Thursday, February 21, 2008

Birds do it, bees do it. . .

High: 27°F
Low: 7° F
Conditions: Partly cloudy with light northwestern winds.
Ari always loves digging in the snow. But this past week, she’s been strangely diligent in her grubbing. What’s even more unusual about this new project is her approach: instead of burrowing her snout deep in the drifts and flinging snow with cavalier delight, she hovers near the surface, tweaking the ground cover now and again with Thoreauvian deliberation.

The locus of her interest? This:

Fascinating specks, no?
Certainly not at first glance—or even second or third glance. But here’s the thing: these specks move. And not only do they move, they launch into the air, fling themselves about, pirouette, then fall back to the ground, only to become an inert speck once again.

The first time this happened, caninaturalist and human were equally perplexed. The second time, said human began to question her sanity. But the caninaturalist knew better. She stopped and scrutinized. And then she discovered that simply applying a little paw pressure was all it took to reanimate the specks. Snow fleas. Fantastic!

Now make no mistake about it, we’re no fans of most fleas. Two years ago, we had an outbreak of the more provincial version of this critter, and no one in the house found much charming about the springing, the itching, the bugging of it all. Happily, this species is different. A member of the Collembola family, the Hypogastrura nivicola is referred to in some parts of the U.S. as a "springtail." And not without good reason: the snow flea actually has two coiled tails underneath its body. By springing them, it can leap over a foot into the air. We found this artist’s rendering of the tiny arthropod on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources home page:
Just a millimeter or two in length, the snow flea is a mostly omnivorous arthropod who isn't even really a flea. Maybe that's why it turns its nose up at dog flanks and human ankles. Instead, it seems to much prefer forest litter like bark and downed leaves. And, unlike its insidious cousin the common flea (Ctenocephalides felis), Hypogastrura nivicola does perfectly fine outside in a cold Maine winter. All it takes is a little sunshine and relative warmth for him to surface and start a bacchanal dance. And that, I have learned, is all it takes for my caninaturalist dog to begin her own two-step. If these twirls and jigs get us a little bit closer to spring, I'm happy to join in too.

29 comments:

Me & my puppies said...

If it brings Spring, even one day, closer I'll run outside and twirl around the crocus that popped their heads out yesterday!

Marigold said...

Leave it to a dog to find whatever is fascinating and disgusting at the same time. The Mighty Quinn does this too. Goats have more couth. If we can't eat it, we don't bother.

Farmgirl_dk: said...

Egad, snow fleas! What an interesting phenomenon - I've never heard of them.
I commented back to you on my post, but in case you didn't see it, I, too, heard that story on NPR on carbon footprints last night! Interesting, huh?

PKPWV said...

Snow fleas? We don't see those at all here!!! At least they don't bite you and cause you to itch!!!

velcro

sue1101 said...

After reading your blog for a while, I'm becoming more certain that Ari is one smart dog.

JB's Big World said...

Ooh, I think I would LOVE those fleas, but I wish they would come in my house, so my toes would not be cold in the snow. Of course my mom does not want them in the house, that is the problem. I would love to play with all of those fleas!
I am glad they don't like dog flanks though......
--JB

Khyra The Siberian Husky said...

Thanks fur the lesson!

We always learn something khool here!!

Wags&Khysses,
Khyra

Gus and Louie said...

Wow we have never heard of those. Mom lived in Wisconsin in her youth and she never remembers seeing those..


Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus and Louie

Kapp pack said...

Ewwwww....I don't think I would like those fleas!

Woo woo, Kelsey Ann

Simba said...

Snow has flea's!! I never knew that.

Simba x

The Daily Echo said...

I'd like to see a snow flea. But that would require S N O W! We get a burst of snow then it's gone by the next day.
ECHO

Opy - the Original GruffPuppy said...

hey buddy,

you have been nominated for Post of the Month over at the Bone Zone - head on over and cast your vote :-)

Love
Opy

Steve, Kat, & Wilbur said...

Wow, do you have a bug collection? You are one smart puppy!

Steve

umekotyan said...

Hello Kathryn and Ari.
Also in the snow, there is a mystery.
Interesting Snow fleas.
The world that I do not know is there.
Please spend a wonderful weekend with the snow. :0

from loved ume tyan

Maverick the Pirate said...

Harrrrr Ari
Glad to know you know so much about bugs Harrrrr
Cap'n Maverick the Pirate

Holly said...

Strange. I've never heard of them. Maybe we don't have them in nebraska. Interesting little critters! Glad they aren't the doggie eating type!

Holly

behr rake said...

Wow, I didn't know there were even fleas in the snow!
GREAT pictures on your blog!!! You have a beautiful dog, and your posts are quite interesting.

little Behr Behr :)
http://behrrake.wordpress.com/

Amici said...

I've never heard of snow fleas before. We're glad they don't seem to be blood hungry. Let them eat the bark off of the tree, that is better than your ankles and Ari's body.

It must be cute to see Ari do that little dance. :)

Cody, THE Fussy Pot Pants said...

Fwahh! I didn't know there were such things as snow fleas! Keep these facts coming!

Moe said...

Snow fleas? Never heard of them!

You have a number of great posts. Great blog!

John Theberge said...

Hey Kathryn thanks for stopping by my blog, its good to hear from another Mainer. I just got back from an 8 mile cross country ski trek so I checked your blog while I'm having my hot chocolate. I found it interesting, I find all things natural very interesting, I'll be checking back again. I can't say I've ever witnessed snow fleas like you and Ari did but I have photographed spiders in the middle of February on the ice. I'll have to dig those photos out and post them.

KGMom said...

I have come by your blog by referral of Island Rambles.
And I have spent the past hour tooling around various posts you have written--laughed at the antics of Ari as a new pup, grieved over Cam's death and the stray kitten's death, applauded your addition of two rescue cats to your life.
And thoroughly enjoyed it all.
I will be back for more.

Dawn said...

Snow fleas! Who knew? The drawing looks lovely as a matter of fact. Interesting how some insects and arthropods have a type of antifreeze that keeps them moving even in the dead of winter. Your caninaturalist is a wonder. What beautiful blue eyes she has.
Thanks for dropping by my blog. I'm so happy to have 'met' you. Your blog is divine. :-)

Cheers!
Dawn

Sharon said...

Yikes! I never heard of Snow Fleas. I'm glad they don't go for dog flank or people.

April said...

Very interesting about the snow fleas. I have seen them too as it warms up, and the snow begins to melt. You have a very sweet dog.

Sitka and Tia's BLAWG! said...

Wooo What a great lesson! Thank woo!
Hugs,
Sitka

Lorenza said...

Snow fleas?? Sure we will never have them here!
I hope you had a great weekend!
Kisses and hugs
Lorenza

T.R. said...

I love your blog -- and your writing is fantastic. Where have you been hiding? Bring back the weekend so I can read it from top to bottom. Thanks for stopping by and your generous comment. I look forward to coming back.

Island Rambles Blog said...

I am so excited still about finding this blog...I just love it. I love the pictures and your dog, I wrote a little blurb about you in my comments so I will be sending over a group of really nice people here. I will mark you as a fav and be back often. Thanks for all the work you do on your blog. (We had no snow...so I love your snow pic today!!!)