Cedar Bog, snowy and dormant on a cold winter day. I had a meeting in Dayton last Sunday, and took the opportunity to make a quick stop at "the bog" (which is actually a fen) on the return trip. It's always good to become familiar with various habitats at all seasons, so I popped in to Ohio's favorite fen to make a few wintertime photos and a circuit of the boardwalk.
The famous Y-split in the trail, which was blanketed by several inches of snow. As I paused here to compose an image, I was surprised to spot a small spider balloon by on a silken strand. The arachnid siphoned off my attention, and I paused to watch the animal swing over to a sapling, alight, and slowly clamber up the branch. This made me recall an exchange that I'd had a few days before with Jim Dolan, about the various insects and spiders that can sometimes be rather plentiful in snowy wintertime woodlands.
Seeing the spider reminded me to peel my eyes for one of the strangest insectlike animals of winter, so I shifted from landscape mode to macro mode.
So why are they hopping around on the surface of the snow, on a subfreezing day? Good question. Snow Fleas are decomposers, feeding primarily on decaying leaf litter and apparently are active throughout the winter, snow or not. For reasons unclear to me, they are well known for their habitat of massing atop the snow's crust, as seen in these photos.
Scientists have looked into the physical mechanisms that allow Snow Fleas to operate in the dead of winter. Their bodies are infused with a glycine-rich protein - an antifreeze of sorts. Apparently Snow Flea protein is utterly unique, and is being studied for possible synthesized spin-offs that could have utility to humans, such as cryo-preservation of organs.
After watching the Snow Fleas for a while - there were probably thousands - my thoughts turned back to that cold spider that I had seen. I wonder if it, and perhaps other predators unexpected in winter's midst, remain active and prey on the "fleas".