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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Snow Scorpionflies

Some insects die at the onset of winter; others hibernate; and some even fly south, not to return until spring. But a hardy few actually thrive in winter. One such creature is a very peculiar insect called the Snow Scorpionfly.

A mating pair of Snow-born Boreus (Boreus nivoriundus)
atop the snow, seen near NBNC on February 12, 2013

 Snow Scorpionflies are typically only seen in winter, often walking on top of the snow. Since getting wing muscles warm enough to fly is difficult in cold temperatures, Snow Scorpionflies have little use for them and as such their wings have evolved into tiny stubs. Instead, they walk (or sometimes hop) across the snow. You may find them eating moss at the base of trees, or if you’re lucky, you can even catch them mating atop the snow (see above)!

Most likely the Mid-winter Boreus (Boreus brumalis)
found and photographed in E. Calais by Erika Mitchell
These fascinating creatures are the closest living relative to fleas. As more research is done incorporating DNA analyses, fleas may eventually be considered highly specialized scorpionflies. While their dark bodies contrast well with the white snow, they are very small (about a half-centimeter long) and can easily be overlooked. If you manage to find one, don’t pick it up… it is said that they are so well-adapted to cold that if you hold one, the heat from your hand can kill it!

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