SCORES & OUTDOORS: Determination yet to be made on status of Monarch butterflies

Monarch caterpillar.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Has anyone seen a monarch butterfly this summer? I certainly haven’t.

It wasn’t so long ago that I would see them everywhere; at home and at camp. They are a magnificent-looking butterfly, all dressed in the bright orange and black colors.

However, their numbers have come under a lot of stress in the last couple of decades.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service was petitioned to protect the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Based on information in the petition, they determined that federally protecting the monarch may be warranted and a 90-day substantial finding was published in the Federal Register on December 31, 2014. They determined that they would conduct an assessment to determine if the monarch butterfly needs Endangered Species Act protection.

Many are taking action to conserve monarch butterflies.

The Center for Biological Diversity released a report of the yearly count of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico, on March 5, 2018. In the report, it showed a decrease from the count in 2017, and confirms the iconic orange and black butterfly is still very much at risk. The count in March 2018 showed 2.48 hectares of occupied winter habitat as being down from 2.91 hectares in 2017. (A hectare is a metric unit of square measure, equal to 100 acres (2.471 acres or 10,000 square meters).

The Center for Biological Diversity estimates a decline of 80 percent over the last 20 years. NatureServe estimates the decline at 90 percent in that same period. Whichever you take into account, it is still a significant loss of monarchs.

According to Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, and co-author of the 2014 petition to protect monarchs under the Endangered Species Act, “we could lose the monarch butterfly if we don’t take immediate action to rein in pesticide use and curb global climate change.”

Monarch butterfly.

Roughly 99 percent of all North American monarchs migrate each winter to fir forests on 12 mountain tops in central Mexico. Scientists estimate the population size by measuring the area of trees turned orange by the clustering monarchs. That population has been dangerously low since 2008. In the mid-1990s, there was an estimated population of nearly one billion butterflies. But the population in 2018 had dropped to approximately 93 million butterflies.

In 2018, the drop was attributed to unseasonal weather, including late spring freezes that killed milkweed (the chief diet staple of the monarch butterfly caterpillar) and caterpillars, coupled with an unseasonably warm fall that kept late-season monarchs from migrating.

George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety, said, “Another year, another reminder: Our government must do what the law and science demands, and protect monarchs under the ESA, before it’s too late.”

In the petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it was noted that the monarch butterflies are threatened by a host of sources, destroying their habitat and food, but studies have shown that a main source of their catastrophic demise decline has been genetically-engineered crops, engineered with resistance to Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide, which has dramatically increased the pesticide use on their habitat.

A final decision was to be made by June of this year, on whether to list the monarch butterfly as endangered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delayed its decision until December 2020 — 18 months later than the original deadline of June 2019. Because the original deadline resulted from a litigation settlement, this extension had to be approved by federal courts and the other parties to the litigation.

Monarchs have lost an estimated 165 million acres of breeding habitat in the United States to herbicides, and development.The caterpillars only eat milkweed, but the plant has been devastated by increased herbicide spraying in conjunction with corn and soybean crops that have been genetically engineered to tolerate direct spraying with herbicides.

Again, the main factors are loss of milkweed, the development of genetically modified herbicide-resistant cropland, land conversion, logging at overwintering sites in Mexico, and climate change and extreme weather.

NatureServe has reported that the species is threatened, and the recent, rapid decline and widespread threats qualify the species to being “critically imperiled.” They are essentially being threatened with extinction.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

NatureService with Jepsen S., D. F. Schweitzer, B. Young, N. Sears, M. Ormes and S. H. Black, are part of the Conservation Status and Ecology of Monarchs in the United States, based in Arlington, Virginia.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

In the comic strip Peanuts, who was Charlie Brown’s favorite baseball player?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The strange summer of 2019

wooly bear caterpillar

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Has this been a crazy summer, or what?

The summer of 2019 may go down as one of the more mysterious of recent years. We had a bumper crop of black flies and mosquitoes, last week we covered the decline in the number of bats, the usual suspects appeared at our bird feeders – with a few exceptions, there has been a decline in the activities of red squirrels, chipmunks and gray squirrels, and even the garden isn’t cooperating.

