NAUGATUCK RIVER WATERSHED ASSOCIATION
If you have fished or walked along the riverbanks of the Naugy, Housy, Pomperaug or Farmington rivers in February or early March, you may have witnessed the following similar winter scene. A score of robins were observed feeding on top of the snow on a riverbank. It looked like they were feeding on a small black mass that was in motion”. The scene was about 40 feet away, but the bright red breasts of several robins and the black moving mass that they were pecking at were in stark contrast to the white snow in the bright sunlight. That scene occurred in February were I was fishing for steelhead trout in the Salmon River in Pulaski, NY. The sight was unusual in two ways. Robins were present in western New York in February, and later it was determined the black mass to be hundreds of snow fleas in motion.
They are called snow fleas commonly, but they aren’t fleas. Their erratic, jumping movement is why they were named springtails. Two spring-like tails propel the tiny insect above the ground. They have no wings. Those snow fleas had come out of their burrows on a relatively warm, sun-shining day looking for food. Their insect order pre-dates dinosaurs (about 400 million years ago). The little, dark slate blue-colored buggers (1-2 millimeters long) are resilient and come equipped with their unique antifreeze, which means they can eat all yearlong.
All scientist do not agree that springtails are insects, but they look and act like insects.
Since that first sighting in Pulaski, I have seen smaller numbers on warmer days in the winter on the banks of the Naugatuck, Housatonic, Pomperaug and Farmington rivers. Snow fleas (springtails) are valuable insects whose main role in life is to aid in the decomposition of dead flora, algae, fungi, bacteria and more. In the eco-system, birds, ants and other insect eaters consume them.
Snow fleas are miniature-processing machines. The matter that they process is returned to the soil and utilized by living plants. These abundant insects live in woodland and riparian soils usually under layers of leaves or on the water surface.
Be observant when walking along the river banks that are snow covered.