Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hey look, it's a chionophile!

While coming across the lake from ice fishing the other day my friend John spied this little fly on the surface of the snow. John has a keen eye for detail and has been seeing these "snow flies" all over the place for the past month.

I snapped this photo which I hoped would help me later identify the species but alas, no luck.

My best guess is it is a member of the Trichoceridae family or winter crane fly but I wouldn't swear to it. Its wings appear too long for a crane fly and its legs a bit too bent at the joints.

At any rate most people would find it astonishing to know there are insects out in the winter, perhaps not when it's -40 C but at warmer temperatures that are still below freezing. Earlier in the blog we documented finding snow fleas or springtails. I also see small moths flitting about sometimes.

There is also at least one species of spider that can frequently be seen scurrying across the snow surface.
An animal that thrives in the winter is called a chionophile.

Besides the few bugs I've just mentioned more well known chionophiles are snowshoe hares, red foxes, timber wolves, great grey and snowy owls and ravens. We could probably add every member of the weasel family to the list, from the least weasel to the wolverine.

Herbivores like moose and whitetail deer are definitely not chionophiles. They lose weight from the time the leaves fall in autumn until the new growth reappears in spring. If spring doesn't come on time many of them starve to death.

Black bears have figured out how to avoid the whole subject by sleeping through the winter season. Woodchucks hibernate. Chipmunks do the same but wake up every week or so to have a bite of food which they have stored in their burrow. Lots of insects also hibernate. Many species of butterflies do this for example.

It boggles the mind that some insects such as the tiny fly above are able to function in the winter. Apparently they are made with a natural antifreeze.

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