Frequent and heavy rains through May and June, with a July and August that has been relatively dry. Just to show you how the beginning of summer shaped out, we actually ran the furnace, – and air conditioning – on the same day this year, ironically, July 4. That is a little bizarre.

At the bird feeders, we have had the annual appearance of black capped chickadees, gold finches, nuthatches, the occasional tufted titmouse, blue jays, crows and woodpeckers. Although they were slow to arrive. But no rose breasted grosbeaks, cardinals or Baltimore orioles earlier in the year.

We usually have two chipmunks scurrying around, where this year we have had only one. Apparently, it is safe to assume its partner met with some sort of tragedy. The red squirrels have not been seen and we have only observed one or two gray squirrels, where in most years it is a constant and never ending battle with them at the bird feeders.

Again, as mentioned last week, we have seen no bats.

The garden is doing OK, but some of the crops, which I have been growing for years with no difficulty, are looking like a bust this year. Broccoli has not flowered, and my cauliflower has produced only two florets. The green peppers are stunted, and have never really grown to any height, and bearing no fruit. The Brussel sprouts never got off the ground, and the squash are way behind where they should be this time of year. But, on the positive side, the string beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce are doing fine.

However, on the other hand, we have rag weed growing like gang busters in places where we have never had them before, the “junk” trees in my backyard have reached an all-time high, despite some cut back last spring, and the Virginia creeper vines have completely covered the wood pile and storage shed, and taken over the entire backyard along the fence. Where they came from is beyond me, but they have been proliferating abundantly over the last couple of years, again despite some major cutting in the fall.


The only creature that seems to be on schedule is the cacadae, which came right on cue on July 26. As you know, that is the little bug that creates that loud buzzing sound on the hot summer days, which farmers for centuries have credited with predicting the first killing frost of the fall.

Folklore has it that the first crop killing frost will occur 90 days from the day you first hear the sound, following the next full moon, which this year will be November 12. I hope we don’t have an early winter like last year, because it is highly unlikely the first frost won’t come before that date.

Also, it is mid-August and we haven’t seen any hickory tussock caterpillars – the white fuzzy ones with the black stingers, no Monarch butterflies, but plenty of harvestman spiders – what we call daddy longlegs. They seem to have arrived a little early this year.

Here’s another, bees! We have seen only a handful of bumble bees, no yellow jackets or hornets.

Most of these are nature’s way of letting you know what kind of winter to expect. Where bee hives are built is usually an indication of the snowfall to expect. The higher the hives, the more snow to expect, according to folkore.

What remains to be seen is the wooly bear caterpillar. It’s still early for them. They usually appear in September. They are the little black and rust-colored hairy caterpillars that predict the severity of the winter. The longer the rust band on the body, the milder the winter, and vice versa. Last year, I can say I only saw a handful of those, where you normally see them everywhere, especially trying to cross a road. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with them.

We’ll sit back and see how September, and the beginning of fall shapes up. I wouldn’t mind seeing an Indian summer.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

In the NFL, how wide are the goal post uprights?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Has there been a mosquito population explosion?

The little brown bat inflicted with white nose syndrome.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

The biggest complaint I have heard this summer from numerous people is the extremely high number of mosquitoes that have pestered us. I had noticed it myself but attributed it to the cold and wet spring and early summer.

However, there is another reason for the unusual number of those little blood suckers.

Bats. Or the lack thereof.

We have noticed at camp the void of bats that usually fly around at night. We have seen none. And, last week while at a friend’s home for an evening cookout, I noticed a number of bat houses around. When I asked him about them, he said that in the past, they had several bats flying about, but none this year. Not one has been spotted.

What is going on with that?

According to scientists, a fungus known as white nose syndrome is the culprit. Scientists have concluded the fungus has destroyed in excess of 90 percent of the bats in some populations, ranging from Texas and Florida, as far west as Washington state and all the way to the northeastern U.S.

The Smithsonian Magazine approached the subject in 2011 when the problem was first descried as “catastrophic” and the “worst epidemic in years.”

Spores of the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans seem to be both the source and cause of the devastating disease, especially for bats hibernating by the millions in the northeastern U.S. In the four years prior, around 2007 – 2011, an estimated one million bats had already died from the fungus.

