Mothapalooza. We spent a good chunk of the day at the Eulett Center in Adams County tightening down various nuts and bolts before opening registration in a few weeks. Special thanks to Mary Ann Barnett for ably overseeing this event, and efficiently running yesterday's meeting. This will be our third Mothapalooza, and you'll not want to miss it. CLICK HERE for a brief recap of the last one. I'll let you know when registration opens.
As I entered the Pike County region on my way south, the landscape transformed into a winter wonderland. A soft blanket of snow capped every twig, branch, and other structure, creating stunning vistas at every turn. Fortunately, I had built in some extra time, and stopped at a particularly photogenic locale to make some landscape images.
Our destination was wooded terraces along this creek in the heart of Shawnee State Forest. Several inches of snow covered the ground in most areas, and the temperature hovered around the freezing mark (32 F),
The little black dashes on the snow in the above photo are springtails (species unknown). They were everywhere, scads and scads of them. Perhaps the best known of the winter springtails are the so-called snow fleas; CLICK HERE for a post about those.
As always, a trip afield with the Hughes is eye-opening and educational. Both Laura and David have powers of observation that far transcend that of the average person. Their ability to locate strange, interesting, and often ultra-Lilliputian beasts is remarkable. Laura is smitten with aspects of entomology that are poorly known, and she has become nearly encyclopedic in her stores of knowledge. Thanks to her, David and I became quite fired up to find and see the hardy animals presented herein.
In spite of her strange appearance, this snow scorpionfly is visually interesting. Her body looks as if it is forged from polished bronze, and she sports a formidable torpedo-like ovipositor. Perhaps she uses that appendage to push her eggs deep into moss beds.
Insects are ectothermic - they cannot generate body heat. In order to prevent the formation of ice crystals within cells, which would spell doom, insects that are exposed to harsh northern winters are supercharged with proteins and chemicals that reduce the freeze point of internal liquids, thus avoiding death by crystallization. Apparently snow scorpionflies and the other animals mentioned in this post have taken the art of supercooling survival to the nth degree.
There are obviously good reasons why some insects emerge in the dead of winter, or they would not have evolved the ability to do so. Possible reasons include predator avoidance - not nearly as many potential enemies would be active in cold air on the snow's surface. However, as the jumping spider potentially demonstrates, there are probably some enemies afoot. Rare indeed would be the situation where a large crop of food is readily available, and no one is there to plunder.
The snow's surface is also a great "single's bar". It would seem to be very easy for males and females to find one another on the stark white surface. There may also be food sources available that wouldn't be present at other times of the year. Also, a winter emergence might allow the insect to lock up its eggs and/or larvae in well concealed places during the rush of the warm seasons, when legions of predators are active.