SCORES & OUTDOORS: The bugs went marching one by one, but no hurrah for this

The boxelder bug

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

There they were! Marching along the railing of my porch as my wife and I were enjoying the day’s end of sunshine on a Saturday afternoon. They formed a column like a trucking convoy, one behind the other, all heading in the same direction. Blackish-colored bugs with red stripes, about a half inch long. I had seen them before, but not this many.

Then, it happened! The next morning, one had found its way into the house, clinging to the outside door, trying to make its best impression of an opossum. Playing dead, not moving.

It was time to find what these things were and why were they trying to enter our domain.

It really didn’t come clear to me until a little later, when evidence started to fall into place. First was a call out to my contact, Allison Kanoti, acting state entomologist, with the Maine Forest Service. But, it was the weekend, and I would have to wait until mid-week for an answer.

Second, I met with an arborist with the plan to cut down some dead trees on my property. The arborist informed me the trees were boxelders, and would have not much heating value. (That was OK, I just wanted to get rid of them.)

Then came the news from my state contact: the bugs were most likely boxelder bugs. Ta-dah! There is the connection.

Boxelder trees and boxelder bugs

The boxelder bugs feed almost entirely on boxelder, maple and ash trees. Another clue. I have a maple tree directly in front of my porch.

These bugs also like to winter indoors, if possible. Should they enter your home, they will hibernate there, mostly in cracks in window frames, gaps and crevices, and tears in screen doors. But, once they get in your home, they will lay dormant while the weather is cool. Once your heating system becomes active, they falsely perceive that it is spring time and they will head out in search of food. Their extracts may stain upholstery, carpets, drapes, and they may feed on certain types of house plants.

The next question: do they bite?

They are not typically known as biters, but they have the ability to pierce into skin, which makes the skin a bit irritated and results in a red spot that resembles a mosquito bite. Medical attention should be sought in the case of a bite. They are, in general, harmless to humans and pets.

These bugs are not classified as agricultural pests and generally are no danger to ornamental plantings. They are, however, known to do damage to some fruits in the fall as they leave their summer homes in trees to seek areas to overwinter.

The boxelder bug, Boisea trivittata, emits a strong scent, similar to stink bugs, should they be disturbed or threatened. Spiders are their minor predators, but because of their defense mechanism, only a few birds or other animals will eat them.

Eggs are laid by females in the cracks of tree bark during spring. They prefer female boxelder trees, which produce seeds, as opposed to male trees that do not.

Boxelder bugs prefer seeds but will also suck leaves. They are frequently seen on maple trees as these trees provide them with seeds as well.

So, the arborist is coming in a week or so to take down those boxelder trees, and that should help reduce the population. However, my maple tree stays.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Have the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers ever met in a World Series?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Efforts continue to keep Chronic Wasting Disease out of Maine

A deer afflicted with Chronic Wasting Disease. (Internet photo)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

As the opening of the Maine firearms deer hunting season approaches, the subject of Chronic Wasting Disease has once again reared its ugly head. Recently, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife learned of the disease having been detected at a deer farm in Québec Province, Canada, in September.

Chronic Wasting Disease is a prion1, transmissible TSE of mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, moose, and reindeer. As of 2016, CWD had been found only in members of the deer family. It was first recognized as a clinical wasting syndrome in 1967 in mule deer at a wildlife research facility in northern Colorado. By 1978 it had spread to 23 states.

The disease causes irreversible damage to brain tissue, and there is no known treatments or vaccines. It can be spread by an animal’s bodily fluids and can seep into the soil and remain there for several decades.

This could cause a little inconvenience to folks who like to feed deer. Should an infected deer urinate on the ground near a feeding station, it could pass the disease to other deer who may feed from the ground where the infected deer has urinated. Most infected deer will show increased drinking and urination; the increased drinking and salivation contribute to the spreading of the disease.

Many long-time hunters are fearful that the spread of the disease to Maine would end their hunting activities. Although no cases of human affliction have been confirmed, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests more laboratory studies are needed to monitor the possibility of such transmission. Hunters are encouraged to avoid eating deer or elk tissues known to harbor the CWD agent, such as brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes, etc.

Despite the report of the disease from our neighbor to the north, no signs of CWD have been reported in Maine nor New Hampshire, our neighbor to the west. However, that does not dismiss the possibility of it finding its way into our state.

The disease is progressive and always fatal. It has been diagnosed in deer as young as 17 months old. The first signs are difficulties in movement. The most obvious sign is the weight loss over time. From there, a deer’s behavior changes, including decreased interactions with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, tremors, repetitive walking in set patterns, and nervousness.