The virus was first found in upstate New York in early 2006 when the bats began acting oddly, flying during the day, far from their caves, during brutally cold weather, all uncharacteristic behavior.

Zach Peery, Ph.D., a professor of forest and wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, believes it’s time to step up and implement more vigorous strategies for preventing their waning populations. Peery explains, “Bat declines resulting from white nose syndrome and other factors may compromise potential mosquito suppression, but they also provide opportunities to test the hypothesis that bats limit mosquitoes through a natural experiment.”

A recent study published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases said the white nose syndrome fungus striking bats in such great numbers isn’t necessarily fatal, but if they survive the initial infection, it may still negatively impact the ability of females to reproduce.

A white nose death is grisly. The fungus hits when the bats’ breathing is low and their tiny heartbeats are at an ebb during hibernation. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Institutes of Health theorize that the bats die when they awaken from hibernation, and their reactivated immune systems go overboard in an attempt to eliminate the intruding disease, destroying the illness but also tissue bats need to live.

However, while preventive measures have been unsuccessful, there has been a recent breakthrough. Some of the most recent information is that the fungus grows on, not just the noses, but also the ears and wings of bats, striking them as they hibernate and causing them to wake up and burn off the fat stores needed for survival. The fungus is known to thrive only in cold, dark environments (such as caves) with a strict temperature range of 39 – 68 degrees F, so it can only affect bats during hibernation.

A combined research team involving the University of New Hampshire, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Forest Service, may have found a possible “Archilles heel,” as the fungus is highly sensitive to UV light. It seems the fungus lacks a key DNA repair enzyme. When exposing the fungi to different UV light intensities, even for a few seconds, and observing how each behave, Jon Palmer, Ph.D., a research botanist in Madison, Wisconsin, wrote, “It is unusual that P. destructans appears to be unable to repair damage caused by UV light. Most organisms that have been found in the absence of light maintain the ability to repair DNA caused by UV light radiation. We are very hopeful that the fungus’ extreme vulnerability to UV light can be exploited to manage the disease and save bats.”

Current evidence indicates that WNS is not transmissible from bats to humans., based on the fact that the fungus only grows in temperatures from 39-68 degrees F., much lower than that of the human body. Also, no human infections have ever been documented after exposure to WNS-infected bats or caves.

Although WNS does not cause illness to humans, a small percentage of bats can be infected with other dangerous diseases, such as rabies. Bats infected with either WNS or rabies may exhibit unusual behavior, which increases the risk of bat-human contact and exposure.

Declines in bat populations can impact human health indirectly since humans depend on bats for important ecosystem services such as controlling pest insects.

What started in New York in 2006 had spread to more than half of the United States and five Canadian provinces by August 2016, leaving millions of dead bats in its path. WNS causes high death rates and fast population declines in the species affected by it, and scientists predict some regional extinction of bat species, one of which is the little brown bat that is the most common in our area.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

The Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992 and 1993, but were still defending champions in 1995. Why?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Was it an emerald ash borer, or a 6-spotted green tiger beetle?

Left, an emerald ash borer; right, six-spotted green tiger beetle

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Of all the animal species on earth, approximately 40 percent of them are beetles. Many of them look alike. That is probably why a friend of mine related to me that he had seen an emerald ash borer in Vassalboro and killed it, because, as a fairly knowledgeable woodsman, he knew how destructive they can be to the forest.

According to Allison Kanoti, state entomologist with the Maine Forest Service, Forest and Health Monitoring, and entomologist Colleen Teerling, there are no known emerald ash borers (EAB) in central Maine.

They do exist in Maine, but have been isolated to northern Aroostook County and western York County towns. I guess the logical question is, how can this invasive beetle be found in northern and southern Maine, but nowhere in between.

Anyway, they are being contained in those two counties because the transportation of untreated firewood into Maine from other states and provinces of Canada have been prohibited, as is movement of untreated firewood out of those quarantined areas. Firewood provides a free ride to a staggering host of insect and disease-carrying organisms that pose a threat to our forests. That is why it is encouraged for people to use local firewood.

So, what did my friend see?

Apparently it is a very common insect in our area called the six-spotted tiger beetle, also known as the six-spotted green tiger beetle, Cinindela sexguttata, which is common in North America.

