Tag Archives: red eft

Their Blood Runs With Antifreeze

Here in mid-autumn, most of State Park’s summer resident birds and some insects have flown off to warmer climates, but many other animals remain through the winter. Some of the year-round residents are either scurrying around looking for extra food to help to get them through the winter while others are looking for a safe place to sleep away the winter, protected from the cold and snow.

For a handful of animals in the park, finding a place away from the cold and snow can be a challenge due to their inability to dig deep into the ground to escape the cold. Instead, they burrow under the leaves, rocks, rotting logs, or tree bark to escape the worst that winter offers. So a few animals like wood frogs, common box turtles, red efts, and mourning cloak butterflies have a different strategy – the ability to tolerate freezing!

These close to the surface locations protect the animals from snow, ice, wind but not cold winter temperatures. When the temperature in the hibernation spot drops below 32o F, these hibernators freeze, solid.

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Frozen wood frog in Ken Story’s Lab, Carleton University, photo by JM Storey , Carleton University

And there they can remain until the warming days of spring when they thaw, have a snack, and head off to breed.

Some of the animals that tolerate freezing include:

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How are they able to freeze solid then defrost and still be alive?  Natural chemicals and processes in the animal’s blood prevent them from freezing.  The animal’s body produces an “anti-freeze” as the temperature begins to drop; the animal’s body concentrates sugars and other compounds that prevents the animal’s organs from freezing.  The antifreeze prevents the animal’s organs from freezing.  A frozen animal will stop breathing and the heart will stop beating. Most of the fluid in the blood pools in the animal’s body cavity.

In spring, as the weather warms, the animal starts to defrost, and its lungs and heart resume working.  They defrost from the inside out, with the legs and feet being the last to defrost.

Surviving by freezing is just one of the amazing adaptations animals have developed to survive northern winters.

Resources

Cold-blooded in the cold: hibernation Conservationist for Kids, NYS Dept. Conservationist

Emmer, Rick. How do frogs survive winter? Why don’t  they freeze to death? Scientific American

Ken Storey Lab

Rosen, Meghan. Natural antifreeze prevents frogsicles, Science News

Videos

NOVA scienceNOW (2012, July 23). Frozen Frogs.

Smithsonian Channel. (2015, June 18). Frogsicles: Frozen But Still Alive.

Spring Tales About Springtails: Friends, Not Fleas!

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Garden Springtail found in New York State. They’re not all this cute, but we want you to like them. From http://bugguide.net/node/view/652904.

Have you even been walking in the woods in late winter and seen a cluster of what look like fleas on the top of the snow?  You’ve probably thought “eww!” and hurried on your way to escape an itchy outcome. The truth is that these so-called “snow fleas” pose no danger to you or your furry pets.  You’re actually meeting one of the many species of Springtails, an order of arthropods that can be found on every continent, including Antarctica.  These incredibly abundant creatures may leap, but they are not biting fleas. They actually consume leaf litter, fungi, and even other smaller creatures.  Despite their tiny size, their existence may provide remarkable benefits that extend to you and me.

Springtails have six legs and antennas, but they are not classified as insects. Unlike insects, they have internal mouthparts and are wingless.   The spring in their step comes from a furcula, which is the springy two-pronged “tail” for which these fascinating creatures are named. It normally lies tucked under their abdomen. When escaping predators, the furcula is released almost instantly, and it vaults them up to 10 centimeters, which is no joke when your size maxes out at half a centimeter in length.

With 100,000 found in one square meter of forest, it is clear that these critters form a substantial base of the food web on the forest floor.  The red eft, the teenage stage of the red spotted newt, considers the springtails an ideal meal for their little mouths.  Even the harvestman, more commonly called “daddy long-legs,” preys upon the springtail.

Red Eft at Thacher -Photo by Lilly Schelling
The brilliant red efts you see on rainy days are prowling about for the Springtails, a little meal just right for their little mouths. Photo by Lily Schelling (OPRHP), taken at Thacher State Park.

Why should you care about these creatures?  They eat pathogenic fungi that can damage many agricultural crops. They also help spread the spores of mycorrhiza (fungi), whose symbiotic relationship with plants allow for an incredible array of plants to thrive, from wheat to beech trees.   The variety of Springtail that is sometimes called a “snow flea” is also a focus of biomedical research.  Scientists are trying to replicate the anti-freeze protein found in those ever-active Springtails in winter, and use it to aid the transition of body organs for transplant from donor to recipient.

We know nature’s ability to relax and soothe us in the midst of our busy lives, with scenic views and outstretched tree limbs. However the next time you take a walk in the woods, take a moment to appreciate the unseen world under your feet as well. It turns out that even the largely invisible, creepy-crawly world of wildlife in the woods may have myriad benefits for humanity.

A mass of live springtails in early spring. Photo by Greg Edinger, NYNHP.
A mass of live springtails in early spring. Photo by Greg Edinger, NYNHP.

 

Post by Liz Wagner, Grafton Lakes State Park.