Maine’s deer biologist Nathan Bieber has reported that the fear of the disease has caused a decline in the issuance of hunting licenses. Because the harvesting of female deer has decreased significantly in recent years, a record number of any-deer permits were issued in 2018. The state has issued 54,745 any-deer permits this fall, a 28 percent increase from last year. It is the highest total ever issued since the permit system was instituted in 1986. In total, approximately 170,000 hunting licenses have been issued this hunting season.

The state has been testing for Chronic Wasting Disease in deer since 1999. Bieber said, “In recent years, 450 – 500 deer have been tested, along with about 15 moose.” State officials are introducing legislation to ban feeding deer and deer-urine scents or lures. Neither is an emergency rule, so it could be some time before, and if, the ban becomes reality.

According to the MDIF&W and the Center for Disease Control, it is still safe to eat the meat from deer killed within the state of Maine. Let’s just hope measures and precautions being implemented by these agencies continue to make it safe, and the disease is kept from being transmitted within our borders. There is nothing better than venison steak right out of the frying pan. Add some fiddleheads and it becomes a culinary delight.

1 Prions are misfolded proteins which characterize several fatal neurodegenerative diseases in animals and humans.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What did Manny Ramirez, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek, of the Red Sox, do in the same game in 2007?

Answer on page 11.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Even though they are not welcome, mice just keep coming

The common meadow vole.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

We’ve covered this subject before, but I think it’s worth another go-round.

Earlier this year we talked about the rather large number of squirrels running around our countryside – even city-side – and the many we find dead along our roads. Well, I want to know how come there is now a proliferation of mice. Last year, I trapped 13 mice in my camp in the month of September alone. That pales in numbers compared to this year. In the month of September – 17 mice trapped in camp. And we’re still counting. Camp is closed for the winter, but I check in periodically to find if I have trapped any more. Incidentally, my neighbors are experiencing the same problem.

Over the 30 years my wife and I have had our camp, we had only sporadic sightings of mice inside the building. The last two years have seen a population explosion.

A small mammal, although a wild animal, the meadow vole, Microtus pennsylvanicus, sometimes called a field mouse, is active year round.

A lot of people confuse the field mouse with house mice. They are a little different. A house mouse in uniformly brown-gray, right down to the tail. They typically have small hands and feet with big eyes and ears. And if you have a house mouse, you will know it because of their strong smell.

Common field mouse.

The meadow vole has sandy brown fur and a white to gray belly. A cautious mouse which always sniffs anything unfamiliar before approaching, this mouse does not have a very strong smell. Which, obviously, is why I didn’t know we had mice in the house. There was no odor. The mice I have been catching also have white bellies.

The meadow vole has the widest distribution of any North American species. It ranges from Labrador west to Alaska and south from Labrador and New Brunswick to South Carolina all the way west to Wyoming. They are also found in Washington, Idaho and Utah.

Meadow voles have to eat frequently, and their active periods are associated with food digestion. They have no clear 24-hour rhythm in many areas.

Contrary to what you see in the cartoons, mice do not like cheese. They actually like to eat fruits, seeds and grains. They are omnivorous, which means they eat both plants and meat. The common house mouse will eat just about anything it can find. In fact, if food is scarce, they will eat each other. (I bait my traps with peanut butter – works every time!) They have voracious appetites, and usually build their nests near places that have readily accessible food sources.

Male mice are usually ready to mate after six to eight weeks. One captive female produced 17 litters in one year for a total of 83 young – no wonder the population is escalating. One of her young produced 13 litters (totaling 78 young) before she was a year old.

The house mouse, Mus musculus, originally came from Asia, colonizing in new continents with the movement of people. Either of the three species can transmit diseases, though not on the same scale as rats.

Common house mouse

The house mouse lives more comfortably with humans, while field mice, Apodemus sylvaticus, prefer to live underground, although they will, from time to time, enter buildings.

The house mouse and field mouse are nocturnal and are active only at night, while meadow voles have no time schedule. My little intruders are active only after dark, especially in the early morning hours.

They also have strange names. Females are does, males are bucks and babies are called pinkies. In the wild, the life span of mice is usually one to two-and-a-half years.

If a female lives 2-1/2 years, and can produce up to 17 litters a year (up to 83 pinkies), that comes up to a lot of little mice, which will grow to be adult mice, roaming around out there. The numbers seem to be climbing.

I know they are looking for warm and dry shelter for the winter, and ready supply of food, but they are not welcome in my world.

