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!

Look…

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:

German:

http://www.flora-x.de/schneefloh%20ceratophysella.html

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schneefloh

English:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Springtail

https://www.bioethics.ac.uk/news/-snow-flea-antifreeze-protein–could-help-improve-organ-preservation.php

 

A Visit to the Christmas Markets

I mentioned Christmas markets in some comments last week and several people asked me to share some photos. I do find it hard to take photos that capture the atmosphere, but here are a few snapshots.

All over Germany the Christmas markets open throughout Advent attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world. Some are spectacular, nestled into candlelit hillsides or in the parks of great houses and castles. Some are world-famous, like Nuremburg with the angel (Christkind) opening it in an age-old ceremony. Others are simpler, offering just the traditional well-known specialities and crafts. Whichever type you visit, you will be caught up by the magic of a Christmas tradition going back centuries. Surrounded by the soft babble and chatter of other visitors, the smell of fried food and cinnamon sweets, the glitter of decorations for sale, and the cheerful faces around you, it is hard not to smile or be a little frivolous, splashing out on an extravagant candle, a glass of punch, a bag of roasted almonds or a huge jam-filled steamed dumpling covered in vanilla sauce!

I visited two markets this year – first of all Ingolstadt, which is about an hour’s drive north of Munich.

With the New Castle in the background, a sprinkling of snow, and good company, the market has all you can wish for… the traditional wooden decorations and crib figures, food and drink, jewellery, warm socks, cookie cutters, candles, more food, more drink, more decorations ….!

This man has been selling his wares on this market here for at least the past 25 years.

A smaller area nearby offered a quieter repose for another glass of punch (non-alcoholic, I assure you!) and a chat with my friends. But it was very cold that day, with a north wind.

Some of the stall-holders looked frozen to the bone, despite being well wrapped up…

On another day last week I took myself off to Regensburg, a beautiful city on the Danube, and not far from the Bavarian Forest. I always walk over to the old stone bridge if I visit, and the River Danube looked particlularly cold (but blue!) on this occasion…

Despite some bright sunshine it was a chilly day again, but the markets are so enticing and I did all my Christmas shopping there. Take a stroll with me around the markets in Regensburg and see the traditional goods they offer. (Click on any image for a slideshow…)

 

The markets take on a different atmosphere at night, which I have never managed to capture in photos as there are always SO many people and it is hard to move! The thing I love about them most of all is the cheer and friendliness which is definitely lacking in the shopping centres and supermarkets at this time of year. And the food of course. This year I had my favourite warm snack – potato noodles with sauerkraut – as well as some roasted chestnuts, roasted almonds and pumpkin seeds and some delicious non-alcoholic fruit punch. It was nice to go into a cafe afterwards to warm up properly though! 😉

What is your favourite tradition in the run-up to Christmas?

 

 

In a Vase on Monday: Warm and Spicy

With this Monday meme, Cathy at Rambling in the Garden encourages us to find materials from our gardens every week, all year round. By the end of November pickings are limited, but there are surprisingly still a few blooms to be found, some seedheads saved, and foliage of course too. The colours for my vase this week reminded me of cinnamon and spices, both of which will be used soon in my Christmas baking. 🙂

I decided I could spare one sprig of the Hypericum, which is still looking so very pretty in the rockery. To accompany it there is a sprig of bronze Epimedium foliage, some Clematis seed heads, Briza (saved in the summer), and an oriental poppy seed head, all secured in floral foam inside my shallow dish which also has useful holes in the lid. A Physalis seed head and a maple and oak leaf complete the November scene, along with cinnamon sticks and a wooden mortar and pestle for grinding spices, found at a Christmas market several years ago.

Talking of Christmas markets, some have already opened, but most will open at the end of this week for the first Advent weekend. I am looking forward to the delicious smells of Cinnamon, mulled wine and roasted nuts…

Will you be visiting a market or doing some baking soon? Have a good week and stay warm!

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?! 😉