Friday, March 31, 2006

Snow Worms, Snow Fleas

It took some persistent Googling to learn much of anything about our Sierran snow worms, or, as I dubbed them, the Kinky Black Snow Worms of the Foresthill Divide.

It turns out, the much more popular "ice worm" dominates web pages having to do with such timorous beasties, all over the world; ice worms, ice worms, ice worms, and the threat to ice worms from global warming, and on and on and on. Did you know there can be more ice worms on one small glacier, than there are humans on earth?

They are in the family, Enchytraeidae.

Back to the snow worms. Like the ice worms, they are annelid worms, related to earthworms, among many other things. In fact, an ice worm is merely a type of snow worm. There are other, even stranger types, which live deep underground, or on ice on the ocean floor, of all things. These worms are legendary.

It happens that algae live in our Sierran snow, and stain the snowfields red and pink, in the summer. And it further happens, that the algae cheerfully converts the sun's rays into food for any number of higher organisms, such as rotifers, protozoans, ciliates, nematodes, and, yes, snow worms.

And, the snow fleas, also called springtails, Achorutes nivicolus.

So, these Kinky Black Snow Worms are part of a complex faunal assemblage, based upon snow algae.

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