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Snow Worm & Snow Flea

With two new inches of fresh snow on the ground, my hopes were high for discovering some tracks this morning, but something even more unusual met my eyes – worms crawling on top of the snow!  Not our familiar earthworms, but skinny and relatively short worms ( one to two inches in length when not moving). There are such things as “ice worms,” but they are found only on glaciers.  Our “snow worms” are in the class Oligochaetes, and in the family of  Enchytraeidae, just like earthworms, so are members of Annelida, or segmented worms, but that’s about as far as I can go with their identification.  According to worm specialist Professor Crawford at the University of Wasington, members of Oligochaetes can’t be identified based on appearance alone. Whatever species they are, if our snow worms are like ice worms, they live off of snow algae and are most active at night.  These worms are studied by scientists interested in seeing if their proteins exhibit the right characteristics to be of use in transplant surgeries where keeping an organ cold without freezing is key.  I welcome any additional information on these creatures that anyone chooses to post! (Snow flea was included in photo for size reference.)

20 responses

  1. I’ve always lumped all the earthworms together and called them Lumbricus terrestris or earthworm.
    The larger ones were the night crawlers. Your info about snow worms is interesting. The algae that live in snow are also interesting. I recall a student a while ago who wrote a report entitled ” Watermellon Snow”. It was about red algae that live in snow. The title was very catchy.
    Arthur Skura
    Volunteer at Asssabet River NWR and Garden In the Woods.

    I love your stuff!!!

    December 23, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    • Thanks so much for following my blog, Arthur. I must learn more about snow algae!

      December 31, 2011 at 5:12 pm

  2. Renee Gustafson

    Yesterday 12/22 I saw what I thought was a slug on the top of the snow in my drivewayGRANTHAM nh

    December 24, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    • I suppose anything is possible this winter! If you see it again, take a photograph and send it!

      December 31, 2011 at 5:11 pm

  3. My wife and I regularly walk and snowshoe during the winter. I have never seen worms crawling along the surface of snow until today. We saw three worms in three different places. They appeared to be very similar to the ones in the photograph and were moving along in a normal worm-like way.

    December 9, 2012 at 1:21 am

    • They just look so incongruous on snow, don’t they?

      December 9, 2012 at 2:00 am

    • Dan Shain

      I’m curious where you found these “snow worms”? I study ice worms and would like a few of these worms for comparison. Any information would be helpful….

      March 7, 2013 at 9:47 pm

      • marianna

        they are on my driveway. Lots of thin stringey things. uggh.

        December 8, 2015 at 6:07 pm

  4. I discovered snow worms at night on my property a couple years ago…here’s a thread I posted on our local mountain blog, with photos.!!&highlight=snow+worms

    February 15, 2013 at 12:32 am

  5. Erica Cline

    Does anyone know how they make it through the summer? The ice worms live on glaciers and so are in snow/ice year round, but the snow worms must either be able to survive in soil after melt off, or they must have a way of staying dormant all summer until the snow returns. Would love to know how this works.

    March 4, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    • Great question, Erica. I don’t know the answer, but will try to find out. Hopefully someone more knowledgeable than I will respond!

      March 4, 2013 at 11:39 pm

      • Dan Shain

        I’m curious where you found these “snow worms”? I study ice worms and would like a few of these worms for comparison. Any information would be helpful….

        March 7, 2013 at 9:48 pm

      • They were right outside my house, in Hartland, Vermont…but I haven’t seen them this winter.

        March 7, 2013 at 9:52 pm

  6. Gavin B

    Here in the French Alpes near Grenoble we had a few inches of snow fall last night. Temperature was just over freezing and the ground was wet. First thing this morning we saw dozens of these worms- I’ve never seen them before.

    March 18, 2013 at 6:06 pm

  7. I live on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. After the first snowfall last night, the grouns has hundreds of these small red worms.

    November 11, 2013 at 6:35 pm

  8. Michelle

    We have these snow worms in Cohasset, CA! I have visited ice worms on glaciers in Alaska, but there are no glaciers near here, so these worms in the snow have me confused. Where do they come from when the snow here only last days at a time at 3,200 ft. elevation? Where do they go when the snow melts, do they die? Would they fall apart if I touched them like an ice worm would?

    January 28, 2017 at 2:18 am

    • Hi Michelle,
      I’m afraid I’m completely unfamiliar with California snow worm species. Perhaps a Naturally Curious blog reader more informed than I will respond to your questions. If I had more time I would research it, but at the moment am straight out. Fascinating to know you have them there. I know there are 77 species of snow, or “ice” worms, not all of which inhabit glaciers or snowy habitats.

      January 30, 2017 at 7:33 pm

  9. Well I truly enjoyed studying it. This tip provided by you is very useful for correct planning.

    May 10, 2018 at 9:47 pm

  10. Sweetpea Curtis

    I saw these worms crawling on the snow as well, only they were long and very healthy looking. Can someone explain?

    January 20, 2019 at 10:36 am

  11. Andrew Blakeman

    Very interesting my daughters found bunches on the snow in the fruit tree orchard this mornin …we have 6-8 inches of fresh snow and they look busy …

    February 9, 2019 at 1:05 pm

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