Article posted Thursday, July 10, 2014 11:36am

Ever hear of snowfleas? They exist, although some people refer to them as “springtails.” These primitive insects have been around for 400 million years, but most people know little about them because they are only 0.25 to 6 mm in length. In wintertime, they live under the snow and when the sun comes out and the temperature is right, they migrate up through the snow and congregate on the surface, often around the base of a tree. There they look like moving dust. They are interesting to watch, for they can jump into the air, reaching a height 15-20 times their body length. This is equivalent to a person having a vertical jump of 90 to 120 feet. The springtail accomplishes its high jump by using a pair of long extensions at the end of the abdomen. These extensions are rotated forward (underneath the body) until they latch onto a structure called the “catch.” When the catch releases the extensions, they snap backward with considerable force and flip the insect into the air, somersaulting it to a new site.

One of the most curious things about Springtails is their sex life. In some Springtail groups, males and females never interact with each other. Rather, the males wander around and deposit little packets of sperm on stalks. Wandering females then encounter these packets, pick them up, and store them in a reproductive chamber where they can be used to fertilize eggs. Some entomologists call this the “drop and pray” method of reproduction. (; author’s class notes)