Question: Lately on warmer days I have had some little black bugs on my porch railing. They remind me of a flea and seem to jump like a flea. I have sprayed with Raid a couple times and haven't seen them since. Could you please tell me what they are and how to get rid of them?
Answer: One particular in-sect that remains active during winter is the snow flea. On milder days, they can appear in large numbers blanketing an area of snow. They also have been observed sunning on open woodland, clam shell mulch, flower boxes, window boxes or other white surfaces. At first, you might think they are some type of debris until a closer look reveals them moving.
Contrary to their name they are not a flea and do not bite or feed animals. Snow fleas, Hypogastrura nivicola, are one species of the insects group known as springtails. Spring-tails are an ancient organism found in fossils dating back to 400 million years. Their name indicates their ability to jump using a special tail apparatus. This method of locomotion is used as a means to evade predators as it can propel the springtail up to 100 times its body length.
They are harmless insects found in damp areas such as leaf litter or under bark where they feed on fungi and decaying organic matter. Most springtails are not active in the winter except for the snow flea. When they emerge their numbers have been reported to be as high as thousands to millions per cubic meter of soil.
A snow flea is a small insect approximately 1/32 to 1/16 of an inch. Their bodies are coated in a fine powder that enables them to float in the melting snow without becoming wet. Their unique ability to withstand cold winter temperatures is due to the presence of a substance that acts as an anti-freeze. A researcher from the University of Wisconsin is working on a similar chemical compound to the one found in snow fleas that would be edible antifreeze made from gelatin and used to keep crystals from forming in ice cream. Other researchers are investigating reproducing the compound to extend the storage life of donor organs and tissues.
Although their numbers can be intimidating, they should be of no concern to the homeowner as they do not cause any damage but rather are more of a curiosity. If some do make it indoors they do not survive for very long because of the lack of moisture.
Mona Bawgus is a certified master gardener and consumer horticulturist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County. Write to her c/o Rutgers Cooperative Extension, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Email: