SCORES & OUTDOORS: The unfair resources of today’s “great game hunter”

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

When I was having my usual morning coffee and Danish at a local coffee shop last week following Sunday Mass, I happened to look up at a wide-screen television mounted on the wall to notice an outdoor show. It was your typical show, sponsored by outfitters, outdoor equipment companies and the opinions of various “expert” hunters.

The reason the show caught my attention was the way they were going about hunting. I remember the days when I was an avid hunter (my wife says I have since “lost the thrill of the hunt”), we used to have our favorite spots, get out early in the morning on a full stomach, brave the weather conditions and have great expectations for the outcome at the end of the hunt. It was the hunter vs the hunted. A classic exercise in who could out think, out maneuver or outwit the other. It was wild game hunting at its best. You needed to possess the skills to pursue your prey in its own environment, both parties equipped with all the instincts Mother Nature provided.

I can remember a couple of those adventures when the animal actually out-smarted me – something my wife says is easy to do (her opinion). I once followed a deer through the snow for many hundreds of yards, never catching sight of him, but I could hear him snorting up ahead of me, and hearing his antlers rattling against tree limbs. I followed him until we crossed our original tracks, and he actually passed through two conifers without disturbing a snowflake on the boughs. That was when I knew I was outwitted.

And that’s not to mention, probably, how many times I may have walked right past a deer and not noticed it was even there. They don’t have the nickname “swamp ghost” for nothing. They have this uncanny ability to disappear once they hit the tree line. Have you ever noticed while driving, when you may see a deer either in the road or on the shoulder, and it turns into the woods. As you pass by, try to locate it. They do seem to disappear.

On one day in particular, after having worked the night shift, I headed into the woods at sun up. I found a nice tree and sat down on the ground facing east, and soaked in the warmth of the sun. I fell asleep. I don’t know for how long, but my hunting partner eventually came along and told me a herd of deer could have walked right past me and I wouldn’t have noticed. Those are the stories you don’t forget.

Oh, by the way, I went home without a deer that day.

But that was then.

Today, it just isn’t fair. Here, on this show, they had hunters gathering on game farms, splashed with deer urine scent like it was Aqua Velva, equipped with global positioning equipment, calling the deer with artificial devices. Once the deer was lured, they employed a computerized gauge to calculate the distance to the target, refer to another hand-held instrument to measure the direction and velocity of the wind before finally sighting in the prey. Mounted on top of their high powered rifle was a scope capable of seeing a gnat’s tonsils at 200 yards.

The deer didn’t stand a chance. The only thing the hunters didn’t have were laser guided ammunition or “smart” bullets. After they dispatched the animal, they would break into a wild celebration. What’s with that?

If, after the use of all that sophisticated equipment, you didn’t come home with a deer that was essentially caged, you should be embarrassed to the point of taking up bowling. The whole episode was like shooting fish in a barrel.

So, I’ve decided that a money-making venture would be to make available to deer: human motion sensors, rear view mirrors, bullet proof vests, space-aged unpenetrable deflector shields a-la Star Trek, and laser guided bullet defense systems. After all, it’s only fair.

Remember the old saying, “We believe in the right to arm bears?” Well, the same could be said about deer.


As of this writing, the Boston Bruins, Boston Celtics and New England Patriots are all in first place in their respective league divisions. Let’s keep track and see how long it lasts.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the seven NFL teams with the initials of their cities on the side of their helmets.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Squirrels in the compost pile

Noisy, plentiful acorns; obscure beech nuts

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

While preparing breakfast last Saturday, I glanced out the kitchen window towards my recently cleaned up garden plot. As I looked around I noticed some movement, and commented to my wife: “I think I have a title for a new country song, ‘There’s a squirrel in the compost pile.’”

I’m not sure how that translates to pickup trucks, bass boats and lost loves, but I’m sure it has a place in there somewhere.

Anyway, that prompted me to ask myself what could be in the compost that would interest a squirrel. After all, it has nothing more than plant stems, vines from squashes and various roots and stalks. There were a few tiny, fledgling fruits from these items that didn’t have a chance to mature, but that would be it.

Then my mind rewound to the recently closed down camp, and the food sources out there. Nearby there is a large oak tree and a mature, but fairly young beech tree. Most of you have probably heard acorns when they fall from the trees, and land on something substantive. They sound like gunfire, exploding bombs or branches falling. They make quite a loud noise. The presence of Beech nuts, on the other hand, are hardly even noticeable.

