Snowfleas: They've got a spring in their step

AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
Despite Punxsutawney's prediction, we are still in the throes of winter. To tell the truth, I am perfectly content with the extra weeks we've slipped past the wee woodchuck's nose. What's not to like about winter? We've got snowshoeing, Nordic and downhill skiing, snowboarding, snow fort making, skating, and snowball fighting, and all of that fun sans biting insects. Afterall, outdoor recreation without black flies, mosquitoes or horseflies is a rare occasion in New England. Just because noone is biting, however, don’t be fooled into thinking all insects lie dormant in the winter. In fact, a number of insects stay active throughout the colder months!

One of the most familiar insects that remains active in winter is the springtail, more commonly known as the snow flea. These six-legged hoppers spend much of the winter foraging in the leaf litter beneath the snow’s insulation. However, as temperatures warm slightly, they begin to pop up above the snow. Pop is a fitting word. These tiny insects have a set of modified legs on their abdomen that propel them forward when released. They can jump up to eight feet, 128 times the length of their body!

You may see springtails popping about in depressions where the snow has melted around tree stumps or woody plants. These areas provide both a warm microclimate for the insects and an abundant source of food. (By the end of the winter the snow is littered with organic debris which the springtails feed on.) Once you start looking you’ll notice they’re everywhere!