MOOSE UPDATE

According to Lee Kantar, state moose biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Aroostook County remains a stronghold for moose in Maine. This September moose hunting season has been off to a great start with cold morning and all. “We currently are heading into the sixth year of our moose research study on adult cow and calf survival,” he said. “While winter tick has become a large focus of our work and the news, the reality is that the winter tick attacks smaller moose which is primarily overwintering ‘calves’ trying to make it through their first winter. Adult winter ticks feed on moose from mid-winter to early spring and can be a physiological tax on those moose that carry heavy tick loads. Again our survival study shows that the biggest impact by winter ticks has been on overwintering calves in our western study area. Overwintering calves in our northern study area have double the survival rates. Adult cows in both our western and northern study areas continue to have high annual survival rates.”

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What was the Houston Astros nickname in 1962, 1963, and 1964? – (Thank you Michael.)

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: It’s been a strange year weatherwise: but is a pattern developing?

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

It’s always a sad time of the year when we have to close up camp. That is a ritual my wife and I do every year on the last weekend of September. While taking a break during last Saturday’s “just gorgeous” day, we started to rehash the last six months.

It has been a strange summer, with many of the observations we discussed while sitting on the deck. It actually all started back in March and early April. It is said that a 40-year-old maple tree should produce approximately 10 gallons of sap to make maple syrup. I have two trees that I tap in my backyard. This year, those two trees produced 48 gallons of sap. Do the math, it doesn’t add up. They produced more than double what they should have produced.

Then, on to May. We didn’t realize it at the time, but later we would conclude that the black flies this year were not all that bad. And that was followed by a summer when mosquito numbers were down.

Another strange occurrence, we only saw three June bugs in late May and early June. This is compared to some years when, in one particular season, we counted 53 June bugs in one night.

We moved on from there, and noticed that the cicadaes, the insect that “sings” (buzzes) during the hot summer days of July. I, personally, did not hear one until July 26. Remember the old farmers folklore? From the day you first hear a cicadae, we will get the first killing frost 90 days from that time. However, that is not the problem. I probably heard cicadaes less than a half dozen times during the hot days of summer. Unusual. You normally hear them almost every sunny day.

How about the hickory tussock caterpillar? The fuzzy white one with the long black “feelers” that usually show up in abundance in August. If you just make incidental contact with them they can leave you with a rash. I have not seen one yet.

Wooly Bear caterpillar photographed on Sept. 7 at camp. (Photo by Roland Hallee)

Another caterpillar is the wooly bear, which usually predicts the severity of a winter depending on the length of the rust-colored bar on its body, and usually makes its appearance around early to mid September. So far, I have seen one, on the steps to our deck, and its rust-colored stripe was about equal to the black portions of its body. You usually see them crossing the road everywhere. Nothing, so far, this year, but that one.

Over the last couple of weeks, however, we have heard and seen an unusually large number of Canada geese settling on Webber Pond for their break before continuing south.

During August and September, we have gone through an unusually long, hot, dry spell. A time when we are pestered by yellow jackets who are in search of moisture. So far, nothing. I have seen a few small bumble bees going after the flowers’ nectar. But no yellow jackets. I haven’t even seen a nest.

For those of you who have taken vacation time to go leaf peeping, it’s not happening at the same time this year. Have you noticed that, here in early October, the trees have barely started to change colors. Most of the color you see is brown, which means the leaves are dead and will merely fall off the trees without changing to those spectacular colors. Also, if you own pine trees, which I have three, the needles have been falling in mass quantities all year. It’s impossible to keep up with them.

One other thing that remained constant were the hummingbirds arriving and departing on time, and being overrun by the harvestmen (daddy long legs).

Things, overall, just don’t seem right in 2018. But, following some research of my journal, I found we had a very similar summer in 2015. Maybe not as hot and humid, but very similar with respect to natural activities.

You can probably blame it on climate change; el Nino, el Nina or polar vortex, but it’s just not normal. However, two almost identical summers within a four-year span could spell the beginning of a pattern. I’ve heard many predictions on our upcoming winter. I don’t believe any of them. I will continue to get ready for a “Maine winter.” The oil tank is full, snowblower tuned up, and shovels ready to go. Are you?

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which Red Sox pitcher gave up the most career home runs?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Moose hunting season is underway; what is the status of the herd

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

The Maine moose hunting season is underway. It has not always been that way.

The moose hunting season was reintroduced in 1980 on an experimental basis, when 700 permits were issued to residents. At that time, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife estimated the moose population to be in the vicinity of 20,000 – 25,000 animals.

A campaign was begun in 1983 by a group of moose lovers to place the moose hunting question on a referendum ballot. The initiative failed. The legislature subsequently gave the DIF&W the authority to establish the number of moose permits handed out each year, while maintaining control of the moose lottery.

In 2002, for the first time in 21 years, state wildlife biologists recommended reducing the number of permits, for fear that the moose population may have been on the decline. There had been a high level of calf mortality with the culprit possibly being the tiny blood-sucking ticks that have become so numerous in recent years. Ticks killed more than half of the moose calves in northern New Hampshire during a peak year. It was feared the same was happening in Maine.

