Brown Springtails Jump On a Puddle

The other day I was outside to do a little yard clean up. I borrowed a tarp that was covering some firewood for moving raked leaves to the compost pile. A tarp makes this job very easy. Just lay the tarp near the area to be raked, rake the leaves on top of the tarp, grab a couple of corners and drag the tarp to the compost heap and dump it. A large enough tarp will hold a lot more leaves than a garbage can or bucket.

When I was finished using the tarp I returned it to cover the stacked firewood. A few pieces of wood were laid on top to keep the tarp from blowing away. It was then that I noticed something floating on small pools of water on top of some black plastic. Contractor garbage bags and black plastic sheeting had been used to cover other stacks of wood. In a few spots the plastic sheeting had been crinkled or curled in a way that allowed rainwater to pool.

At first I didn’t like seeing the water as it could be a mosquito breeding ground. But other insects breed in water, too. Here, the something that was floating on the water were thousands of Springtails or Collembola. Springtails were once classified as insects, but they now are considered to be in their own group, Class Entognatha.

Springtails are sometimes called water fleas because of their fantastic jumping ability. They are small and light enough to run around on top of the water and not break the surface tension. Photos taken 14 April 2011.

Roundish flotillas of springtails.
Roundish flotillas of springtails.
The Springtails are less than a millimeter long!
The inch-long maple flower gives a good size comparison. The Springtails are less than a millimeter long!
Floating springtails.
Floating springtails.

Other places that you can see springtails include planted fish tanks and snow banks.

The tiny insects probably hitch a ride on vegetation and get transported from fish tank to fish tank. There’s no telling where the springtails in my fish tanks originally came from, but at least a few of them have been evading the fish for years now. I found a cup and scooped some of the springtails from the puddle and poured them into a tank to treat the fish to something different.

Seeing any insect on top of a snow bank seems odd because most of them are dormant during winter. Snow fleas, as they are called, can sometimes be seen as jumping black specks on top of newly fallen snow. During winter in New York State they would appear out of thin air and then disappear just as quickly. I have no idea what they were doing on the snow or where they went when they disappeared. These were black springtails and they were about twice as big as the brown springtails of the wood pile.

Take an aquatic entomology class and you can learn all about the insects and related arthropods that inhabit our watery world. In lieu of that, keep your eyes open when you’re outside. You’ll never know what you’ll find!

Coltsfoot Blooms and Dandelion Salad

Coltsfolt was in full bloom in the sun yesterday, yet hardly noticeable the previous few cloudy days. The first I saw it blooming this year was on 15 April.

Spring continues to bring out the posies. In the flower beds the crocus blooms are dying back and the anemones and hyacinths are taking their turns blooming. Tulips are still making leaves and starting to push up their flowers. Forsythia buds grew out last week to first blossom on 14 April.

Red-spotted newts were seen floating around in the pond, too!

Another plant showing the elevation effect on bloom time is a Star Magnolia on our ridge. It had half-opened three or four blossoms on 15 April, while another one down in the valley was in full bloom on the same day.

Now that we’re almost a third of the way into Spring, the dandelions are out. This past weekend the first dandelion flower was picked. Once the dandelions show their happy faces, it’s notable for kicking off the lawn care season. Some people can’t stand to see the bright yellow flowers “messing up” their yards. We don’t mind them and prefer to leave things in more of a natural state.

Grass is starting to get long enough to cut in some areas and the downed wood from winter and windy spring weather has to be picked up. Gardening activities can resume when the weather allows, but the early spring salads have already been enjoyed. Including dandelion!

Ham and dandelion dinners are common around these parts in the week or two just before Easter. The idea is to pick the leaves before the blossoms emerge because then they are too bitter to enjoy. A fellow who was involved with making ham-n-dandelion dinner for 300 people admitted that his group buys the dandelion commercially. I’m sure there are a lot of country people and Amish that pick their own dandelion leaves.

Dandelion salad is a leafy salad with a hot dressing. Hot bacon dressing gives a nice flavor and wilts the greens just enough to soften them a little…a real Spring time treat.

Snowy Crocus, Sunny Hepatica

April weather can be very exciting. On the first of April it snowed on our mountain ridge, to be followed in two weeks time by record high temperatures!

Sometimes the plants don’t know what to do and put off growing or blooming until the conditions are better. My photos from last Spring show that we’re about a week to 10 days behind last year’s blooming times. Those that flower first in April are likely to be dusted with snow or harmed by a frost. Spring bulbs don’t seem to mind though.

Crocus flowers covered by snow in April.
Crocus flowers covered by snow in April.

Cold hardy crocuses can take the cold and the snow. These flowers were in bloom another week after this photo was snapped. Photo taken 1 April 2011.

In the woods I think the hepatica has been waiting for a little sun to open its flowers. The past week was rather cloudy and wet, until Thursday when the temperature rose up to record highs in central Pennsylvania. Harrisburg hit 84 degrees. People were outside everywhere!

Hepatica blossoms blooming in the sunshine.
Hepatica blossoms blooming in the sunshine.

The nice weather has really brought in the feeling of Spring, where you want to be outside and feel the breeze on your face and the warm sun on your skin. Enjoy it and look around – you never know what you’ll find!