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

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

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

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

by Hildy Ellis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

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

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: It was a case of mistaken identity

Carrion beetle

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

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

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

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

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

So, back to the internet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

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

Answer can be found here.

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

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

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

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

Answer can be found here.

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

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

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

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

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

I was right, after all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mystery solved!

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

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

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Meeting the picnic beetle

Above, picnic beetle.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

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

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

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

A picnic beetle in the bucket.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

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

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The night calls of the hermit thrush

Hermit Thrush

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

We haven’t visited the world of ornithology in quite some time, so it was only fitting this past weekend when someone at the weekly campfire asked a question about a bird that sings at night. After some research, it was determined the song heard was that of the hermit thrush.

According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the hermit thrush’s song has been described as “the finest sound in nature.” It is flute-like, consisting of a beginning note, then several descending musical phrases in a minor key, repeated at different pitches. It often sings from a high open location. The famous author Walt Whitman referred to the hermit thrush as a “symbol of the American voice, poetic and otherwise,” in his elegy for Abraham Lincoln.

It is an unassuming bird with a lovely, melancholy song and lurks in the understories of far northern forests in summer. They have a rich brown upper body and smudged spots on the breast, with a reddish tail that sets if apart from similar species in its genus.

You can look for the hermit thrush in forest openings or along trails. This species spends winter and summer in different parts of the country. In spring and summer, you’ll likely hear their mournful, flute-like song long before you see them.

Hermit thrushes, Catharus guttatus, visit backyards, but generally do not go to feeders. However, during migration, they often forage on the ground or eat berries in yards with trees or shrubs. Males usually gather food for the nest, while females feed the nestlings. They usually make their nests in and around trees and shrubs, but they can also get more creative. Nests have been found on a cemetery grave, on a golf course, and in a mine shaft.

Young are ready to fly at about 12 days old. They usually have one to two broods a year. They eat mostly berries, beetles, ants, caterpillars, true bugs, grasshoppers, crickets and many other insects. They will also eat spiders, earthworms, and sometimes salamanders.

The male will defend the nestling territory by singing, especially in the morning and evening. Their nest site varies with the region, mostly found on the ground in the east and north, in a natural hollow on the side of a hummock and well hidden by overhanging branches or surrounding low vegetation.

The hermit thrush is hardier than other brown-backed thrushes. If it is startled from the ground in the forest interior, it often perches low and stares at the observer, flicking its wings nervously and slowly raising and lowering its tail.

The hermit thrush migrate in early spring and late in the fall, and probably migrates mostly at night. They are not year round residents of the state of Maine, but merely come here during the breeding season. They can only be found year round in Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.

While most hermit thrushes migrate to wintering grounds in the southern United States and south to Central America, some remain in northern coastal U.S. states and into southern Ontario. They usually breed in forests, but will sometimes winter in parks and wooded suburban neighborhoods.

They are a medium sized bird measuring 6 – 7 inches in length, with a wing span of 9.8 to 11.8 inches, weighing from .63 to 1.31 ounces.

The oldest recorded Hermit Thrush was at least 10 years, 10 months old when it was recaptured and re-released during banding operations in Maryland in 2009. It had been banded in the same state in 1999. They can be found in every contiguous state in the United States.

Conservation-wise, the numbers of the hermit thrush seem to be holding up well.

In culture, the former Canadian indie-rock band Thrush Hermit took its name from a reversal of the bird’s name. It is also shared by the American bands Hermit Thrushes and Hermit Thrush. Also, A Hermit Thrush is the name of a poem by the American poet Amy Clampitt. A hermit thrush also appears in the fifth section of What the Thunder Said, of the T. S. Eliot poem The Waste Land.

The irony of the whole episode is that in the 31 years my wife and I have had this camp, we had never heard it before.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What Boston Bruins player is the only defenseman in their history to record four points in a single game in the Stanley Cup final?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: A ferret could save your life some day, seriously

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

In a published report by Matthew R. Bailey, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, up to 41.3 million Americans contracted the flu this season, according to the latest estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 500,000 people have been hospitalized because of the virus. Thousands of people have already died of the disease.

