Monday, March 5, 2012

Snow Fleas - A Tiny Insect That Plays an Important Role in Healthy Soils

Snow Fleas ~ Hypogastrura nivicola


We've had a few milder days here in Minnesota and it's the time of year when Snow Fleas emerge from the soil. Easy to spot when they occur in large numbers on top of the snow.

These ultra tiny insects are not a type of flea, although they appear to jump like one. They're a Springtail from the insect order Collembola. They have a tail that is held under their body which springs down and launches them upwards.

What better way to avoid predators then to get out early in the season and mate on the snow?

Snow Fleas employ a number of strategies to stay warm in these cold temperatures.

1) Their bodies are black and therefore absorb more solar rays.
2) They are protected from cells rupturing by antifreeze (glycerol).
(Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity)




Thousands of Snow Fleas emerging
on the snow near a fallen log




Living in the soil, springtails number in the thousands in every square yard of soil. They aid in soil respiration and decomposition and release essential nutrients through their waste back into the soil. More importantly, they feed on fungal hyphae, which can stimulate new mycorhizal growth and strengthen their connections with plant roots. (Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity)

This is one of the most fascinating and important symbiotic relationships in nature. The mycorhizal fungi provide nutrients from the soil and convert it to an available form (as well as water) for plant uptake. In return, the plant produces more carbohydrates which the mycorhizal fungi uptake in the form of sugars.

So, lots of springtails means healthier soils and healthier plants.

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