They are commonly found in deciduous forests from Minnesota, east to Rhode Island, and north to Ontario. They are also found as far south as Kentucky.

They are easily recognizable, if you know what you’re looking for, by their large, white, overlapping mandibles and six yellowish spots on their bodies. They are also a brilliant green, which resembles to EAB. However, don’t let the spots fool you. Some of the species will have more spots, fewer spots or none at all, again possibly leading to a misidentification.

The mandibles give this insect a menacing appearance, but they are only predators of small anthropods. They do not bite humans unless handled or feel threatened.

This species is associated with wooded areas and they are often found in sunlit patches clear of undergrowth such as dirt paths and fallen logs where they hunt caterpillars, ants, spiders and many other kinds of anthropods. Although they are not gregarious, many beetles may sometimes be seen in one suitable hunting area.

The letter D-shaped holes in a tree produced by the emerald ash borer.

Like as many as 147 types of tiger beetles in the United States, this species has a two-year life cycle. During this time it goes through a complete metamorphosis. This means they have four separate stages during their lifetime. The first is the egg stage. The female lays eggs in individual holes in the ground during June or early July. The egg hatches and the second stage, known as the larval stage, begins. The larva resembles a caterpillar, but with two unique characteristics. The first is the two sickle-shaped jaws protruding from its abnormally large head, which it uses to catch prey. The other is a hooked hump on its back, which prevents it from being pulled out of the ground. The entirety of the larval stage happens underground. It then reaches the third stage, the pupa a year later. The pupa begins to make its way out of the ground by digging toward the surface diagonally. The adult form of the beetle emerges within a month. The beetle is sexually mature in the spring, mates, and dies during the summer months.

The tiger beetle, not more than a half inch long, is a ferocious predator in the insect world. It is carnivorous throughout the span of its life. The six-spotted green tiger beetle is an active creature with the ability to run and fly at great speeds; this is not the case for most beetles.

Now, getting back to the emerald ash borer. Should you find holes in trees in the shape of the letter D, please contact the Maine Forest Service, so an entomologist can be dispatched to investigate and possibly confirm or discount the existence of the insect in our area.

Hopefully, for the sake of our forest, you never come across one.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

To be politically correct, which NFL team would you be describing in the following manner:

A – Six royal male rulers; B – Juvenile bovines; C – Crimson Epidermis; D – Military insects?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: War on ticks rages on; or was it all because of biological warfare?

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

A popular subject of discussion this summer has been the proliferation of the tick population in our area over the last several years. Myself, I have had three ticks on me so far this summer, and I take all the precautions I think I could. One of them, I have no idea how it attached itself to me. A second one was found after working in my garden, while the third was noticed shortly after I had been picking black raspberries in my backyard. My wife and I have also seen deer ticks wandering around in camp, even between the sheets in our bed. Go figure!

Recently, Republican Rep. Chris Smith, of New Jersey, offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, requiring the Pentagon inspector general to conduct a review about whether the military may have experimented with making ticks into biological weapons.

The amendment recently passed in the House by a voice vote. The order would require the inspector general to examine whether the Department of Defense experimented with ticks and other insects regarding its use as a biological weapon between the years of 1950 and 1975. It must now go to the Senate for a vote.

Smith’s amendment would ask what were the parameters of the program, who ordered it, was there ever any accidental release anywhere or at anytime of any diseased ticks, were any ticks released by design, did the program contribute to the disease burden, and could any of this information help current-day researchers find a way to mitigate these diseases?

So far this year, 217 cases of Lyme disease have been reported in Maine.

The theory is that bioweapons specialists packed ticks with pathogens that could cause severe disabilities, disease and death among potential enemies to our country. Smith said his reasoning for introducing the amendment was based on a number of books and articles suggesting that significant research had been done at U.S. government facilities, including Fort Detrick, Maryland, and Plum Island, New York, to turn ticks and other insects into bioweapons.

These books, however, have been questioned by some experts who dismiss long-held conspiracy theories that the federal government helped in the spread of tick-borne diseases. Smith also claims that federal agencies, even the Center for Disease Control, may have had a hand in the cover up concerning the findings about the spread of Lyme disease.