Wildlife that consume acorns as an important part of their diets includes birds, such as jays, pigeons, some ducks and several species of woodpeckers. Small mammals include mice, squirrels and several other rodents – ahh, squirrels. Large mammals include pigs, bears, and deer. Acorns are in high demand.

Acorns are attractive to animals because they are large and efficiently consumed or cached. They are rich in nutrients and contain large amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats, as well as calcium, phosphorus and potassium, and the vitamin niacin.

Acorns are too heavy for wind dispersal, so the spreading of the seed is dependent on animals like the squirrels who cache the nuts for future use. Squirrels scatter-hoard the acorns in a variety of locations in which it is possible for them to germinate and thrive. On occasion, the odd acorn may be lost, or the squirrel may die before consuming all the acorns it has stored. A small number of acorns may germinate and survive, producing the next generation of oak trees.

As far as humans go, acorns have frequently been used as a coffee substitute. The Confederates in the American Civil War and the Germans during World War II, which were cut off from coffee supplies by Union and Allied blockades, respectively, are particularly notable past instances of this use of acorns.

As far as the beech nuts go, again going back to camp and the beech tree near our site, there doesn’t seem to be much activity by squirrels in the area of the tree. Of course, the beech nut seems to defy gravity. It is a small nut with soft-spined husks. Although it is high in tannin content, they are bitter. The nut can be extracted by peeling back the husk, but your fingers may hurt dealing with the spines. Maybe that is why they are not that attractive to squirrels.

Nowhere in all my research did I find any reference to wildlife that feast on the beech nut.

Beech trees are better known for other things than producing a source of food. The Beech bark is extremely thin and scars easily. Carvings, such as lovers’ initials, remain because the beech tree is unable to heal itself.

On a different note, slats of Beech wood are washed in a caustic soda to leach out any flavor and is used in the bottom of fermentation tanks for Budweiser beer. This allows a surface for the yeast to settle, so that it doesn’t pile up too deep. Beech is also used to smoke Westphalian ham, various sausages and some cheeses.

The American beech tree occurs only in the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. It is believed that it was found coast to coast prior to the Ice Age. Now they can only be found east of the Great Plains. You will rarely find the beech tree in developed areas unless it is a left over of a forest that was cut for land development.

The beech tree is also temperamental. Some trees never produce nuts while others only spawn edible nuts in certain years.

So what was that squirrel – I could not discern whether it was Martha or Stewart, my two resident rodents – looking for that day? Probably just window shopping.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

With the World Series going past October in recent years, who was the first MLB player to hit a home run in November?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Moose hunting returned following a long absence

A bull moose.

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. In 2007, a wildlife ecologist estimated the moose population for New England and New York to be in the range of 50,000 animals.

A campaign was began 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. Populations expanded greatly with improved habitat and protection, but for unknown reasons, the moose population is declining.

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: Lady bug, lady bug, fly away home…

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

That is the beginning of the popular child’s rhyme about lady bugs. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Many years ago, when our kids were growing up, we did a lot of camping in our popup camper. Every year, after the campgrounds closed, usually on Columbus Day weekend, we would take our “last picnic of the year.”

Last week, our daughter called and wanted to do that again. It was a little strange request seeing that she is 48 years old. Maybe it was the anticipation of the empty nest syndrome seeing that her youngest child is a senior at Waterville High School, and will be leaving after the school year to pursue her education.

So, my wife and I agreed. It was just a matter of where we would go with limited time on our hands. We decided on Blueberry Hill, in Mt. Vermon. From there, we could have our picnic, and take in the brilliant foliage from that vantage point. Looking east, you can see Great Pond and Long Pond, along with miles and miles of colorful fall leaves.

While there, we were infested with lady bugs. They were swarming around us, landing everywhere on us. As we tried to flick them off more would come. As we were leaving, they also were inside the car.

We finally decided to go to Lemieux’ Orchard, in North Vassalboro. My wife wanted to make an apple pie for our trip to Vermont this coming weekend, and some homemade apple sauce.

While there, the lady bugs made their appearance. They were everywhere, also. I ran into an old friend and we began talking. He also commented on the lady bugs.

