Needle ice, springtails, and sunshine

The temperature dipped into the teens last night, so my walk on the new trail to Lake Dimmick was an invigorating one. The trail is not officially open yet, but it runs from the perimeter trail (paved portion) out past the firing range, across JumpOff Rd, then skirts Lake Jackson to get to Lake Dimmick.

Ice needles were abundant on the sandy old road beds and in bare soil around the lake. These needles form when the air is freezing and the water in the soil is still unfrozen. As the aboveground water freezes in the chilly air, it wicks more water up from the soil. The pull of capillary action keeps the water moving upward, creating vertical columns of ice. Soil particles get carried up by the rising ice.

A miniature forest of ice needles

Each column of ice is about six inches tall

The edge of the lake was iced over, but springtails (Collembola) were clustered on the ice and in small pools where water had seeped up. These tiny arthropods (barely visible with the naked eye) use a spring-loaded catapult on their bellies to jump around on the water surface. Springtails feed mostly on decaying plant material and on the microbes that live in the soil. In some habitats, they are the most abundant animal by far, reaching densities of tens or hundreds of thousands per square meter. They are very vulnerable to desiccation, so they hang out either below the soil surface or close to (and on) water.

The sun came out, finally. It has been a full ten days since I last felt it on my face. Welcome back, friend.

4 thoughts on “Needle ice, springtails, and sunshine

  1. Anonymous

    I love this post. I never knew those soil up-icicles had a name, and I am certainly glad to understand something of their formation now. Thanks for that!

    New trail? What firing range? More, please! I want to go to the lake that way!

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Trail is marked with yellow tape. Starts in pine woods between Hawkins Lane and Lake O’Donnell crossings of the perimeter trail. Some is on new trail, a lot is on old fire lanes. The firing range is the open spot off Jumpoff Rd (past Laurel Brae subdivision). The trail is about one hour each way, I’d guess.

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Kay, Next time it freezes, look for them around the sandy areas near Lake Cheston, especially on the dam and the trails — easy access and the sand their sometimes blooms with mini sculptures of ice.


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