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Today’s What’s This? – Number 10 in the series – amounted to shock and awe on the mountain, something I’ve never before seen. I shot it today (June 13) on the trail up Mt. Worcester in central Vermont. (A Bicknell’s Thrush was singing nearby.) I’m not in the habit of posting more than one or two of these challenges per week. But this one is really cool. Name the purple stuff and win $5 off any of my outings or workshops. Meanwhile, the answer to What’s This No. 9 is now posted with a big photo and the story of my quaking encounter with Comet Darner. And we now have a winner to this challenge.

Added June 14: Ecologist and entomologist Leif Richardson was the first to notice that this is a cluster of Collembola, otherwise known as Springtails or Snowfleas. We often see them resembling jumping specs of pepper on snow in early spring. Never before have I seen a clusterf*ck like this in spring. For a better sense of the purple pandemonium, let’s go to the videotape (below). Beneath the video is a closer image (note the balsam fir needle at upper right for scale) and then another shot showing the purple patch on the path. Lots of folks got this one right, including Sue Cloutier, who I think is batting 10 for 10 on What’s This? challenges. The ever-creative Sara Backer went graphic on this one. The wise Colin Jones suspects they might be in the genus Hypogastrura.

A cluster of Collembola, insects otherwise known as Springtails or Snowfleas / © Bryan Pfeiffer

A cluster of Collembola, insects otherwise known as Springtails or Snowfleas / © Bryan Pfeiffer

A "purple patch" of Collembola on the trail up Mt. Worcester.

A “purple patch” of Collembola on the trail up Mt. Worcester.


  1. Sara Backer says:

    In Yukon winters, you know how when you throw a cup of coffee outside it freezes and splinters before it hits the ground? Well, after a desperate night of eating blood pudding sausages, moldy cauliflower, and the last bag of marshmallows–along with a fifth of gin–this is what your puke looks like once it lands.

  2. Judy Brook says:

    It is hard to see their individual anatomical structures but I’d guess springtails.

  3. Sue Williams says:


  4. Colin Jones says:

    I would hazard a guess that these are springtails, perhaps in the genus Hypogastrura.

  5. Mark Des Meules says:

    Clearly a congress of some sort of juvenile insect. I’d say snow fleas but they are rarely this color. Hmmm good one Bryan

  6. Sue Cloutier says:

    Springtails, I’ve had them here on our ridge in New Salem, MA

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