The family is commonly known as lady bugs in North America, and ladybirds in Britain. Entomologists prefer the name ladybird beetles as these insects are not classified as true bugs.

The majority are generally considered useful insects, because many species prey on herbivorous insects such as aphids or scale insects, which are agricultural pests. The lady bug, or ladybirds, are only minor agricultural pests, eating the leaves of grain, potatoes, beans and various other crops, but their numbers can increase explosively in years when their natural enemies, such as parasitoid wasps that attack their eggs, are few. In such situations, they can do major crop damage. They occur in practically all the major crop-producing regions of temperate and tropical countries.

The lady bugs usually begin to appear indoors in the autumn when they leave their summer feeding sites in fields, forests and yards, and search out places to spend the winter. Typically, when temperatures warm to the mid-60s F, in the late afternoon, following a period of cooler weather, they will swarm onto or into buildings illuminated by the sun. Swarms fly to buildings in September through November depending on location and weather conditions. Homes or other buildings near fields or woods are particularly prone to infestation.

A common myth, totally unfounded, is that the number of spots on the insect’s back indicates its age. In fact, the underlying pattern and coloration are determined by the species and genetics of the beetle, and develop as the insect matures. In some species its appearance is fixed by the time it emerges from its pupa, though in most it may take some days for the color of the adult beetle to mature and stabilize.

The harlequin ladybird, is an example of how an animal might be partly welcome and partly harmful. It was introduced into North American, from Asia, in 1916 to control aphids, but is now the most common species, out-competing many of the native species. It has since spread to much of western Europe, reaching the United Kingdom in 2004. It has become something of a domestic and agricultural pest in some regions, and gives cause for ecological concern. It has similarly arrived in parts of Africa, where it has proved unwelcome, perhaps most prominently in vine-related crops.

It does explain something, maybe. As we have discussed before, toward the end of the summer, particularly in September, we were inundated with parasitoid wasps at camp, and saw no lady bugs. On Blueberry Hill, we saw plenty of lady bugs, but no wasps. We have yet to see a lady bug in our house this fall.

So, what about that rhyme? Here goes:

Lady bug, lady bug, fly away home;
Your house is on fire and your children are gone;
All except one, and that’s Little Anne;
For she has crept under the warming pan.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Of the four remaining teams in the MLB playoffs, which team has never won a World Series?

For the answer, click here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Can we foretell the upcoming winter?

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

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Well, we’re coming up on the middle of October, and time to take a look at what Mother Nature has provided to us in regards to a preview of the upcoming winter.

Brrrr! Dread the thought!

During the summer and fall, our little critters, and even our vegetation, provides us with a glimpse of what we may be in store come the winter months.

Now, let’s make it clear. All of the following are according to farmers’ folklore. I looked up the word “lore” in the dictionary, and this is what I came up with: “All the knowledge of a particular group or having to do with a particular subject, especially that of a traditional nature.” Apparently, these are the result of many years of farmers keeping track of conditions involving their fields and crops.

First, it’s the old wives tale about the beloved onion. The lore goes that if an onion is difficult to peel, it is a sign of an impending harsh winter. If the onion peels easily, we can expect a milder winter. Notice I said, “milder.”

So far this summer, I have noticed that onions have been relatively easy to peel. My wife and I eat lots of onions, so this is more than just a small sample size.

Hornets nest in tree

Next comes those dreaded hornets and wasps. Farmers’ folklore has it that ground hives signify a low snowfall. Well, we went through this a couple of weeks ago when I told of the problem we had at camp this fall with yellow jacket hives in the ground. We had at least four that we knew about this summer, when action had to be taken to alleviate the problem.

However, during our close-down weekend at camp, we were again pestered with a multitude of yellow jackets, indicating there was another hive nearby. We never found it.

Yellow jackets ground nest

Contributing to that theory is the hornets nest I saw last week. A nest, the size of a honeydew melon, hung on a branch, low on a tree, probably about six feet or so off the ground. Not very high for a hornets nest.

With so many nests in the ground and the one hanging low on a tree branch, that, supposedly, indicates low snowfall. Wouldn’t mind that, even if I do have the snowblower tuned up and ready to go.

Another sign that the impending winter will be on the mild side has a little bit of controversy.

The wooly bear caterpillar. That darling, little fuzzy insect that usually comes out in mid-September. I have seen only a few, but they all have been on the highway, where I can’t get a really good look at them.