But an end to flu seasons altogether may not be far off. Several research teams are working on the first “universal vaccine,” capable of fighting multiple strains of the virus. Such a treatment could effectively wipe out the disease.

These researchers’ chief obstacle isn’t science but politics. Some radical activists are pushing lawmakers to ban the use of animals in medical research — like studies for a universal flu vaccine. Curbing animal research will consign countless people to preventable suffering and death.

Flu season tends to elicit little more than a shrug from most people. But it’s surprisingly deadly. Each year, the influenza virus kills as many as 650,000 people worldwide. Last flu season, more than 900,000 Americans were hospitalized and 80,000 died — the most in 40 years.

The death toll would be far worse if not for medical advances made possible by animal research. Tamiflu, the first oral antiviral of its kind, was developed thanks to research in mice, dogs, rats, and ferrets. Scientists created the flu vaccine via research in chickens.

The vaccines and treatments currently on the market don’t provide total protection against influenza. There are many different strains of the virus, so it’s tough to predict which strains will be most prevalent in any given year.

That’s problematic, because vaccines are manufactured months before flu season starts. If those vaccines don’t match the virus strain that’s circulating in a given year, people can fall ill despite having received their shots.

Patients desperately need new and better treatment options. And thankfully, research in animals is yielding insights that could lead to universal flu vaccines.

Consider the work of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. They are developing a universal vaccine. When they inoculated mice, rabbits, and ferrets with the experimental therapy, the animals’ antibody responses lasted for over 30 weeks — long enough to be effective throughout flu season. The team intends to advance to human trials in the next two years.

And then there’s the research in llamas. Just a few months ago, a paper published in the journal Science posited that a nasal spray containing antibodies from llamas could be the key to universal flu prevention.

Despite the promise of this research, many activists remain committed to ending animal trials.

They believe that computer models and cell cultures are complete alternatives to animal research. But even the most powerful computers are insufficient to simulate all the chemical and biological processes at work in a living organism fighting a pathogen like the flu. Cell cultures can’t capture all the other action going on inside a living body — some of which may have an unforeseen impact on its effort to fight an invader like the influenza virus.

Ferret models have yielded especially informative insights for researchers, since two of the most common flu strains in humans also naturally infect these animals.

Within a decade, scientists could feasibly wipe out the all-too-common influenza virus, which kills hundreds of thousands of people each year – as long as activists don’t deprive them of the essential research.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who is the NFL’s all-time leading rusher?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: In case you hadn’t noticed, tick season has already arrived in central Maine

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

It’s the time of year when you start to hear horror stories about deer ticks. I have already heard more than I really want to this early.

People have told me about letting their dogs out, only to come back covered in ticks. My granddaughter’s husband told me he went to cut up some downed trees, and came home to pick 10 ticks off himself. Neighbors at camp are all bundled up as they do outdoor clean up. Long-sleeved shirts, sweatshirts, pants tucked into socks. Not exactly what I would call a fashion show, especially when they are wearing striped socks.

The deer tick’s actual name is black-legged tick, Ixodes scapularus.

It is all too well known that the deer tick can transmit the painful Lyme disease, but can also pass on anaplasmosis, babesiosis, deer tick virus encephalitis, and a relapsing fever illness caused by a different spirochete spiral-shaped bacteria.

Deer ticks first appeared in Maine in the southern counties in the 1980s. They advanced along the coast and then found their way inland. It can now be encountered in northern Maine. They are prominent in mixed forests and along the woodland edges of fields and suburban landscapes. They are present nationally throughout northeast and in north-central states. They are present in the south, but because they feed primarily on non-infectious hosts there, Lyme disease is far less common.

A mated adult female deer tick, after having obtained a blood meal from a white-tailed deer, dog, cat or other large mammal in the fall or early spring, can lay as many as 3,000 eggs in late May and early June. Uninfected larvae emerge in mid-summer and soon seek a blood meal, primarily from mice, other small mammals and certain songbirds. Many of the animals they feed on, particularly mice and chipmunks, will have been previously infected with Lyme, and other tick-borne diseases; it is from these “reservoir hosts” that deer ticks become infected.

After over-wintering, larvae molt to nymphs which seek a second blood meal in the spring, passing on the infections they acquired as larvae to the next year’s crop of small mammal/avian hosts.