Also, Willy Burgdorfer, who passed away in 2014, a leading authority in his field, once revealed that he and other bioweapons specialists put pathogens in ticks to “cause severe disabilities, disease and even death to potential enemies.” He said he worked for three years in the 1950s at a military lab in Colorado that looked into research techniques allowing for the rapid identification of pathogens for defensive purposes.

The CDC currently spends about $11 million on Lyme disease research.

But, there is a controversy involving this theory. Yale researchers have found that DNA studies from a couple of years ago showed that Lyme disease has been present in North America for at least 60,000 years. That was before man occupied this continent.

Lyme disease has also been traced to amber from 15 million years ago in what is now the Dominican Republic. It has also been found in a frozen body in the Alps.

In other research conducted at Yale University, they theorize Lyme disease has spread in recent years due to deforestation that has led to the build up of suburbs in New England and the midwest, creating ideal conditions for the deer ticks. Our warming climate is also contributing to these conditions.

So, the question now is who is right? Was there a conscience effort to develop bioweapons with Lyme disease in the 1950s and ‘60s, or has Lyme disease been around for millions of years? Americans have the right to know.

If it is true that ticks were being primed for biological warfare, Rep. Smith wants the public to be informed.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Ty Cobb is regarded as one of the greatest baseball players of all time. What number did he wear for the Detroit Tigers?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Invasive insects already in Maine; Free presentation on invasive forest pests set

Emerald ash borer is now found in the St. John Valley and in York County. Beetle larvae feed under tree bark, pupae overwinter in the wood and the tiny adults emerge in spring leaving D-shaped exit holes. (Photo courtesy Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

There are invasive pests making their way into Maine, and it is important that we learn more about them. One of them, the Emerald Ash Borer, has already been spotted in Vassalboro.

This week, I will turn my column over to Hildy Ellis, of the Knox-Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District, who will be holding an informational program on these insects that are raising havoc on our forests.

by Hildy Ellis

Invasive forest pests like emerald ash borer (EAB), hemlock woolly adelgid are already having devastating impacts on Maine’s forests; browntail moth is affecting human health as well as tree health; Asian longhorned beetle, with a large host range could be the next invader on the horizon! On Saturday, July 27, from 10 a.m. – noon, Hildy Ellis, of Knox-Lincoln Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) will present a program about these invaders at Merryspring Nature Center, in Camden, as part of their Saturday workshop series.

Using slides and an outdoor tree ID walk, this workshop will help landowners and users, as well as landscape and forestry professionals, learn to

  • identify current and potential invasive forest pests and their host species,
  • understand the threats to our forests and woodlands posed by these pests,
  • limit their spread, and
  • how to report suspected pest sightings or damage to trees that may be a result of pest infestations

All participants will receive an information packet with fact sheets about the major pest species, a list of host trees that the species may be found on, how to make decisions about treatment, current quarantine information for EAB in Maine, and other relevant information. The following recertification credits are pending for this program: Professional CFE credits by the Society of American Foresters. Category 1-CF: 2.0; and Pesticide Applicator credits by the Board of Pesticides Control: 2.0.

Knox- Lincoln SWCD, a member of the Maine Association of Conservation Districts, is presenting Invasive Forest Pest Outreach Programs through a grant from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. Materials are funded in part by a Cooperative Agreement from the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. More information about invasive forest pests in Maine may be found at

FMI and to RSVP for this free workshop, visit, contact Julie at 596-2040 or

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who was the first manager of the Texas Rangers in 1972?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: It was a case of mistaken identity

Carrion beetle

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

No, we’re not going to talk about the David Ortiz shooting.

A couple of weeks ago we talked about these beetles that appeared in a bucket at our camp (See The Town Line, June 20, 2019).

At first, through some research, especially the website of the Iowa State University Department of Entomology, they were identified as Glischrochilus, or better known as picnic beetles or beer bugs.

Well, it has come to my attention that I was mistaken.