After expanding for most of the 20th century, the moose population of North America has been in steep decline since the 1990s. One solution to this problem is for the legislature to allot more funds so more research can be done regarding the density of the moose population. Something they have failed to do.

This year, Maine issued 2,500 moose hunting permits.

In northeastern North America, the moose’s history is very well documented: moose meat was often a staple in the diet of Native Americans going back centuries, with a tribe that occupied present day coastal Rhode Island giving the animal its name. The Native Americans often used moose hides for leather and its meat as an ingredient in a type of dried jerky used as a source of sustenance in winter or on long journeys. Eastern tribes also valued moose leather as a source for moccasins and other items.

The moose vanished in much of the eastern U.S. for as long as 150 years, due to colonial era over-hunting and destruction of habitat.

European rock drawings and cave paintings reveal that moose have been hunted since the Stone Age.

Moose are not usually aggressive towards humans, but can be provoked or frightened to behave with aggression. In terms of raw numbers, they attack more people than bears and wolves combined, but usually with only minor consequences.

When harassed or startled by people or in the presence of a dog, moose may charge. Also, as with bears or any wild animal, moose that have become used to being fed by people, may act aggressively when food is denied.

A bull moose, disturbed by the photographer, lowers its head and raises its hackles. Like any wild animal, moose are unpredictable. They are most likely to attack if annoyed or harassed, or if approached too closely. A moose that has been harassed may vent its anger on anyone in the vicinity, and they often do not make distinctions between their tormentors and innocent passers-by.

Moose also tend to venture out onto highways at night. In northern Maine, especially, moose-vehicle collisions are common. The problem with that is the center of mass of a moose is above the hood of most passenger cars. In a collision, the impact crushed the front roof beams and individuals in the front seats. Collisions of this type are frequently fatal; seat belts and airbags offer little protection. In collisions with higher vehicles, such as trucks, most of the deformation is to the front of the vehicle and the passenger compartment is largely spared.

Moose lack upper front teeth, but have eight sharp incisors on the lower jaw. They also have a tough tongue, lips and gums, which aid in eating woody vegetation. A moose’s upper lip is very sensitive, to help distinguish between fresh shoots and harder twigs. A moose’s diet often depends on its location, but they seem to prefer the new growths from deciduous trees with a high sugar content, such as white birch.

Moose also eat aquatic plants, including lilies and pondweed. (We could sure use a few of them on Webber Pond). Moose are excellent swimmers and are known to wade into water to eat aquatic plants. This trait serves a second purpose in cooling down the moose on summer days and ridding itself of black flies. Moose are thus attracted to marshes and river banks during warmer months as both provide suitable vegetation to eat and as a way to wet themselves down. Moose avoid areas with little or no snow as this increases the risk of predation by wolves and avoid areas with deep snow, as this impairs mobility.

So, moose are a vital commodity to Maine, and we must do what is necessary to preserve them, and continue to harvest them responsibly.

Can anyone answer this question? If you have a legal moose hunting permit, you are on your way to the hunt, and you collide with a moose and kill it – and you survive – does that count as your moose, or can you continue to the hunting zone and claim a second moose?

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

When was the last time the New England Patriots lost three games in a row?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Two different stink bugs; one good, one not so good

Left, brown marmorated stink bug, and right, the rough stink bug on my deck.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

There it was. On the deck in front of the barbecue grill. I’d seen something similar before, but that one was brown. This one was a bluish color.

A little wracking of the brain produced no results. It was time to ask my contacts at the state level.

Allison Kanoti, acting state entomologist with the Maine Forest Service, told me it was a Rough Stink Bug, Brochymena arborea. That jogged my memory. What I had seen before, which looked exactly alike, instead of the color, was a Marmorated stink but, which I wrote about in the November 15, 2017, column. They are similar, but different.

The brown marmorated stink bug is an invasive species and considered a serious crop pest. They were accidentally introduced in the United States from Asia. It is believed to have hitched a ride as a stow-away in packing crates or on various types of machinery, first appearing in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1996. Following its arrival, the brown marmorated stink bug spread quickly from state to state, and is now listed as a top invasive special of interest by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) since 2013. It is readily found in the eastern half of the U.S., as well as several western and southwestern states.

At first glance, the two stink bugs are easily confused. If you find large numbers of stink bugs in or around your residence, chances are it is the invader, not our natives.

So, how do you go about telling them apart. First, look at their antennae. The brown marmorated stink bug has white bands on the last two antennal segments. Rough stink bugs have no such contrasting markings on the antennae. Second, look at the leading edge of the top of the thorax, right behind the head. There are fine teeth along that edge in the rough stink bug, so it is not the brown marmorated.

