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What’s This? No. 26
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MY LATEST WHAT’S THIS? nature challenge showed up Sunday, January 31, near the summit of Mt. Worcester here in Vermont’s Green Mountains. Name it and be eligible to win $5 off any of my outings or workshops this year. Enter in the comments section below. I’ll choose a winner at random (and list correct entries) on the blog Tuesday or Wednesday.
Added February 2
Perspective. It’s a matter of, well, where you are and where you look. Take another look at the image above. Think of pale sky and a massive flock of birds up high. Some of you saw European Starlings, some saw blackbirds. I can see them, too.
But in the snow at our feet, most of you saw snow fleas, or springtails, ancient insects in the order Collembola. These are specks in the soil and leaf litter. They emerge where snow melts away at the base of trees, in footprints or other depressions when the air is warm in late winter. They are the descendants of some of the most ancient land animals on the planet, dating back about 400 million years ago.
Most species of Collembola have an appendage at the tip of the abdomen, called a furcula, that folds, locks and loads beneath the body. When this tiny insect “feels” threatened, it releases the furcula and launches like a self-propelled trebuchette. In this state, Collembola resemble specks of pepper under static charge.
Or, as award-winning poet Sara Backer, our perennial winner in the “Purposely Incorrect Yet Creative” category, explains:
This is what happens when you get frustrated with your Woolly Willie and the wand doesn’t pull the tiny magnetic shreds into the beard or mustache or sideburns you had in mind–the remnants of a broken toy in the snow.
Of the 59 entries in this particular What’s This? (a record), 46 of you got it right. A few of you even named the critter to species: Hypogastrura harveyi or Hypogastrura nivicola, for example. I have no clue if those are correct (one probably is). The world has about 8,500 known Collembola species, and probably thousands more yet to be described to science. As a matter of fact, our last encounter with Collembola was in the very same location, back in What’s This? No. 10, which features video of these little beasts (perhaps a different species).
Find my other What’s This? challenges here. And below find a high kettle of Broad-winged Hawks (with one not like the others) from along the Rio Grande in Texas in April some years ago.