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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.

Collembola species / © Bryan Pfeiffer

Collembola species / © Bryan Pfeiffer

Hypogastrura harveyi / © Tom Murray

Hypogastrura harveyi / © Tom Murray

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).

In any event, chosen at random among the 46, was Patricia Fontaine, who wins the five bucks toward one of my lectures or outings (which I know she shall use). Yay!

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.


  1. Geoff Beyer says:

    Snow fleece! 😉

  2. Ginny Alfano says:

    Hypogastrura nivicola – a species of dark blue springtail – English name: Snow Flea. That’s my wild guess, Bryan, but it reminds me of what I used to see at my cabin in the Adirondack Mountains. My curiosity at the time led me to learn all about them 🙂 .

  3. Linda Paradee says:

    Snow Fleas

  4. Leda Beth Gray says:

    Snow fleas

  5. Lynne Woodard says:

    Hypogastrura nivicola- springtails- snow fleas. As I was driving home today and noticing the snow melted away from bases of trees, I was thinking that they must be active.

  6. Louise Giovanella says:

    I’ll bet these are snow fleas… don’t know the scientific name however.

  7. Those are snowfleas.

  8. charlie Hewson says:

    Snow fleas

  9. Stevie Spaulding says:

    Snow fleas!
    – Snow flea is a common name for several arthropods and may refer to: Boreidae, a family of springtails known as snow fleas in the British Isles, especially: Boreus hyemalis a species of springtail.

  10. Duh! It’s a satellite photo oDuh! It’s a satellite photo of trees at the boreal forest / tundra interface! Just kidding. f trees at the boreal forest / tundra interface! Just kidding….It’s exactly 1,378 Collembolans!

  11. ann creaven says:

    snow fleas?

  12. Connie Godin says:


  13. Mike Hebb says:

    Springtails – also known as snow flees – not really insects but hexapods

  14. Susan Sussman says:


  15. Betsy Jaffe says:

    A murmuration. Wouldn’t that be a great name for a play?

  16. Becky Giroux says:

    Snow flees?

  17. Paul Sokal says:

    Snow fleas

  18. JoAnne Russo says:

    snow fleas

  19. snow fleas (do you need more technical names?)

  20. Brian Parsons says:

    These look like Snow Fleas or Springtails – Hypogastrura harveyi or Hypogastrura nivicol

  21. Victoria Davis says:

    Snow fleas?

  22. Jim Ludwig says:

    Of course, they are the ineffable snow fleas.

  23. louisegvw says:

    Snow fleas. I haven’t seen them here in Arizona, but it’s snowing today!

  24. Patricia Fontaine says:

    Snow fleas, of course!

  25. Sara Backer says:

    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.

  26. Kristen Lindquist says:


  27. Kristen Lindquist says:

    Snow fleas

  28. Kit Hood says:

    Oops…meant snow fleas!

  29. Kit Hood says:

    Sand fleas?

  30. Laurie Ross says:

    Snow fleas

  31. The one wearing Reeboks was a dead give-away…

  32. Why, them there are scads of snow fleas!

  33. Valerie says:

    Snow fleas aka springtails

  34. Sylvie Desautels says:

    snow fleas…and I am sure that one of you science types will tell us the latin name

  35. Ann Lewis says:

    Springtails aka snow fleas.

  36. Kelly Stettner says:

    Sweet! Looks like snowfleas/springtails!

  37. Vikke Jas says:

    Hypogastrura nivicola?

  38. Emily (and Noah!) Seiffert says:

    Snow fleas!

  39. Gabriella says:

    Snow fleas, a kind of springtail.

  40. jane vossler says:

    I think it’s snow fleas!

  41. Julie Hand says:


  42. Jeffrey Allen says:

    snow fleas!

  43. Joan Ray says:

    Snow fleas?

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