I did see one last weekend at camp, and the results were not favorable. However, there is another side to that story.

Now, I am sure everyone has heard the myth that the length of the rust-colored band on a wooly bear tells of how severe or mild the winter. If the rust-colored band dominates the body, it will be a mild winter.

Banded Wooly Bear Caterpillar

The wooly bear I saw measured 1-5/8 inches long. An inch of that length was black, while the rust-colored band measured only 5/8-inch. That’s telling me the winter will be a little on the bad side. However, other people have told me the wooly bears they have seen were predominantly rust-colored. I hope mine was the flunky of the wooly bears.

Finally, the cicadae. That is the green, grasshopper-looking insect that buzzes during the hot, steamy, humid days of July. Farmers’ folklore has it that the first killing frost of the season will occur 90 days following the first sound of the cicadae, after the full moon. The first time we heard the cicadae this summer was on July 26. Count out 90 days, that brings us to October 26. With the full moon happening on October 28, you can expect the first heavy frost to take place after that date.

Now, just for giggles, let’s throw in the Farmers Almanac. According to them, the first sight of snow should come around mid-November, but only as flurries. Through December, it is calling for some wet snow and rain, with some wintery mix. They do predict a white Christmas. But again, no serious snowfalls. Their first significant snow event is predicted during the second week of January 2020.

Do we dare look any further?

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which player holds the NFL record for most points scored in a single game.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Take precautions against browntail moth hairs when working outdoors

Left, hickory tussock caterpillar. Right, hickory tussock tiger moth.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Last weekend while closing camp for the season, I had an encounter with the hickory tussock caterpillar. Although I didn’t touch it, but merely flicked it off a cleaning bottle, I think I stirred up its hairs and came down with a mild rash on my forearm. It lasted a little over a day.

Later in the week, I heard complaints from other people who have mysteriously developed a rash on their forearms or legs. That led me to thinking they had probably come in contact with the hickory tussock or, even more possible, the browntail moth caterpillar.

A couple of days ago, I received a press release from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Maine Forest Service, about the browntail moth caterpillar.

At this time, I will share that news release with you.

browntail moth caterpillar

Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC), Maine Forest Service (MFS), and 211 Maine remind the public that browntail moth hairs remain in the environment and can get stirred up during fall yardwork. Tiny hairs shed by the caterpillars can cause a skin reaction similar to poison ivy. They can also cause trouble breathing and other respiratory problems.

The caterpillars are active from April to late June/early July.

“While browntail moth caterpillars might not be as noticeable at this time of the year, their hairs remain toxic and in the environment for one to three years,” said Maine CDC Director Nirav D. Shah. “It is important that Mainers take the proper prevention measures when working outside this fall.”

The hairs can lose toxicity over time. Hairs blow around in the air and fall onto leaves and brush. Mowing, raking, sweeping, and other activities can cause the hairs to become airborne and result in skin and breathing problems.

To protect yourself from browntail moth hairs while working outdoors:

  • Wear a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, goggles, a dust mask/respirator, a hat and disposable coveralls.
  • Rake or mow when the ground is wet to prevent hairs from becoming airborne.
  • Cover your face and tightly secure clothing around the neck, wrists, and ankles.
  • Do not rake, mow the lawn, or use leaf blowers on dry days.
  • Use pre-contact poison ivy wipes to help reduce hairs sticking into exposed skin.
  • Take extra care when working under decks or in other areas that are sheltered from rain.
  • Take cool showers and change clothes after outdoor activities to wash off any loose hairs.
  • Use caution with firewood stored in areas with browntail moths, especially when bringing it indoors.

Most people affected by the hairs develop a localized rash that lasts for a few hours up to several days. In more sensitive people, the rash can be severe and last for weeks. Hairs can also cause trouble breathing, and respiratory distress from inhaling the hairs can be serious. The rash and difficulty breathing result from both a chemical reaction to a toxin in the hairs and a physical irritation as the barbed hairs become stuck in the skin and airways.

There is no specific treatment for the rash or breathing problems caused by browntail moth hairs. Treatment is focused on relieving symptoms.

