Saturday, December 29, 2012


Donald A. Windsor

Snowfleas are enthusiastically welcomed as harbingers of spring.  They appear on snow toward the end of winter.  Here is a photo taken by John Carhart on 23 December 2012 along the Finger Lakes Trail north of Bowman Lake in McDonough.

Snowfleas live in the forest leaf litter.  They emerge through openings in the snow cover.  In late winter rain funneling down tree trunks melts holes in the snow surrounding the trees.

Snowfleas are tiny, wingless insects, about 1/16 inch long.  They belong to the springtail family Poduridae in the order Collembola (1).  They are called "springtails" because they spring into the air by flicking a rear appendage that resembles a tail.  Their leaping resembles fleas, but they are not true fleas (order Siphonaptera), which jump using their legs (2).

Carhart's photo was taken when we Bullthistle Hikers saw unusually large numbers of snowfleas on the surface of about 8 inches of newly fallen snow.  They were in many separate flocks for at least a furlong of the trail.  They were even on the snow adhering to to trees, up higher than I could see or reach.  I have never before seen so many.

Snowfleas can be easily overlooked, even on pure white snow.  I will certainly be paying more attention in the future.

The amazing aspect of snowfleas is that they are here.  A century ago almost all of Chenango County was deforested.  There was no leaf litter for these little critters to live in.  Nice recovery!

1.  Borror, D.J. ; White, R.E.  A Field Guide to the Insects ...  Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.  1970. Page 64.

2.  Milne, L. ; Milne, M. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders.  NY, NY: A.A. Knopf.  1980. Page 629.