Vol. 11 Issue 4, Winter 2006
By Nicole Hamilton
Exploring nature in winter can expose us to some new creatures that we may not notice at other times of the year. One such creature is the Springtail, also referred to as “snow fleas” although they are not fleas at all.
Springtails (Achorutes nivicolus) belong to the primitive group of wingless insects called Collembola. These insects live in the surface of the soil and primarily feed on algae, pollen and leaf mold. In winter, with the right combination of warmer temperatures and humidity, Springtails emerge from the soil and leaf litter around trunks of trees and rocks to feed. At first glance, we may think we are seeing powdery dust on the snow, but with a closer look you can see the Springtails leaping about.
Their leaping ability is done through the use of folded legs under their abdomen that are locked into place by small hooks. When the insects relax the hooks, the legs are released, and they leap. This ability is used both for locomotion and to escape predators. They can leap as far as 8 inches, which is a long distance for an insect that measures approximately 1/16 inch. Springtails, like other animals, require water to survive.
When the air around the Springtail is drier, the insect uses a tube on the underside of its abdomen to collect water. It does this by inserting the tube into a moisture droplet and drinking what it needs. Springtails are interesting insects, surviving as a species for over 100 million years. Observing them is also a fun way to explore our winter world.
Discover Nature in Winter by Elizabeth Lawlor.
Nature in Winter by Donald Stokes.