Snow fleas? Pull the other one!

(If you don’t like tiny creepy crawlies, I suggest you go and look at a different post!)

On our walks in the woods recently we have once again noticed little black specks on the snow. Until now we thought it must be dirt from the machinery used for forestry or from old tractors driving through the woods, but this year it was extreme and so we took a closer look…

Here we saw that where tracks are (from tractor tyres, deer, our footprints, skis etc) there is more of this ‘dirt’. Could it be soot? Is our air so bad? Here, in the middle of nowhere, with no industry for miles…

When we got home my Man of Many Talents googled for ages, trying to find something about it, and when he showed me what he had found I was AMAZED! He went back to get more photos so we could check the facts!


Now I’m going to get even closer…

They are SNOW FLEAS! Now, maybe we are the only people in the world who have never heard of snow fleas before, so I hope I am not showing my ignorance, but aren’t they simply incredible? Here are several hundred or even thousands of them gathering in the hollows of tracks.

Now a little information that we found in German, summarized:

Snow fleas come out of the ground in February/March when the temperature is just above freezing. They are often thought to be soot, as they cover the snow quite thickly in places. But these ‘specks of dirt’ are all the same size (around 1 millimetre long). They can crawl and jump (about 10cm high). However, they aren’t actually fleas, but springtails, so Wikipedia says they are technically not insects.

They emerge at temperatures of about -3°C, and live on fungi, pollen or algae which provide them with a special protein that functions as a kind of antifreeze. They prefer damp forests with evergreens. It is a real migration at this time of year, as they use the snow to move more easily and to search for food and for new ground where they can increase their population.

For scientific purposes my Man of Many Talents let some crawl across his hand, and we think they are actually smaller than 1 millimetre…

So, please let me know if you have ever encountered these fascinating little creatures and any extra information would be very welcome!


Interesting links:




A Tiger or a Bear?

I am very pleased that this Buddleia has recovered after freezing back completely last winter, but was then doubly happy to see these two butterflies resting on it the other day, as they are quite unusual…

The English name is Jersey Tiger, but in German they are called ‘Russian Bear’… interesting! Another name used in both languages is ‘Spanish Flag’. I wonder what the Spanish call it!

When resting you cannot see the bright orange part of the wings, so here is a Wikipedia photo to give you an idea of the flashes of bright orange when they flutter away – too quickly for me and my camera!

Wilipedia image

In southern Germany they can often be seen, but only near the woods or on shrubby grassland. They apparently like raspberry or nettle leaves, both of which are abundant in the nearby woods and hedges.

Have you seen this butterfly? And which name would you say is more apt – Tiger or Bear?! 😉

Aromatic Autumn

Cutting back perennials and shrubs in autumn is always a dilemma here, as for many of you I’m sure…. Should I wait until a frost catches me unawares and many plants simply collapse? Should I leave it all standing for the damp autumn valley mists to turn it all to a gooey slimey mess? Or should I cut back everything before it is really over, and forfeit a few blooms? After all, the debris all remains in the garden either chopped up as mulch or on our large compost heap.

I usually opt for the latter option as it is quicker and easier as well as more pleasant to work when it is dry and when I have time, rather than wait until the weather turns really awful and the late afternoon daylight has vanished. So over the last week or so I have started trimming and snipping. There was brief interlude one day when I disturbed an exposed hedgehog nest – what was he thinking – half buried in the open rockery, albeit well wrapped up in a net of long grasses and leaves? We removed him carefully (luckily he seemed to be fast asleep already) and found a sheltered spot in the compost heap with some fresh hay. Then I returned to work and found myself taking pleasure in all the autumn scents around me.

The earthy sage-like scent of the now ghostly-white Perovskia is probably the most pungent, coupled with the sharp cat-like smell of Herb Robert. Snip, snip…


The Lysimachia is still emitting its bitter odour, but the Achillea’s distinctive scent has all but gone. Then there is the faded lavender, mmmmm, breathe in those deep herby undertones!  Snip, snip….


I brush past the Balkan Geranium G. macrorrhizum, which has retained its strong but not unpleasant spicy fragrance – you either love it or hate it I think. And then I move across the rockery, disturbing something fruity – now what can that be? Ah yes, mint! The mintiness has faded, but the sweet ripe fruitiness is still fresh and enticing. I must pull some up anyway and can then use it in the kitchen. And I think to myself  ‘there are still some scents that do not indicate decay’. Snip, snip, snip…


I look up – a floral fragrance hangs in the air – almost impossible to detect, but could it be the roses? Snip, snip…


Then the smell of woodsmoke wafts across the garden reminding me it will soon be Halloween and Guy Fawke’s Night.  I spread some compost onto an area with a few new plants and catch a whiff of that musty earthy smell – rich soil that was not so long ago green stems and vegetable matter.

Finally I mow the small lawn near the house – it barely smells of anything, no longer producing that  rush of pleasure I feel at the scent of it in April or May.


All these smells will soon be gone completely, so I am so very glad I opted for doing the autumn trimming before the frost and damp take over. Snip, snip, snip…

Do you try and get the chores done before it freezes? What’s your favourite scent of autumn?

Tree Following: June 2015

I am following a tree this year – a Field Maple to be precise – along with Lucy at Loose and Leafy, and many others around the world. This month my tree is looking lush and leafy. 🙂

However, on closer examination there are very few seeds that have remained on the tree, most dropping at or just after flowering stage… and a lot of aphids earlier this month have made an ugly mess of many leaves too… Maybe it became susceptible due to stress caused by our very dry April?


But wait, what’s this? A strange orange and black bug…


And another one… chomping away!


I have identified them as the larva and pupa stages of the Asian Ladybird Harmonia axyridis, also known as the Harlequin Ladybird, the most invasive ladybird on earth!

It has the potential to threaten our native ones, eating both their food sources and their larvae. So I will be on the lookout for the adult now, to see if I can differentiate between it and our native ones. Not that I can do anything about it, but I’ll keep you posted anyway. A good website to help with identification of ladybirds, at least in western Europe, is the Ladybird Survey site, which has information on the Harlequin too. Here is a link to some Wikimedia photos of the adult Harlequin Ladybird.

Have you seen this ladybird? Do you see other ladybirds too, or did you in the past?

 Thanks go to Lucy for hosting this meme… I probably would not have learned that we have this ladybird in our garden if I hadn’t been watching my tree so closely!