For more information:

I know that some of the suggestions of what to wear when doing yard work, or when to do it, doesn’t quite fit into your routine or schedule, but there is the old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who was the last Boston Red Sox left handed pitcher to win 20 games in a season?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Dealing with those pesky underground terrorists

Many people confuse yellow jackets and hornets. Pictured at left is a yellow jacket, and a hornet on the right.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

A few weeks back, I wrote about how strange this past summer has been (see The Town Line, August 15, 2019). My research also revealed that I wrote a similar column back in 2015. Is there a pattern developing?

Anyway, one of the things I mentioned was the lack of bees this past summer. Well, I was raked over the coals by fellow campers this past weekend when we were swarmed with yellow jackets. We could not enjoy the outdoors during the day because these little monsters were everywhere, trying to find anything that contained liquid. Due to the recent dry spell, they are looking for anything sweet with sugars.

Searching, we found four ground nests of yellow jackets. That is a good sign in itself. More on that later. Now, it was what to do about it.

That is one of the things I am on the fence about. I don’t want to destroy the hives, nor kill the bees, who are declining in numbers. On the other hand, they are annoying, and pose a danger to anyone who might accidentally come upon the hive, especially those allergic to a bee sting.

I have come to refer to these yellow jackets as underground terrorists.

Over the course of the last week, we have closed up the hives, hoping the bees will find somewhere else to go. Of course, there was some collateral damage.

With one hive left, I sprayed it on Sunday evening, right around dusk, the time when all the bees are back in the hive for the evening, so there is no activity around the opening. I checked on it Monday morning, and saw where there was still some activity. I didn’t spray on Monday evening because of the threat of rain.

Tuesday morning delivered the surprise. When I went to check on the hive, it had been completely dug up with the honeycomb exposed. Obviously the work of a skunk.

Skunks will dig up in-ground hives for the honeycomb. Their thick, tough skin makes them immune to bee stings.

Yellow jacket is the common name in North America for predatory social wasps. Members of these genera are known simply as “wasps” in other English-speaking countries. Most of these are black and yellow like the eastern yellow jacket and the aerial yellow jacket; some are black and white like the bald-faced hornet. Others may have the abdomen background color red instead of black. They can be identified by their distinctive markings, their occurrence only in colonies, and a characteristic, rapid, side-to-side flight pattern prior to landing. All females are capable of stinging.

Yellow jackets are important predators of pest insects. Yellow jackets may be confused with other wasps, such as hornets. A typical yellow jacket worker is about half an inch long, with alternating bands on the abdomen; the queen is larger, about three-quarters of an inch long.

Yellow jackets are sometimes mistakenly called “bees, ”given that they are similar in size and general coloration to honey bees, but yellow jackets are actually wasps. In contrast to honey bees, yellow jackets have yellow or white markings, are not covered with tan-brown dense hair on their bodies, do not carry pollen, and do not have the flattened hairy hind legs used to carry it.

Yellow jackets have lance-like stingers with small barbs, and typically sting repeatedly, though occasionally a stinger becomes lodged and pulls free of the wasp’s body; the venom, like most bee and wasp venoms, is primarily only dangerous to humans who are allergic or are stung many times.

Yellow jackets are social hunters living in colonies containing workers, queens, and males (drones). Colonies are annual with only inseminated queens overwintering. Fertilized queens are found in protected places such as in hollow logs, in stumps, under bark, in leaf litter, in soil cavities, and in man-made structures. Queens emerge during the warm days of late spring or early summer, select a nest site, and build a small paper nest in which they lay eggs. After the eggs hatch from the 30 to 50 brood cells, the queen feeds the young larvae for about 18 to 20 days. Larvae pupate, then emerge later as small, infertile females called workers. Workers in the colony take over caring for the larvae, feeding them with chewed up meat or fruit. By midsummer, the first adult workers emerge and assume the tasks of nest expansion, foraging for food, care of the queen and larvae, and colony defense.

From this time until her death in the autumn, the queen remains inside the nest, laying eggs. The colony then expands rapidly, reaching a maximum size of 4,000 to 5,000 workers and a nest of 10,000 to 15,000 cells in late summer.

