The winter season highlights snow fleas

Snow fleas, Hypogastrura nivicola (Hypogastrurida), are tiny creatures that we usually only notice while there is snow on the ground. These little creatures are uniquely adapted to cold weather conditions.

Snow fleas in boot print.
Snow fleas in boot print.

Have you ever trekked through a snowy winter landscape and noticed your footprints filling with tiny black creatures? Commonly known as “snow fleas” these speck-like critters are not true fleas; they belong to a primitive group of insects known as springtails in the order Collembola. Springtails are among the most abundant of all soil-dwelling arthropods.

Uniquely adapted to survival in cold temperatures, they are able to synthetize an anti-freeze like protein that allows them to function in sub-zero temperatures. Their flea-like common name is derived from their ability jump using a spring-like appendage called a furcula to propel themselves into the air.

Snow fleas do not bite and are harmless to humans and wildlife. They feed on decaying plant material and bacteria in the soil. Although present throughout the year, they are most likely to be noticed when they are crawling about on white snow.

Snow fleas along with a myriad of other minute soil insects, fungi and microbes are an important component of healthy soil. Unseen but vital; Dr. Andrew Moldenke a researcher at Oregon State University once noted “Every time you take a step in a mature Oregon forest, your foot is being supported on the backs of 16,000 invertebrates held up by an average of 120,000 legs.” It is much the same here in our region.

Occasionally, in dry weather periods, snow fleas may migrate into homes and other outbuildings. Although they don’t pose any threat to the structures or inhabitants, their presence may be cause for concern. Michigan State University Extension in Oakland County has a fact sheet (OC0121) available with additional information on these interesting native species with some suggestions for control should they ever invade your dwellings.

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