Jumping creatures provide more than a moment’s diversion
If you have ever noticed tiny black hopping specks on the snow’s surface, you have witnessed one of nature’s most ubiquitous little wonders, the snow flea. Before panicking at the thought of fleas in Summit County, however, read on…Snow fleas are actually a species of springtail that inhabit the soils and leaf litter found on the forest floor. Relatively warm winter days allow snow fleas to find their way through cracks in the snow to the surface, where an observant skier, snowshoer or hiker may notice them in great numbers. Snow fleas often appear to litter the snow as if scattered by a great peppershaker, especially around the bases of trees.Despite their common name, snow fleas bear no relation to dog fleas and pose no threat to humans or animals. In fact, they provide a great ecological service by eating decaying plant matter, thus contributing to the complex process of soil formation. Snow fleas belong to the insect order Collembola, or springtails, which derive their name from their peculiar mode of transportation. Springtails possess two “tails,” or furcula, held in place under their abdomen by tiny hooks. When the springtail releases its furcula from the hooks, the insect catapults into the air, producing a jumping motion much like that of fleas. While the sheer quantity of these creatures may seem alarming, they do not cause damage to plants, animals or homes. Snow fleas exist in our soils year-round, but we rarely notice them unless seen against a stark white background of snow. When you do see snow fleas, take a moment to observe them and appreciate that these jumpy little creatures do far more than provide a moment’s diversion. Beth Huron is the principal administrative clerk at Summit County Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. She answers all consumer calls. In addition the Cooperative Extension office has a Master Gardener Consumer Information Line, at (970) 668-4141 that is answered by the Summit County Colorado Master Gardener Volunteers. They have the support of the campus faculty, field specialists, reference materials and resources of the Colorado State University when answering consumer questions regarding high altitude gardening, soil and turf, trees and shrubs, pests and plant disease, etc.In 2005, Summit County graduated 30 Colorado Master Gardener Volunteers who went through 60 hours of training by attending classes once per week for 10 weeks. The Master gardener training for 2006 will start on Feb. 2. The organization is still accepting applications until the class is full. For information, call (970) 668-4140 or visit http://www.coopext.colostate.edu/summit.
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