The diet of the adult yellow jacket consists primarily of items rich in sugars and carbohydrates, such as fruits, flower nectar, and tree sap. Larvae feed on proteins derived from insects, meats, and fish, which are collected by the adults, which chew and condition them before feeding them to the larvae. Many of the insects collected by the adults are considered pest species, making the yellow jacket beneficial to agriculture. Larvae, in return, secrete a sugar material to be eaten by the adults. In late summer, foraging workers pursue other food sources from meats to ripe fruits, or scavenge human garbage, sodas, picnics, etc., as additional sugar is needed to foster the next generation’s queens.

As mentioned earlier, finding multiple ground nests is a good sign, according to old farmers’ folklore. Finding nests in the ground is an indicator of low snowfall for the upcoming winter. We’ll wait to see if that is the case.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which two Boston Red Sox players each had over 30 homers and 50 doubles this season. The first time that has happened in Red Sox franchise history.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: An ugly, scary looking wasp that isn’t so scary, after all

Left, a giant ichneumon wasp photographed at a camp in Glenburn, and right, a pigeon horntail wasp.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

A little while ago, the pastor at my church sent a photo to me of a bug he spotted at his camp. It was a scary looking bug that neither of us had ever seen before. It was yellow in color, had long legs and a long protruding appenditure that resembled a stinger.

So, it was time to call on my friends at the Maine Forest Service for some input. Here is what we found.

The bug is called the Giant Ichneumon Wasp, Megarhyssa macrurus.

There are several different species of Ichneumon Wasps, each with its own color variations. Some are black and yellow, others reddish and striped. All have the Ichneumon Wasps body shape: a thin waist and an abdomen longer than the rest of the body.

Females have a long, needle-like ovipositor which is often mistaken as a stinger. The sturdy ovipositor acts like a syringe, injecting eggs deep into wood (live trees or logs) where the larvae will feed on any other insect larvae already deposited there. It is not uncommon to see females poking around wood in an attempt to find a good place to deposit her eggs. Males do not have the ovipositor so their abdomen are shorter. Both genders are still wasps, however. Despite their large size and being “wasps” these are harmless to humans and unable to sting.

Giant Ichneumon Wasps tend to live in wooded areas and throughout all of North America, though they do stay away from arid and hot desert regions and scarcely treed central plains.

Ichneumon Wasp adults do not eat at all. Larvae are parasites of Pigeon Horntail larvae, another type of wasp that deposits eggs in wood. The Ichneumon wasp larvae will hatch and feed on the Horntail Wasp larvae.

When an insect develops on a single host, and kills the host in the process, it is called a parasitoid. Parasites, on the other hand, tend to nibble on their hosts without killing them. And predators kill more than one of their prey items.

The giant ichneumon wasp is a parasitoid, notable for its extremely long ovipositor which it uses to deposit an egg into a tunnel in dead wood bored by its host, the larva of a similarly large species of horntail. Another of its common names is stump stabber, referring to its behavior.

When a parasitoid kills its host, it can indeed be a gruesome sight. Typically, an adult female parasitoid lays an egg on the surface of, or into the body of, a living larva of another insect. When the egg hatches, the parasitoid proceeds to consume the host, piece by piece. Like a cat with a mouse, it keeps its victim alive as long as possible. Dead larvae rot quickly, and this makes the meal less attractive. First the parasitoid eats the fat bodies of the larva, then the digestive organs, keeping the heart and central nervous system intact for as long as possible. Finally, they are eaten as well and the long-suffering victim dies, leaving an empty caterpillar shell.

The slow death inflicted by parasitoids that attack other insects tested the concept of a benevolent God for 19th century theologians who discussed this practice at length. Even Darwin had trouble with the largest parasitoid family as he wrote to Asa Gray in 1860: “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars….”

The female giant ichneumon wasp is a striking animal, two inches long, boldly patterned in brown, orange and yellow. Her two- to -four-inch long ovipositor with its two protective filaments looks like three long tails. Some parasitoids can choose to lay their eggs on a variety of host species, but giant ichneumon wasps need to find a larva of a pigeon horntail. Nothing else will do.

The ovipositor looks like a single filament, but it comprises three filaments, the middle one of which is the actual ovipositor, which is capable of drilling into wood. This central filament also appears to be a single filament, but is made of two parts, with a cutting edge at the tip. The two parts interlock and slide against each other.

Although very thin, the ovipositor is a tube and the egg being laid moves down a tiny channel in its center. The outer two filaments are sheaths which protect the ovipositor; they are out to the sides during egg-laying

The presence of giant ichneumons on a tree is not a good sign because they are an indication that horntail wasp are attacking the tree. Horntail wasps attack trees that are already under stress. Often by the time the wood-boring insects have started attacking the tree it is in irreversible decline.

