The Snow Flea and the Furcula

Without a doubt, the most common search term to bring people to this blog is “poop”. It could be due to the highly ranked photo of bear poop found in my post “Running Man” or perhaps it relates to the action in my post “Careful with that Axe, Eugene“. I don’t know.

In second place, behind the aforementioned “poop”, would be any number of variations having to do with Phineas Gage, the man who had an iron rod blown through his head over on the other side of Cavendish. His story is fascinating and instructive (before tamping blasting powder, always, always, always make sure to have a good layer of sand between the powder and your tamping iron) but it has been told countless times by others.

The third most common search term to appear on my statistics page is “Snow Fleas” and refers to a post from a few seasons ago. Quite often these searches include the words “how to kill”. Well, I could write about poop all day and someday probably will. I might even get around to posting a little something about Phineas Gage and the time he spent working for Phineas Barnum but right now I need to know why people want to kill Snow Fleas.

Snow Fleas (Achorutes nivicolus) are not Fleas at all. They belong to the insect family Poduridae and are generally found on the forest floor,sometimes  appearing in great numbers on top of the snow on warm winter days. On the coldest of days they go dormant, thanks to a chemical in their blood that acts as an antifreeze, but as temperatures climb they become more active and begin feeding. Voracious by nature, they swarm, searching for food, hungrily consuming everything they find as long as it is a small, partially decomposed bit of tree bark or leaf. Big stuff gets broken down into small stuff, it’s the way of the world, and snow fleas are an important part of that process, making and enriching soil one tiny meal at a time.

When the snow in the woods looks like it’s been sprinkled with pepper, and those pepper flakes move, chances are good you’ve come across a cluster of Snow Fleas, just doing their jobs, turning tiny bits of organic matter into smaller bits of organic matter. There is no need to search for ways to kill them.

 

The “Flea” in their name is unfortunate. They and their close relatives are also known as Springtails, which is much more descriptive, because of an appendage, resembling a tail, that, well, acts like a spring. Called a furcula, this appendage folds up, under the abdomen, and locks into place much like the bar on a mouse trap. The Springtail holds its furcula under pressure by drawing water into its abdomen in a process known as “sucking water up its butt” and when that pressure is released the furcula springs down, propelling the average Springtail up to 100 times the length of its body. If I were a Snow Flea I could change Olympic history forever but I am not and I guarantee you that, if six-foot tall Snow Fleas began flinging themselves hundreds of yards, crashing through the woods and you needed to kill them, I’d be at the top of your search results.

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Categories: nature, Vermont | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “The Snow Flea and the Furcula

  1. auntie smedley

    Interesting entomology lecture! I’ve never seen these, maybe we don’t have them here in MN.

    Now tell us all about earwigs, won’t you?

  2. robobalo aka #8

    first it’s Chispas de Muerte and now it’s Furculese. Way to change it up. It’s always been Subject to Change.

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