What Are ‘Snow Fleas’ and Why Are They a Sure Sign of Spring in Michigan?
Every Michigander has spring on their mind right now, especially after the winter we've had! With the opening of The Root Beer Stand in Kalamazoo and Bell's Oberon Day fast approaching, there are subtle signs that spring will soon arrive in West Michigan.
However, one sign that you may have overlooked is the presence of "snow fleas", also referred to as "springtails", that have been appearing in snow piles across the state and especially in Michigan's upper peninsula. Do you know anything about these so-called snow fleas, because I sure don't!
What Are Snow Fleas?
According to the park rangers located across Lake Superior at the Apostle Islands National Park in Wisconsin, snow fleas are not actually fleas at all but are small wingless creatures and not something to fear! Unlike typical fleas, these insects do not bite and are not parasitic. Snow fleas/springtails are considered essential to our ecosystem as they feed on and help break down decaying organic matter which in turn helps fertilize the soil.
How Did They Get Their Name?
The name "springtail" specifically comes from the unique way these insects move around. The springtail has a tail, called a furcula, which unfolds and allows them to jump and leap over large distances. They are often found in snow piles and their flea-like appearance gives them their secondary name "snow flea."
When Do They Appear?
You can find snow fleas any time of the year in Michigan. In the summers you'll find them on top of rich topsoil or decaying trees, but what makes these springtails unique is the way they make their appearance in wintertime. Snow fleas are able to remain active in the winter thanks to an antifreeze-like protein. The park rangers say, "You’ll see them on warmer days when the snow melts because snow fleas are rising to the surface of the snow in search of new food sources....if you see these black flecks on the snow, rejoice…spring is just around the corner!"