Fortunately, for my pastor, the giant ichneumon wasp he saw was on a dead stump of a tree, and not on a healthy one.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

For how many teams did NFL quarterback Joe Montana play?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Unexpected visitor to camp explains about invasive insects

Clockwise, from top left, Asian Longhorned Beetle, Emerald Ash Borer, and Browntail moth caterpillar.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

We received a visitor at camp last week. A member of the Maine Forest Service appeared to pass on some information to us about the threat of invasive insects, and to educate us on what to look for.

First was the Asian Longhorned Beetle. The ALB, Anoplophora glabripennis, is a wood boring beetle native to Asia. It attacks, and eventually kills, healthy hardwood trees, including maple, birch, poplar, willow, elm and others.

It was first discovered in the United States in 1996 in Brooklyn, New York, and has since been found in New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, as well as Toronto, Canada. It has yet to be found in Maine, and has been eradicated from Illinois, New Jersey, parts of New York and Canada.

It is thought to have been transported into North America through solid wood packing materials from Asia.

What to look for: Round to oval pockmarks in the bark where an adult female has chewed a depression to lay an egg. Round holes 3/8-inch in diameter on the trunk or branches where the adult beetles emerge. You can insert a pencil at least an inch into an exit hole; and sawdust-like material which the beetle larvae push out as it feeds in the tree.

These insects are usually active from August to October.

The next one is the Emerald Ash Borer, Agrilus planipennis. It was first detected in Michigan in 2002. Evidence suggests that the beetle was established for years prior to its discovery. EAB has since been found in many states, and also in Ontario and Québec, Canada. In addition to spreading by natural means, EAB can be transported to new areas in infested firewood, timber and nursery stock. This beetle has been responsible for the loss of millions of ash trees in North America.

New infestations are difficult to detect, as damage to the tree may not be apparent for up to three years. Symptoms of an infestation can include branch dieback in the upper crown, excessive epicormic branching on the tree trunk, and vertical bark splits. Woodpecker damage is sometimes apparent.

The Emerald Ash Borer is not to be confused with the six-spotted green tiger beetle, which we covered in this column a few weeks ago (The Town Line, Aug. 1, 2019). They are very similar in appearance, but the six-spotted green tiger beetle is a predator of small insects and is frequently found on hiking trails.

Do not move firewood or bring it from home if you’re going on a camping trip. If you brought firewood from home, don’t leave it, burn it!

The third one was the browntail moth. It is an invasive species found only on the coast of Maine and Cape Cod. I don’t know how far inland is considered the coast, but I have seen this caterpillar at our camp, as recently as this past weekend, even though it is supposed to be active only from April to late June. The moth is an insect of both forest and human health concerns.

The browntail moth caterpillar has tiny poisonous hairs that cause dermatitis similar to poison ivy on sensitive individuals, similar to that of the Hickory tussock caterpillar (the white caterpillar with black hairs).

People may develop dermatitis from direct contact with the caterpillar or indirectly from contact with airborne hairs. Most people affected by the hairs develop a localized rash that will last for a few hours up to several days, but on some sensitive individuals the rash can be severe and last for several weeks. Respi­ratory distress from inhaling the hairs can be serious. The hairs remain toxic throughout the summer but get washed into the soil and are less of a problem over time.

The browntail moth arrived in Somerville, Massachusetts, circa 1890, and becoming widespread there and in neighboring Cambridge by 1897. Initial outbreaks were most evident in pear and apple trees. Within a few years it was seen as a serious, fast-spreading, horticultural and health problem. Through the early parts of the 20th century it was present in much of New England from eastern Connecticut to Maine, and northward into New Brunswick, Canada, but the 1906 introduction of the parasitic tachnid fly Compsilura concinnata to counter Gypsy moths collaterally impacted brown-tail moths. By the late 20th century the habitat was reduced to the coast and islands of Maine, and also parts of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Cold and wet weather hinders re-expansion of the population outside its current territories, although starting in 2015 there has been a population spike and territory expansion in coastal Maine, from Portland to Bar Harbor.

