Ahhhhh … more snow today for central PA! What’s that make, something like 48 meters for this winter?! Awesome. If you get cabin fever just know that this the perfect time of year to collect amazing winter insects. I spent a hour last Sunday in knee-deep snow, in fact, looking for snow scorpionflies (a.k.a. snowfleas; Mecoptera: Boreidae), winter crane flies (Diptera: Trichoceridae), snow flies (Limoniidae: Chionea) winter-emerging midges (Chironomidae), and winter stoneflies (Plecoptera: Capniidae). I was not disappointed. I even found spiders crawling across the snow! Who says you can’t collect in winter?!
Of all these cryophiles my favorites are snow scorpionflies. I had never seen one alive until I moved to central Pennsylvania, and the Frost Museum’s research collection had only five or so specimens. The teaching collection had none. They’re quite common here though! After chancing upon a mating pair last winter I was hooked. I now dedicate at least a couple hours every weekend, from November to April, looking for them and have added dozens of specimens to our collections. Want to see them for yourselves? This week will be almost perfect weather for it! Wait until 3:00pm or so, on a day when the temperature reaches at least into the high 30s (about 3º C). Then look at the snow near the bases of rocks, logs, or mossy oak trees:
See any small (~4 mm), black or brown, flea-like insects sitting on the snow or slowly crawling?
See one being sucked into an aspirator here: https://vine.co/v/bJheluLPb5Q
So what are these insects anyway? Well, they’re closely related to scorpionflies (Mecoptera: Panorpidae) and hangingflies (Bittacidae) and maybe also to fleas (Siphonaptera). Boreid larvae are somewhat caterpillar-like, and they eat mosses. Check out Piotr Naskrecki’s blog and the Wagner Lab Caterpillar Blog for more information and better photos. These insects also happen to be great jumpers, often playing dead where they land. Easy pickings for us entomologists.
So, what else can one expect to see in the snow? I found an emerging noctuid moth (species to be determined!), dozens of oak tree hoppers (Hemiptera: Membracidae: Platycotis vittata), which must’ve been blown from their overwintering hidey-holes, and, as stated above, various flies and spiders. There is plenty of collecting to do in winter in central Pennsylvania!