Sugar Maples and Snow Fleas

Before the first Red maples offer their sweetness to the bees, the Sugar maples offer sweetness to those of us carrying our spiles and pails. If we are lucky enough to have snow on the ground (the winter beauty alone is enough), we are sure to see the snow fleas jumping at the tree’s base as we set about our tapping.


Snow fleas (not fleas at all), but springtails (in a class of their own), are around at other times of year, looking too much like a speck of dirt to be seen as anything other than a speck of dirt. But as the land begins to thaw, they come up from the mostly frozen ground to the surface to see what they’ve been missing for the last few months. They’ve been busy little nutrient cyclers, eating decayed leaves and underground matter, their glycine-laden bodies (a protein that works much like antifreeze in your car) active in sub-zero temperatures. When they surface en masse, we might wonder vaguely why the snow looks a bit dingy this time of year. But if we happen to look a bit closer, we will be gifted with the miracle of the Forcula (a hydraulically-pressured body structure folded up under their abdomen) allowing them to jump 300 times their own body length when disturbed.


Their jumping looks like the way I feel at this time of year when I know that the sweet smell of boiling sap is about to fill our home. An odd pair, these two phenophases, but a welcome pair in the aftermath of a deep, long Winter.


So let the Sugar maples (with sumptuous sap running) and the snow fleas (with majestic Forculas unfurling), tell you now... Spring is indeed coming.














Illustration by Adelaide Tyrol

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Community Greenways Collaborative manages the New York Phenology Project, utilizing the USA-National Phenology Network database and Nature's Notebook observation platform.