Too cold for polar bears but not snow fleas

black-dog-in-snowListening to the news the kids and I were fascinated by the polar vortex affecting much of the US. The dramatic images and warnings of frostbitten skin within minutes of venturing out into the cold. I did however chuckle a little when the news reader announced that Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago had moved their polar bear ‘Anana’ indoors as she didn’t have enough body fat to withstand the cold.

“Too cold for polar bears?” I mused to the kids “what creatures can survive those conditions then?”

My son then gave me that look, only teenagers can “Snow fleas, Mother” he said and returned to his ipad.

I’d dealt with cat fleas, dog fleas and head lice (most parents with school age kids will have had dealings with those horrid little things). I’d even heard of bird fleas, but snow fleas that was new.

I looked quizzically at my son “snow fleas, really?”

Without a word I got that look yet again and he passed me his ipad.

Snow fleas (Hypogastrura nivicola) are not technically fleas, but rather very tiny arthropods known as Springtails – so I discovered. They have a unique catapult system made up of two spring-loaded tails, which when they unhook them, hit the snow and sends them flying into the air – resembling a jumping flea.

These clever little creatures also have a very handy anti-freeze like protein which allows them to operate effectively in sub-zero environments. Springtails are about 2mm in length and are often seen where snow is hollowed, such as tyre tracks, foot prints or indents in the snow. Their dark colour makes them more noticeable against the white snow. Surprisingly they live all year round in soil and leaf litter eating rotting vegetation and tree sap. We only tend to notice them when their dark bodies contrast against the snow.

So when the snow sweeps across the Atlantic to our shores I’ll be keeping my eye out for leaping Springtails.



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