Again, they are called stink bugs because they produce teeming amounts of foul-smelling fluid that is discharged if disturbed.

Rough stink bugs are very well camouflaged and closely resemble the color and texture of tree bark on which it lives.

The rough stink bugs are beneficial insects that control caterpillars and other insect pests. Before randomly destroying an insect, always attempt to identify it first, or at least determine whether it’s a beneficial or pest. No one wants to kill a perfectly good bug. However, since little is known about these insects of non-economic importance, they are suspected of feeding on the sap of host trees and shrubs Though there are persistent rumors they are occasionally predatory, and many true bugs are opportunistic predators or scavengers on other insects, this may not be a stretch.

Eggs are laid in small clusters, resembling a honeycomb, on twigs of trees, and the nymphs that hatch progress through four instars (an instar is the interval between molts) before reaching adulthood. Their development from egg to adult is surprisingly long, so there is but one generation produced annually.

Rough stink bugs have an ability to withstand the cold. BugEric, Eric R. Eaton, an expert in the field, said he once attempted to kill rough stink bugs by putting them in a container in the freezer. He thinks he left them there for about a week or so. When he took them, he found them coming back to life in a relatively short period of time.

Rough stink bugs are the prey of the sand wasp. The female stings the stink but into paralysis, and then flies it back to her nest burrow where she deposits it as food for her larval offspring. Birds are also recorded as predators of the stink bugs. It amazes me that any other creature could find them and make a meal out of them, but they do have enemies.

You can look for the rough stink bugs in spring and fall when they are emerging from, and entering, hibernation. You’ll have to look closely, though, given their camouflage.

I don’t know what that rough stink bug was doing that day on my deck, in broad daylight, but it is contrary of what is known about them, that they camouflage well, and are difficult to find because they are fewer in number than the brown marmorated stink bug. I just got lucky, I guess.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

The Red Sox ownership ventured in NASCAR racing in 2007. What was the name of the race team?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Is there anything in this world more annoying than a house fly?

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Is there anything in this world more annoying than a house fly? – well, maybe except for Fran Drescher.

We have seen an inordinate infestation of house flies this summer. At camp, they are uninvited guests to outdoor cookouts, and even find their way indoors to, again, annoy us to no end.

At the office, we had a fly hatch last week that rivaled the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day. Flies just buzzing around our heads, work stations, and even during lunch. Literally, hundreds and hundreds of flies.

The house fly, Musca domestica, is believed to have evolved in the Cenozoic* era, possibly in the Middle East, and has spread all over the world as a companion of humans. They are present in the Arctic Circle, as well as in the tropics. It is present on every continent.

The adults feed on a variety of liquid or semi-liquid substances, as well as solid materials which have been softened by their saliva. They can carry pathogens on their bodies and in their feces, contaminate food, and contribute to the transfer of food-borne illnesses. Add the fact they are physically annoying, they are considered pests.

Each female house fly can lay up to 500 eggs in a lifetime, in several batches of about 75 to 150. The eggs are white and are deposited by the fly in a suitable place, usually dead and decaying organic matter. Within a day, the larvae or maggot, hatch from the eggs. The larvae avoid light; the interiors of heaps of animal manure provide nutrient-rich sites and ideal growing conditions, warm, moist and dark.

At the end of their fourth instar, the larvae crawl to a dry, cool place and transform into pupae. Pupae complete their development in from two to six days in warmer climates, and up to 20 days in cooler areas. When the metamorphosis is complete, the adult fly emerges from the pupa. Having emerged, it ceases to grow; a small fly is not necessarily a young fly, but is instead the result of getting insufficient food during the larval stage.

Females normally mate only once and then reject further advances from males, while males mate multiple times.

House flies actually play an important ecological role in breaking down and recycling organic matter. Adults are mainly carnivors with their primary food being animal matter, carrion, and feces, but they also consume milk, sugary substances, and rotting fruits and vegetables.

Adult flies are durial (active during the day) and rest at night. If inside a building after dark, they tend to congregate on the ceilings. In cooler climates, they hibernate through the winter, emerging in the spring when the weather warms up, and search for a place to lay their eggs.

House flies have many predators, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, various insects and spiders.

Flies are definitely a nuisance, but they are disliked principally because of their habits of contaminating food. However, fly larvae are as nutritious as fish meal, and could be used to convert waste to feed for fish and livestock.

The ability of house fly larvae to feed and develop in a wide range of decaying organic matter is important for recycling of nutrients in nature. This could be exploited to combat ever-increasing amounts of waste. Harvested maggots could be used as feed for animal nutrition.