If you think you have found some of these, contact the State Department of Agriculture, State Forestry or Natural Resource Agency, Cooperative Extension Office, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or the Forest Service.

Roland’s trivia question of the month:

Tom Brady has been named Super Bowl MVP four times. Name the other two New England Patriots players to have also captured the award.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: They’re everywhere! They’re everywhere!

harvestman daddy longleg

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

I think it was Dr. Demento who used to say, “They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere!”

Well, they are. You could be sitting on the deck or porch at camp, and there’s one on your leg, or walking across your shoulders. Go do some garden work, and you’ll see them there. Deadhead flowers in your beds, yup, they’re there, too. Go fetch a couple of sticks out of the wood pile, Bingo! More of them. They are actually “everywhere” and can be a nuisance.

What am I talking about? Daddy Longlegs. It was Jim Stafford who sang, “I don’t like spiders and snakes,” and it usually applies to me. I think he had me in mind when he wrote the song. However, Daddy longlegs don’t bother me too much. They are tolerable, not like those other scary looking, eight-legged creatures.

But are Daddy longlegs truly spiders? Let’s take a closer look.

According to entomologists at the University of California, Riverside, the term “daddy longlegs” is commonly used to refer to two distinct types of creatures: opilionids arachnids with pill-shaped bodies and eight long legs are actually not spiders, and pholcids, which have long legs and small bodies, and thus resemble opilionids, but which are truly spiders.

What we refer to as daddy longlegs are actually called harvestmen. You see them almost every day. They are not spiders – although closely related – but belong to a group with many different species, called opiliones. The common name daddy longlegs came about because of their small oval body and long legs, and the name harvestmen because they are most often seen in large numbers in the late summer and early fall around harvest time.

While they have eight legs and an outward appearance of a spider, daddy longlegs lack two of the most important features that make a spider a spider: silk production and venom. Daddy longlegs do not have spinnerets that spiders have to produce silk and make webs. Spiders also produce venom they inject through fangs to quickly kill and digest prey. Daddy longlegs do not produce venom, nor do they have fangs.

So, how about the old legend, “daddy longlegs are one of the most poisonous spiders, but their fangs are too short and weak to bite humans?”

This tale has been lurking around for years. I have heard it repeatedly. This is incorrect, an urban myth. Most folks who retell this tale have no idea that they are referring to two completely separate groups of animals, daddy longlegs and daddy longlegs spiders.

Daddy longlegs spiders are venomous predators, and although they never naturally bite people, their fangs are similar in structure to those of brown recluse spiders, and therefore can theoretically penetrate skin. For these reasons, this is most probably the animal to which people refer when they tell the tale.

The daddy longlegs we see are the harvestmen – not spiders – and can actually be beneficial. They have a very broad diet that includes spiders and insects, and plant pests such as aphids. They will also feast on caterpillars, beetles, flies, mites, small slugs, snails, earthworms, other harvestmen, and decaying plant and animal matter. Daddy longlegs also scavenge for dead insects and will eat bird droppings. Control should only be performed when absolutely necessary. The clustering behavior only occurs during the fall and for only a brief period of time. If necessary, no need for pesticides, a broom or a vacuum will suffice.

Last weekend, I noticed a harvestman (daddy longleg) carrying a small moth across our deck at camp. I watched it for a while, and observed that it was struggling with the weight of the moth. Finally, the daddy longleg dropped the moth, ate its fill, and left. I kept going back from time to time to see the moth still laying on the deck. After a while, I don’t know whether it was the wind, or the harvestman returned, but the moth had disappeared.

Daddy longlegs legs easily break off. They have the ability to break off legs similar to the ability of lizards to break off a portion of their tail if being attacked by a predator. But it can have an adverse affect on them, especially if its the second set of legs.

The daddy longlegs’ second pair of legs serve as ears, nose, tongue and perhaps even as supplementary “eyes.” The legs are loaded with nerves and literally thousands of tiny sense organs that lie inside microscopic slits in the legs. They can produce a pungent odor that is distasteful to most predators.

Although they can be pests, they have a place in the ecosystem.

It’s going to be difficult, but you now should refer to those eight long-legged animals as daddy longleg harvestmen, and not spiders.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Mike Lodish was the first NFL player to play in six Super Bowls with the Bills (4) and Broncos (2). Who is the NFL player to appear in the most Super Bowls?

Answer can be found here.