Have you seen any snow fleas recently? Oh, I know what you are thinking; this is going to be some sort of trick akin to one involving high school boys, cute girls, gunny sacks, flashlights, and a dark night. But although snipe hunting has a rich history, the snipe (a bird) is native to North Dakota and so are snow fleas (a type of insect), only I have never heard of guys taking girls on a snow flea hunt.
Snow fleas are about a tenth of an inch long and feed on decaying plant and animal material, and although their color may vary, most of what I see are gray. They are active for much of the year, but because of their small size and dull color are seldom observed.
However, during late winter and early spring when temperatures climb above the freezing point and there is still a covering of snow, they may actually be quite easy to observe if you know what to look for.
On those warmer days, snow fleas may come up from the leaf litter and congregate on the surface of the snow. If you see areas where some of the ground is exposed and/or plants sticking up out of the snow, the snow surface in that area may look rather dirty, as though someone lightly sprinkled the area with ground pepper. If so, it may be snow fleas.
If you get closer, and look carefully, you may notice that these “flecks” may move up and down through the snow. They may also seemingly just disappear. If you wave your hand across the snow surface you will notice even more movement.
Snow fleas are a member of a group of insects called springtails. As the name implies, springtails move around by a rather unusual mechanism. They have two prongs toward their rear end that bend around and underneath the abdomen where they are held in place by two small hook-like structures. When they open their hooks, the prongs spring out, causing the snow flea to “spring” through the air.
Take a few minutes in the next few weeks to check for snow fleas in your area. I think you will enjoy meeting this neighbor. Plus, you may also be able to create some good entertainment with an unsuspecting friend or relative.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Dakota College at Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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