House flies can be controlled, to a certain extent, by physical, chemical or biological means.

Flies have been used in art and artifacts in many cultures.

In the early 20th century, Canadian public health workers believed the control of flies was important in controlling the spread of tuberculosis. Flies were targeted in 1916 when a polio epidemic broke out in the eastern United States. The disease control continued with the extensive use of insecticide spraying well into the mid-1950s.

During World War II, the Japanese worked on bombs which consisted of two compartments, one with houseflies and another with a bacterial slurry that coated the flies prior to release. Vibrio cholerae, which causes cholera, was the bacteria of choice, and was used in China in Boashan in 1942 and in northern Shandong in 1943. The ensuing epidemic killed 60,000 people initially, with a final count of 200,000 dead.

In the 1970s, the aircraft modeler Frank Ehlig constructed miniature balsa-wood aircraft powered by live houseflies. Studies with tethered house flies have helped in the understanding of insect vision, sensory perception and flight control.

Ogden Nash’s humorous two-line 1942 poem states: “God in His wisdom made the fly / And then forgot to tell us why.”

That seems to indicate the value of biodiversity, given that even those considered by humans as pests have their place in the world’s ecosystem.

*The Cenozoic Era, meaning “new life,” is the current and most recent of the three Phanerozoic geological eras, following the Mesozoic Era and extending from 66 million years ago to the present day. The Cenozoic is also known as the Age of Mammals, because the extinction of many groups allowed mammals to greatly diversify so that large mammals dominated it. The continents also moved into their current positions during this era. – Wikipedia.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which former Red Sox player was nicknamed “Rooster?”

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Crickets have had a place in cultures and societies for centuries

May the best cricket win! Grappling male crickets fighting for dominance.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

I’ve always been interested in folklore. It is intriguing how older generations and cultures came up with them, with most dealing with nature.

While sitting around a campfire with friends last Saturday, we heard a cricket chirp in the distance. One of the friends, we’ll call her Lauri, groaned at the sound. “What’s the matter?” I asked. Lauri responded, “Hearing a cricket means the end of summer.”

Interesting!

Well, my curiosity got the best of me. I started asking many acquaintances, friends, family and whoever else would listen: Had they ever heard of that folklore? The answer has been “no” every time. One thing I failed to ask Lauri was where she had heard that. It probably is an old wives tale or something, just like the cicada predicting the first killing frost in the fall, or the wooly bear caterpillar forecasting the severity of a winter.

Crickets, from the family Gryllidaeare

Crickets, family Gryllidaeare, are found in all parts of the world, except in cold regions at higher latitudes. They are also found in many habitats, upper tree canopies, in bushes, and among grasses and herbs. They also exist on the ground, in caves, and some are subterranean, excavating shallow or deep burrows. Some live in rotting wood, and some will even run and jump over the surface of water. They are related to the bush crickets, and more distantly, to grasshoppers.

Crickets are relatively defenseless. Most species are nocturnal and spend the day hidden. They burrow to form temporary shelters, and fold their antennae to conceal their presence. Other defensive strategies are camouflage, fleeing and aggression. Some have developed colorings that make them difficult to see by predators who hunt by sight.

Male crickets make a loud chirping sound by scraping two specially textured limbs together. This organ is located on the fore wing. Most females lack the necessary parts to stridulate, so they make no sound.

Crickets chirp at different rates depending on their species and the temperature of their environment. Most species chirp at higher rates the higher the temperature. The relationship between temperature and the rate of chirping is known as Dolbear’s law. According to this law, counting the number of chirps produced in 14 seconds by the snowy tree cricket, common in the United States, and adding 40 will approximate the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.

Some crickets, such as the ground cricket, are wingless. Others have small fore wings and no hind wings, others lack hind wings and have shortened fore wings in females only, while others have hind wings longer than the fore wings. Probably, most species with hind wings longer than fore wings engage in flight.

Crickets have relatively powerful jaws, and several species have been known to bite humans.

Male crickets establish their dominance over each other by aggression. They start by slashing each other with their antennae and flaring their mandibles. Unless one retreats at this stage, they resort to grappling, at the same time each emitting calls that are quite unlike those uttered in other circumstances. Once one achieves dominance, is sings loudly, while the defeated remains silent.

Crickets have many natural enemies. They are eaten by large numbers of vertebrate and invertebrate predators and their hard parts are often found during the examination of animal intestines.

The folklore and mythology surrounding crickets is extensive. The singing of crickets in the folkore of Brazil and elsewhere is sometimes taken to be a sign of impending rain. In Alagoas state, northeast Brazil, a cricket announces death, thus it is killed if it chirps indoors, while in Barbados, a loud cricket means money is coming, hence the cricket must not be killed or evicted if it chirps inside the house.

