Everyone knows that the Northwoods has wood ticks and deer ticks in the summer, but did you know that the Northwoods also has fleas–snow fleas–in the winter? Well, maybe not fleas, but flies for sure. It's a fact. That's why knowledgeable cross country skiers and snowshoers wear flea and tick collars around their ankles and calves to ward off the snow fleas. OK, I'm just kidding about the flea and tick collars, but I'm straight on with the snow fleas, as we call them.
When I speak of snow fleas, I'm not an entomologist and never hope to be, but "snow fleas" is a common name used by most outdoors people for what is actually the wingless winter crane fly. These insects come up out of the soil to mate on top of the snowpack. Not that mating on top of the snowpack sounds like any fun to us, but the insects love it.
They live in soil, leaf litter and under bark. They are still somewhat of a mystery. It is believed that they are mostly plant eaters, but they may scavenge on some animal matter. When conditions are just right, they come out of their damp, dark quarters and emerge on top of the snow to mate. One source says their population may number in the millions per acre! Even at those numbers, they are no problem…except for maybe the few that end up in the maple sap bucket or on the ski trail!
One time, I was cross country skiing up on the Razorback Ridge ski trails near Sayner when I came screaming down a hill on a trail called Doug's Folly. Just as I was rounding a corner, I saw a dark mass in the tracks, but before I could stop, I ran over the dark mass. Both skis stopped instantly and I kept going! A more graceless swan dive one could not imagine! After I had recovered from my spill, I walked back to the dark mass and was surprised to see that it was composed of thousands of snow flies. Their incredible numbers stopped my skis cold. Such be the hazards of cross country skiing!
The moral of this story is to not let your guard down when it comes to bugs, not even in the winter!
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