Insects in the Snow: Snow Fleas
When I think of snow, I don’t think of many things living in it that aren’t covered in fur or blubber. You especially don’t think of insects being able to survive. Sometimes, I don’t think I am going to survive, being from Florida I would take the sand in my toes than the snow in my front yard any day. However, there are indeed tiny insects that would prefer that snowy weather to the warm indoors. There are actually a few different types of insects that will thrive in these colder conditions resulting from perhaps some confusing calls from customers who think the cold weather means zero insects. These insects are snow fleas, midges, scorpionflies, stoneflies, and snow flies.
Often referred to as “snow fleas” they are actually not fleas at all. These insects are what are commonly known as springtails (Collembola), they are tiny, soil-dwelling insects. No one knows exactly how many species there are but there are close to 700 different species in North America. They are small, bluish-gray, to almost black, and will jump all over the white snow. They are more than likely only 1-2 millimeters in length but can jump almost 3-4 inches with the use of their spring-like body part called a “furcula.” They come in high numbers and will accidentally get into structures. They especially can be found in garages and basements. Although they won’t survive long indoors because of warm, dry conditions, unlike myself they would prefer the cooler weather.
So how do these little critters stay alive in the fridgid snow? These snow fleas are capable of synthesizing an antifreeze-like protein that will keep their bodies from freezing. They will naturally begin producing this protein once outdoor temperatures drop below a certain level. And when the temps warm up again their bodies will break down this protetin so they can survive all seasons. There are many other insects that also produce this antifreezing protein, however, they are the only ones with the ability to also break it down when it is warm.
These insects are similar to all insects in their desires for food, water, and a chance to mate. They are very sensitive to drying out and require a constant source of moisture. They have a special organ called a “collophore” that helps them to extract the moisture from the vegetation that they reside on or on warm days they will seek out melted snow. In the spring you will see them congregate in large numbers in order to find a mate. They are very important to the ecosystems because they feed on things like bacteria, algae, and fungi. They are what we would refer to as natural decomposers, keeping our ecosystems regulated.
Snow fleas are dangerous nor can they damage plants, property food, or clothing. They are some of the many garden insects that are considered beneficial feeding on decaying organic matter and bacteria which helps plants to grow in the spring. An abundance of these insects in the soil can actually be considered a sign of healthy soil.
Even though they are harmless it is still no fun when these insects find their way into our homes. They will often accidentally get into our homes. To prevent them try to eliminate moisture sources and keep your doors and windows sealed. But remember they are there to help not hurt at the end of the day!
Kristen Stevens, BCE
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