The beetles bear a strong resemblance to each other. According to Michael Parisio, of the Maine Forest Service, my contact in that department, the bugs are actually called carrion beetles. He wrote: “Although I was not able to tell from the low quality photo of the actual beetle recovered from your bucket, I believe you might have a case of mistaken identify here and would like to offer another explanation. I suspect you’ve recovered what are commonly referred to as carrion beetles, family Silphidae, which is what is actually pictured in the stock photo used at the beginning of this article. These beetles rely on the carcasses of small dead animals for their young to develop, such as mice, and were likely attracted to the lingering smell of dead mice infused into the bucket used for your mouse trap. These are commonly recovered in the reservoirs of wet traps used for catching other insects, since carrion beetles are attracted to the smell of anything decomposing.”

So, back to the internet.

Silphidae is a family of beetles that are known commonly as large carrion beetles. They are sometimes known as Sexton beetles.

These beetles are ubiquitous and are most abundant in the temperate zone – that would be us. They are quite rare in the tropics although there are species endemic in the region. It is thought that ants, flies and other carrion feeders out-competing them in these regions.

Their life cycle begins when the prospective parents begin to dig a hole below the carcass. While doing so, and after removing all hair from the carcass, the beetles cover the animal with antibacterial and antifungal oral and anal secretions, slowing the decay of the carcass and preventing the smell of rotting flesh from attracting competition. The carcass is formed into a ball and the fur or feathers tripped away and used to line and reinforce the crypt, where the carcass will remain until the flesh has been completely consumed. The burial process can take around eight hours. Several pairs of beetles may cooperate to bury large carcasses and then raise their brooks communally.

The female lays eggs in the soil around the crypt. The larvae hatch after a few days and move into a pit in the carcass which the parents have created. Although the larvae are able to feed themselves, both parents also feed the larvae in response to begging. They digest the flesh and regurgitate liquid food for the larvae to feed on, a form of progressive provisioning. This probably speeds up larval development. It is also thought the parent beetles can produce secretions from head glands that have antimicrobial activity, inhibiting the growth of bacteria and fungi, on the vertebrate corpse.

At an early stage, the parents may cull their young. They do this to match the number of larvae to the size of the carcass so that there is enough food to go around. If there are too many young, they will all be underfed and will develop less quickly, reducing their chances of surviving to adulthood.

The adult beetles continue to protect the larvae, which take several days to mature.

These beetles are not usually considered a nuisance to humans. They help the environment by laying their eggs on carcasses and the larvae break down the disintegrating materials, which prevents accumulation of deceased organisms. They will sometimes occupy human-inhabited areas and become pests to farmers by using crops as a second source of nutrients.

In the future, entomologists will explore the social behavior of the beetles to a greater degree. The Silphidae are typically the first to come in contact with carrion.

It was interesting to note that when I wrote that article three weeks ago there were six beetles in the bucket. With only water at the bottom of the bucket, because the carcasses had been removed weeks earlier, I later found 19 beetles were now occupying the water, and had obviously drowned. I guess I’ll have to do a better job cleaning the bucket next year.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which Red Sox player has hit the most home runs in All Star games: Jim Rice, Ted Williams or Carl Yastrzemki?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS – Vernal pools: valuable small bodies of water

A vernal pool in Maine. (photo from the University of Maine,

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

We talked about vernal pools several years ago, but I think it’s time to visit the subject again.

Vernal pools are seasonal pools of water that provide habitat for distinctive plants and animals. They are considered to be a distinctive type of wetland usually devoid of fish, and thus allow the safe development of natal amphibian and insect species unable to withstand competition or predation by fish.

Typically, a vernal pool has three phases each year: it is inundated in the winter, dries slowly in the spring, and completely dries in summer.

Vernal pools favor native species because non-natives can’t handle the conditions of the water staying on the landscape for as long as it does, but not long enough to support truly aquatic species.

A key formation of the vernal pools is due to the impermeable layer. Clay soils bind closely together and become inpermeable to water. When it rains the water percolates until it reaches the claypan and sits there, filling up with material and water.

Vernal pools can form anywhere that a depression fills with water. They can be found on bedrock of many kinds, or in grasslands that form over a variety of soil types containing silts and clays.

Vernal pools are so called because they are often, though not necessarily, as their maximum depth in the spring. Vernal means, of, relating to, or occurring in the spring. Vernal pools may form in forests, but they are more typically associated with grasslands and rocky plains or basins.

