This unique composite organism, a combination of algae and fungus, is always intriguing, and when I picked it up to take a closer look, I saw that underneath the mass, taking advantage of the heat collected by the lichen, was a herd of snow fleas that had just emerged.
|Snow Fleas - Hypogastrura nivicol|
Reading up on these little insects I learned that they are actually present year-round, it's just that they're usually only noticed in winter when they stand out in contrast to the snow. How do they survive in winter when other insects either die or hide from the cold? Their bodies have a high concentration of the protein glycine (think of ethylene glycol, the key ingredient in automotive anti-freeze) which protects their cells from damage in sub-zero temperatures. You can read more than you'll ever want to know about this process in the article "Structural Modeling of Snow Flea Antifreeze Protein" in the Biophysical Journal. The properties are so unique that these fleas are being studied as possibly providing improved storage time for organs being preserved for human transplants.
The downy woodpecker was also out enjoying the nice day - and the suet offering.
The varied weather conditions continue: one evening after a 50 degree day there was a moth flying around the window! The next day, frigid again, and the lake froze up solid. The weather has taken a toll on the ice though, which is only 13" thick; usually it is well over two feet at this point in the winter. The ice fishermen are hanging in there for the fishing derby this weekend - there are three bob-houses on Lake Wicwas, which hasn't a flake of snow left on it.
Does anyone know what this sculpture is all about? I don't!
|Ice Fishing Art|
In addition to snow fleas, sunny days in February can bring out the bluest of skies.
|Blue sky reigns over Sheep Island|