In Search of Snow Bugs

It’s been a slow winter for bug photography. Partly because my main outdoor activity has been shoveling the driveway every couple of days, and then shoveling around all the baby fruit trees whose vole guards were overtopped by snow. And partly because when I’ve gotten motivated to go for a walk in the woods, I just haven’t seen much for whatever reason. Every once in a while, right after a new snowfall I’ve seen a few soldier beetle (Cantharidae) larvae crawling around, like this one from back on December 11:

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And I’ve continued to see the occasional snow flea, running crab spider, or winter crane fly, as shown in this post. But no sign of snow scorpionflies, wingless crane flies, or anything else unusual. Today began with another blizzard, but in the afternoon it was sunny for a while, and I was inspired to strap on snowshoes (the snow is still thigh-deep around here) and walk down to my local beaver pond. When I came to a spot where there were small openings in the snow to a little stream running below it, suddenly the snow was full of life. I didn’t bring my camera with me, so I’ll illustrate with some photos from previous winters.

Within a few feet of one opening, there were a few small winter stoneflies (Capniidae), which had evidently just emerged from the stream…

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…a long-jawed orbweaver (Tetragnathidae: Tetragnatha)*…

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…a Haploa caterpillar (Erebidae)**, which is often one of the first caterpillars I see in the spring, but this one was jumping the gun a little bit…

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…and several midges (Chironomidae: Orthocladiinae).

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I visited several of these wet openings on the seepy hillside above the beaver pond, and each seemed to have more midges around it than the previous one. There were also robin tracks skipping from one opening to the next. The robins may have been partly visiting these openings to drink, but I’m sure they were dining on the midges as well. They must be excited to have something more than dried bittersweet, Japanese barberry, and sumac fruits to eat.

* A few winters ago I found this Tetragnatha viridis walking around on the snow. It was bizarre to see something so tropical-looking in the midst of a bleak winter landscape.IMG_6418 IMG_6428

** Haploa caterpillars grow up to look like this, as I learned when I put three of them in a jar with some spring wildflowers nine years ago:

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About Charley Eiseman

I am a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.
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9 Responses to In Search of Snow Bugs

  1. Lang Elliott says:

    This is a absolutely great. Last winter I found a Tetragnatha viridis and was quite impressed by its colorful appearance. I keep planning to tackle these critters with HD video, but so far I haven’t gone out there and “done it”. Got any great pics of Snowfleas?

    • Well, none that I’d call “great.” The ones here are about the best I’ve managed. It’s hard to get good shots of tiny dark things on a bright white background, although looking through my photos it looks like I haven’t even tried to photograph springtails on snow since the winter when this lens was brand new, five years ago. Maybe I’ll challenge myself to get some decent snowflea-on-snow pics next time I go out.

  2. John Coffman says:

    Do you think snow scorpionflies range as far south as Virginia? I’ve been looking for them for several winters now to no avail.

  3. John says:

    John, This article may be useful- “RECORDS FOR WINTER SCORPIONFLIES IN VIRGINIA (MECOPTERA: BOREIDAE).” – http://virginianaturalhistorysociety.com/banisteria/pdf-files/ban19/Ban%2019%20_Hoffman_winter%20scorpionflies.pdf

  4. Pingback: Quinquennial Snow Flea Session | BugTracks

  5. Lisa Rainsong says:

    This post could not have arrived in my Inbox at a better time! I had hiked in an extensive wetland restoration area in NE Ohio that day and observed midges coming up out of the snow, then flying off. We still had 14″ of snow on the ground. The midges would appear as shadows under the snow, then begin to emerge. One after another escaped the snow, then flew off, The males’ midge antennae were very apparent. I was sure they were midges, but didn’t know that winter midges were a possibility until I came home and read your blog post.

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