Friday, January 22, 2010

Mystery Dots in the Snow

Posted by Kirk
Can you see the pepper-like dots on the ground?

While out for a hike this week I discovered some small black pepper-like dots on the snow. My first thought was Snowfleas! The more technically correct term for these little animals would be springtails. They are thought to be one of the most abundant macroscopic animals in the world but most people have no idea they exist. I'd had some false alarms with kids earlier in the week so I took a closer look at these black dots on the snow.
From this distance they still looked like snowfleas though there were a LOT of dots and their distribution was very even. Let's get closer.

At this magnification you can see that these are clearly not snowfleas. What are they then? The clue is in the first photo. The dried plant sticking out of the ground is mullein and these are mullein seeds. A group that had walked by earlier bumped the stalk and released the seeds. It was strange to see mullein seeds in the forest but they are an opportunistic species that likes light and disturbed soil. They were growing in an area where a tornado passed through a little over a year ago. The canopy was torn open and the increase in sunlight has meant a number of plants we don't usually see in the forest have temporarily gained a foothold.

I'm still watching for the springtails.


Anonymous said...

Good detecting! I'll have to look for springtails if we have more snow this winter.