In literature, the French entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre’s popular Souvenirs Entomoloquques devotes a whole chapter to the cricket. Crickets have also appeared in poetry. William Wordsworth’s 1805 poem, The Cottager to Her Infant includes the lines, “The kitten sleeps upon the hearth, The crickets long have ceased their mirth.” John Keats’ 1819 poem Ode to Autumn, includes the lines, “Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft, the redbreast whistles from a garden-croft.” Could this be from where that folkore about the end of summer comes?

Crickets are kept as pets and are considered good luck in some countries. In China, they are kept in cages specially created. The practice is also common in Japan, and has been for thousands of years. Cricket fighting is a traditional Chinese pastime that dates back to the Tang dynasty (618-907). It was originally a common indulgence for emperors, but later became popular with commoners. (I hope Vince McMahon doesn’t read this!)

While serving in the Army in Southeast Asia from 1968-69 (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam), I learned that crickets are commonly eaten as a snack, prepared by deep frying the soaked and cleaned insects. In Thailand, there are 20,000 farmers rearing crickets, with an estimated production of 7,500 tons per year. No, I didn’t try them.

And, of course, in popular culture, we have Walt Disney’s Jiminy Cricket in the 1940 film Pinocchio, and in the 1998 film Mulan, Cri-kee is carried in a cage as a symbol of good luck.

In the media, the sound of crickets is often used to emphasize silence, often for comic effect after an awkward joke.

I’ll bet you didn’t think crickets had such a valued place in societies and cultures for centuries.

Roland’s trivia questions of the week:

Is Jim Rice the all-time Red Sox home run leader among right-handed batters?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Cicadas: they’re everywhere, you just can’t see them

Annual cicada photographed by Jayne Winters, of South China, taken last summer at her camp on Sebec Lake.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

While browsing through some old emails recently, I noticed one that I had planned to respond to, but as often happens, I was sidetracked and never got back to it. It was an email with photos of cicadas with an inquiry. I apologize to that person for not getting to this sooner.

Cicadas are green bugs, usually one to two inches in length with prominent eyes set wide apart, short antennae and clear wings. They have an exceptionally loud song, produced not by stridulation (making shrill or chirping sounds by rubbing certain body parts together), but by vibrating drumlike tymbals rapidly.

The “singing’ of male cicadas is not stridulation such as many familiar species of insects produce, like crickets, for example. Instead, male cicadas have a resilin structure call a tymbal below each side of the anterior abdominal region. Contraction of internal muscles buckles the tymbals inwards, thereby producing a click; on relaxation of the muscles, the tymbals return to their original position, producing another click. By rapidly vibrating these membranes, a cicada combines the clicks into apparently continuous notes. Only the males “sing.” However, both males and females have membranous structures called tympana by which they detect sounds, the equivalent of having ears.

Cicada found by Stan Ludzko, of Gardner, Massachusetts, during a stay at Green Valley Campground, in Vassalboro, in 2012

To the human ear, it is often difficult to tell precisely where a cicada’s song originates. The pitch is nearly constant, the sound is continuous to the human ear, and cicadas sing in scattered groups.

The question posed was as to whether it was a periodic cicada, which spend most of their lives as underground nymph, emerging only after 13 to 17 years. This may reduce losses by starving their predators and eventually emerging in huge numbers that overwhelm and satiate any remaining predators.

At least 3,000 cicada species are distributed worldwide with the majority of them being in the tropics. Most are restricted to a single biogeographical region and many species have a very limited range.

Many of North American species are in the genus Neotibicen: the annual or jar fly or dog-day cicadas (so named because they emerge in late July and August). The best-known North American genus, however, Magicicada, have an extremely long life cycle of 13 – 17 years, suddenly and briefly emerging in large numbers.

After mating, the female cuts slits into the bark of a twig where she deposits her eggs. When the eggs hatch, the newly-hatched nymphs drop to the ground and burrow. Cicadas live underground as nymphs for most of their lives at depths down to about eight feet. Nymphs have strong front legs for digging and excavating chambers in close proximity to roots where they feed on xylem sap (the woody vascular tissue of a plant). In the process, their bodies and interior of the burrow become coated with anal fluids. In wet habitats, larger species construct mud towers above ground in order to aerate their burrows. In the final instar, they construct an exit tunnel to the surface and emerge. They then molt (shed their skins) on a nearby plant for the last time, and emerge as adults. The exoskeleton remains, still clinging to the bark of the tree.

The long life cycles may have developed as a response to predators, such as the cicada killer wasp and praying mantis. A specialist predator with a shorter life cycle of at least two years could not reliably prey upon the cicadas.

an internet photo of an annual cicada

Other predators include bats, spiders and robber flies. Cicadas are fast flyers and can escape if disturbed, and they are well camouflaged. They are difficult to find by birds that hunt by sight.

