Snow Flea

This entry is part 1 of 12 in the series Bestiary


Hypogastrura nivicola

The snow flea is rarely found alone.
Though if it were, who but another snow flea
would notice it against the snow,
a single speck of pepper, a mote of ash?
Come March & they move en masse,
transhumant across their blue-shadowed host.
Approach too close & they start to rocket about
like acrobats in a mad flea circus.
There’s safety in numbers, & in
the unpredictability of a random launch —
the wingless springtail’s main defense.
True, one sometimes goes straight up
& returns to the same, dangerous spot,
but what bird wants to mess with such
unquiet seeds?

The snow flea is as self-reliant
as its cousin the true flea is dependent.
It absorbs moisture through
a feeding tube in its abdomen
& breathes directly through its thick skin.
Its blood contains a protein
that prevents it from ever freezing
& hardening into knives.

The snow flea never stops molting, even
after becoming an adult.
Life alternates between two phases,
mating & eating, with a complete
change of skin after each.
Nor does the fastidiousness end there:
all reproduction is by post.
The male deposits a tidy packet of sperm
at some convenient location
& the female stops by later & picks it up.
To everything its season.
And when the snow melts?
The snow flea walks on water if it must,
& returns at last — recalcitrant seasoning —
to the soil’s dark goulash.

This is a complete re-working of a poem that first appeared here back in December 2008, “Like a Snow Flea.” For more on snow fleas and springtails generally, see Bug Girl’s Blog and especially the Marvelous in nature.

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14 Replies to “Snow Flea”

  1. Now i must go off and find out what a Snow Flea looks like!

    Those last two lines have stuck in my head already. ‘-recalcitrant seasoning-‘. I love that unlikely pairing.

    Well done Dave. You’ve hit the ground running.

  2. Inspiring & informing. Like the mix of high & everyday language (mmmm, transhumant, and I don’t even know what it means).

    Very much like ending in goulash.

    1. Thanks, Deb! I love finding an excuse to use fancy words like transhumant. (Transhumance refers to seasonal movements of people with herds of livestock from lowlands to highlands, or occasionally longer migrations of nomads.) On the other hand, I decided not to use “spermatophore” — maybe that was a mistake.

  3. Still an amazing creature. I saw my first one way back in 1989 when I climbed Mt. Greylock in Western Massachusetts. I still can’t believe that a tiny invetebrate evolved to live on snow… it’s like some remnant from Teutonic times.

  4. Snow fleas are pretty amazing, no doubt. I guess to me “bestiary” implies creatures that are out-of-the-ordinary in some way, so I think that’ll be the focus of the series.

    1. Thanks. Soil-as-stew is such an accurate metaphor, I fear it may be closer to straight description, actually. Fortunately I bethought me to use “goulash” instead, a word that sounds like chewing and slurping.

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