Despite being dry at times, vernal pools teem with life when filled. The most obvious inhabitants are various species of breeding frogs and toads. Some salamanders also utilize vernal pools for reproduction, but the adults may visit the pool only briefly. Other notable inhabitants are daphnia and fairy shrimp, the latter often used as an indicator species to decisively define a vernal pool. Other indicator species, at least in New England, are the wood frog, the spadefoot toad and some species of mole salamanders.

The major threats to vernal pool habitats are agriculture, urbanization, changes in hydrology, climate change and improperly managed grazing by livestock.

Therefore, in some areas, there are restoration efforts underway.

Vernal pools are prime habitats to be targeted for restoration work due to their value as hotpots of biodiversity as well as recent history of extensive destruction and degradation.

There has been a fair amount of controversy surrounding the practice of mitigation, which is the destruction of protected or endangered species and habitats, such as vernal pools, on the condition that whatever entity (business, land manager, etc.) is destroying the habitat will undertake the construction of a replacement habitat to “mitigate’ their impacts. This concept is difficult to apply to vernal pools, which represent a tremendous habitat value – but are difficult to successfully replicate using construction methods. Thus, it has been very controversial to apply mitigation strategies to vernal pool systems due to the obvious risks inherent in trying to reconstruct this kind of habitat. Although some agencies are now requiring two replacements for every vernal pool that is destroyed, in order to compensate for the low quality of man-made habitat.

With natural wildlife habitat threatened on daily basis, it is important to remember, and take into account, the value of these small bodies of water.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

At the 2010 All-Star game, who became the only Red Sox player to win a home run derby by defeating Hanley Ramirez in the final?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: It’s a bumble bee! It’s a hummingbird; no, guess again

Hummingbird moth, left, taken by Pat Clark, of Palermo, and an internet photo of a hummingbird moth.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Last week I received an email from a reader, who resides in Palermo. She sent a photo and asked what kind of bumble bee it was? She had photographed it feeding on her lilacs.

At first glance, I thought it was a sphinx moth – better known as a hummingbird moth. But the more I looked at it, the less sure I was. It was a photo taken from behind, and most of its characteristic suggested hummingbird moth, but some of the coloration didn’t seem right. I began doubting myself.

I sent the photo off to Michael Parisio, forest entomologist with the Maine Forest Service, who confirmed it was a hummingbird clear wing moth. His comment was that the moth had done its job very well, fooling the photographer into thinking it was something else than what it really was.

I was right, after all.

The hummingbird clear wing moth, Hemaris thysbe, is olive green and burgundy on its back, and white or yellow and burgundy on the underside. Its wings are transparent with a reddish-brown border. It has light-colored legs, which combined with the lack of striping on the underside, is diagnostic. Beating their wings rapidly, they hover to collect nectar from a variety of flowers. The combination of its appearance and its behavior commonly leads to it being confused with a hummingbird or bumble bee. That certainly was the case with our reader.

They are found in a large portion of North America, with a range extending from Alaska to Oregon in the west and from Newfoundland to Florida in the east. It is a migratory species and is most common in southern Ontario and the eastern United States. They have two broods a year in the southern portion of its range, but only one in the north. The caterpillar feeds on honeysuckle, dogbane and several types of fruit trees.

As a caterpillar, it burrows into the soil to overwinter as a brown, hard-shelled pupa. In the late spring, it emerges as an adult moth. They lay green eggs on the underside of plant leaves, which hatch in about a week. Development takes four weeks, after which the caterpillar spins a cocoon at ground level. Two to four weeks later a moth emerges for a second breeding cycle before summer’s end in southern climates. It has a single mating cycle per year.

It has minimal economic impact to humans, acting neither as a crop pollinator nor as a pest. The moth is a flower pollinator, especially some species of orchids. They are not endangered nor threatened.

Due to the variable appearance of the moth, it has often been mistakenly described as multiple distinct species. It was first described by Johan Christian Fabricius, in 1775, as a Sesia thysbe. The species name is likely a reference to Thisbe, half of a pair of ill-fated lovers in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The name thus associates the blood-stained scarf of Thisbe to the reddish-brown coloration of the moth.

