny days to eat decayed plant material or sap oozing from the tree. They hop around acting like fleas and that's where they get their name, snow "fleas." They're not fleas though, but actually an arthropod called Collembola (kol-LEM-bo-la) or commonly called springtails which measure about 1/8 inch (2mm) long.

These are not just winter critters. You can find them any time of year in the forest living in the leaf litter stuck to the underside of leaves or on the surface of the soil, chomping on bits of rotting vegetation. They also live on the surface of ponds. You'd have to look very closely to see them here because they blend in well and are so tiny.
More neat stuff about snow-fleas from Wikipedia:

Research at Queen's University indicated that the anti-freeze-like protein that allows snow fleas to operate in sub-zero environments may be useful for storing transplant organs and for producing better ice cream.[1] By preventing the formation of ice crystals in tissues, organs could be stored at lower temperatures, increasing their lifespan outside a living body. Unlike proteins with similar functions in other species, the protein found in snow fleas breaks down easily at higher temperatures.[2]

We had fun seeing such a tiny critter moving in the snow today. We saw that anti-freeze in action!

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