Cicadas have been featured in literature since the time of Homer’s Iliad. They are also mentioned in Chinese and Japanese literature. Cicadas are also a frequent subject of haiku, where, depending on type, they can indicate spring, summer or autumn.

Cicadas have been used as money, in folk medicine, to forecast the weather, to provide song (in China), and in folklore and myths around the world.

Cicadas feed on sap; they do not bite or sting in a true sense, but may occasionally mistake a person’s arm for a plant limb and attempt to feed. They are not a major agricultural pest but in some outbreak years, trees may be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of females laying their eggs in the shoots.

The periodical cicada, which takes 13-17 years to emerge, does not exist in Maine. The Maine cicadas are the annual or dog-day species, which emerge in late July and August. It is common to discover a cicada’s shed exoskeleton on a tree (in Maine, at least) than it is to find an actual cicada. That it because they are strong fliers that spend their time high in the trees, so without the mass emergences that take place in other regions of the country, one is not very likely to encounter one in Maine very often, making them a thing of curiosity for anyone unfamiliar with them.

I have seen cicadas at my camp, but only on a few occasions.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

In 2017, Cory Kluber, of the Cleveland Indians, was named AL Cy Young Award winner. Who was second in the balloting?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The poor, misunderstood, unappreciated brown bat

 

brown bat

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

While sitting around a campfire with family last weekend, the conversation, for some insane reason, resorted to bats, and the many myths and misbeliefs attached to them.

Bats have long been maligned by humans, a taboo, a creature to be shunned. These little furry animals that fly seemed to be half bird, half mammal, and looked ugly – which they are.

But today, they are being given their proper recognition as valuable to mankind in the ecological system. Many plants, such as bananas, are dependent on bats for pollination because they bloom at night. Bats are responsible for 95 percent of the reforestation of the tropical rain forest through their dispersal of seeds.

Their immediate appeal to most people is their enormous capacity for consuming insects. A nocturnal animal, bats eat when the insects are out, as opposed to birds, which eat during the day. Some bat species consume half their weight in a night – as many as 600 or more gnat-sized insects an hour.

A single little brown bat, Myotis lucifugas or a big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus, some of the most abundant and widespread bats in North America, can eat 3,000 to 7,000 mosquitoes each night, and a bat can live to be 20 years old. That’s a pretty effective insecticide, especially when you consider that it doesn’t poison other creatures or make holes in the ozone layer.

Bats are also misunderstood creatures that are generally quite harmless to people. They do not become entangled in your hair, nor do they attack humans. Contrary to misconceptions, disease transmission from bats to people is easily avoided. Never handle bats, and the odds of being harmed will be extremely remote.

Over the last 40 years, public health records show that only 16 people in the United States and Canada have died of bat-borne diseases. That means the odds of anyone dying from a bat bite are pretty slim.

In the Orient these gentle animals are symbols of good luck, long life and happiness. They are meticulous in their grooming, spending a fair part of the day and night combing and grooming their fur.

When bats fly, they navigate by means of a sophisticated echo location system. The bats send out signals of sound energy, which are reflected back, giving it the location of an object as well as its texture and other characteristics. They can avoid a single human hair with extreme accuracy, even in total darkness, contrary to the myth that bats are blind.

Macrobats like the large fruit bats love to eat ripe fruits. As the seeds pass through them, they spread them all over the forest. A fruit bat can disperse thousands of seeds to help replant the forests they live in. Unfortunately, with the loss of rain forests, these bats are endangered because of loss of habitat.

Bats also help farmers. Microbats eat mosquitoes, moths, locust and grasshoppers. Such bugs can destroy crops and spread disease. The American farmer’s biggest pest is the corn earworm moth. One bat can eat 20 female moths a night, reducing the number of crop eating caterpillars.

And, forget everything you’ve ever heard about vampire bats. Vincent Price and Boris Karloff, in their vampire movies, did a lot to give the bats a bad reputation.

There are lots of stories about vampire bats that drink blood. Vampire bats do exist, but are three species out of about 1,000 from the bat family. They mostly live in South America – not Transylvania – and feed on the blood of farm animals. A vampire bat does not suck blood. They usually walk up to the animal while they are asleep, and use their sharp teeth to puncture the skin and lick the blood. Their saliva has a blood thinning chemical that scientists are studying.

So, you see, all the bad rap is unfair. The bat is actually a friend, not a foe.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Mookie Betts recently hit for the cycle in a game; Brock Holt did it in 2015. Who was the last Red Sox player to do it before?

Answer can be found here.