Hummingbird moths are members of the sphinx moth family. Their size makes them different from the actual hummingbird. The ruby-throated hummingbird can be three inches long, while the hummingbird moth is much smaller at 1-1/2 inches long.

While most sphinx moths fly at night, hummingbird moths fly during the day. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including open meadows, forest edges, and suburban gardens. They feed on flower nectar, dipping in a long thin proboscis. Both the Palermo resident and Parisio spotted hummingbird moths feeding on lilac bushes.

Adult hummingbird moths feed on nectar, so filling your garden with native nectar-bearing plants is a great way to attract hummingbird moths, as well as ruby-throated hummingbirds and butterflies.

Mystery solved!

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

In inches, how big is the diameter of a basketball hoop?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Meeting the picnic beetle

Above, picnic beetle.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

This week, let’s return to the “never seen that before” department.

This past winter, for the first time, I deployed the “better mouse trap” in camp. It consists of a five-gallon bucket, a soda can, a piece of wire, some anti-freeze and a piece of strapping. You place the wire through the can, attach it to the bucket with a piece of wire, and build a “ramp” with the piece of wood. You coat the can with peanut butter, pour the anti-freeze in the bucket, and place it in camp before you close it up in the fall.

Once the mouse smells the peanut butter, it will climb up the ramp, jump across the gap to the can, which will rotate from the weight of the mouse, and the mouse then falls into the bucket of anti-freeze. It’s very effective.

So, this spring, I had captured eight mice over the winter. After giving them a proper burial, I carefully, and properly, disposed of the anti-freeze, and placed the bucket outside until I could put it away in my storage shed.

A picnic beetle in the bucket.

In the meantime, we received some rain, often, and heavy at times, which left about four inches of water in the bottom of the bucket. Last Sunday, when I finally got around to the bucket, I noticed six beetles floating in the water. They were blackish-brown, with four orange/red dots on the back. “Never seen that before!”

According to Bug Guide, at the Iowa State University Department of Entomology, they are Glischrochilus, a genus of sap-feeding and predatory beetles better known as picnic beetles or beer bugs.

They feed on exuding sap from injured trees and decaying vegetable or fungal matter. They are also attracted to ripening fruit, as well as beer, vinegar, wine, fruit juice and fermenting beverages. So, I don’t really know what attracted them to the bucket of water, that may have still had some anti-freeze residue.

As I researched more, I found they frequently drown as they feed. They congregate in large numbers – does six constitute a large number? – when such beverages are present. They are known to ruin picnics and outdoor gatherings like BBQs, earning them the name “picnic beetles” and “beer bug.”

At the university, researchers attract the bugs using bait that contains beer, molasses, vinegar and pineapples, among other ingredients.

They can be found in North America and Eurasia. In North America, their range is from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, to Florida, Kansas, New Mexico and Oregon. Their habitat consists of hanging out under the bark of injured or dying trees, on sap, oozing tree wounds, decaying or fermenting fruit. They are considered pests of certain fruit and vegetable crops like strawberries, corn, tomatoes, apricot, raspberries and peaches. They normally only become a problem when fruits are damaged or are overripe and beginning to ferment. They are extremely difficult to control because they are attracted to the odor of food. (Could it have been some remnants of peanut butter on the can?).

On strawberries, they will leave a deep cavity very similar to the damage caused by slugs. In sweet corn, an ear damaged by corn earworm will attract sap beetles. The larvae of sap beetles then feed on the undamaged kernels. They can be found from silk to ear maturity.

But it is the strawberries that are primary targets for the insect. These beetles prefer over-ripe fruit but also readily attack ripening fruit.

The use of pesticides is not very effective and is not recommended. Sap beetles have been seen on ripe fruit, so pesticides should not be used on the crop.

Carbaryl and bifenthrin can be used to control severe infestations. These pesticides may kill existing beetles, but if the fruit is present, they cannot prevent additional sap beetles from moving into the garden. As always, follow the pesticide label directions attached to the pesticide container you are using. Remember, the label is the law.

I don’t think I have to go that far. The six beetles that I had seem to be the only ones around. I have seen no others in nearly a week.

I’m just still curious why the bucket of water attracted them.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which NFL team appeared in four consecutive Super Bowls, and lost them all?

Answer can be found here.