Nymphs may also feed on humans, dogs and horses, and other hosts. Their tiny size and painless bites may allow them to remain undetected through the approximately 36 hours it takes for the infection to be transmitted from a feeding tick. Once they’ve had their fill of blood, deer tick nymphs drop to the leaf litter, and in early fall molt to adult males and females.

Most human Lyme disease results from the bite of undiscovered nymphs in the summer. In Maine, nymphs peak in late June and July, which is when approximately 65 percent of the human cases of Lyme disease are reported. Dogs and other domestic animals are more frequently infected in the fall and spring by adult ticks which escape detection.

The life cycle of a deer tick generally lasts two years. During this time, they go through four life stages: eggs, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and adult. Once they hatch, they must have a blood meal at every stage to survived.

Ticks can’t fly or jump, instead they wait for a host, resting on the tips of grasses and shrubs in a position known as “questing.” While questing, ticks hold onto leaves and grass by their lower legs. They hold their upper pair of legs outstretched waiting to climb onto a passing host. When a host brushes the spot where a tick is waiting, it quickly climbs aboard. It then finds a suitable place to bite its host.

Depending on the tick species and its life stage, preparing to feed can take from 10 minutes to two hours. When the tick finds a feeding spot, it grasps the skin and cuts into the surface. The tick then inserts its feeding tube. Many species also secrete a cement-like substance that keeps them firmly attached. Some have barbs which help keep the tick in place. Ticks also secrete a small amount of saliva with anesthetic properties so the animal or person can’t feel that the tick has attached itself. If the tick is in a sheltered spot, usually around the hairline, it can go undetected.

If the host animal has certain blood-borne infections, such as the Lyme disease agent, the tick may ingest the pathogen and become infected, then in turn, later feeds on a human, that human can become infected.

Following the feeding, the tick drops off and prepares for the next life stage. At its next feeding, it can then transmit the infection to the new host. Once infected, a tick can transmit infection throughout its life.

Removing the tick quickly, within 24 hours, can greatly reduce your chances of getting Lyme disease. It takes time for the tick to transmit the infection, so the longer the tick is attached, the more chances a human is of contracting Lyme disease.

Over the years, I have been fortunate to have dealt with only four deer ticks, especially where I spend so much time outdoors. For the first one I went to the emergency room to have it removed. The other three were quickly dispatched upon discovering them. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, it is wise to do a complete check once you move indoors. It’s never too early to pull off a deer tick once it is found.

Information for this column was acquired from the Maine Medical Center Research Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which boxer inflicted Muhammad Ali’s first defeat in professional boxing?

Answer can be found here.

FLYING SQUIRREL: A couple of weeks ago I wrote about flying squirrels in Maine. Their existence was confirmed by Kimberly Chase Hutchinson who shared this photo with the comment, “Yup, had one in my Christmas tree this past Christmas.”

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Porcupines seem to be everywhere this spring

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

While on my way to work this week, I saw no less than five dead porcupines on the side of the road. The thought then came into my mind: Porcupines, nuisance or ecological necessity?

It all depends with whom you talk. I know some people who are overrun by the animals to the point where they are raiding the gardens, and having to deal with their dogs being injured by porcupine quills due mostly to the dog’s own curiosity. While others find a use for them.

Simply put, porcupines are rodents. That puts them in the same class, and are actually related, with raccoons, rats and beavers. They are indigenous to the Americas, Southern Asia, Europe and Africa. They are the third largest of the rodents, behind the capybara and beaver.

They can grow in size to be 25 – 36 inches long with an 8 to 10-inch tail, and weigh from 12 – 35 pounds.

The common porcupine, Erethizon dorsatum, is an herbivore, so look out gardens. It eats leaves, herbs, twigs and green plants. They may eat bark in the winter, evidence of which I have seen in many places. The North American porcupine often climbs trees to find food. Like the raccoon, they are mostly nocturnal, but will sometimes forage for food in the day.

Because of the scarcity of predators, porcupines are plentiful and are not endangered.

The name porcupine comes from Middle French porc espin (spined pig). A regional American name for the animal is quill pig.

The porcupines’ quills, or spines, take on various forms, depending on the species, but all are modified hairs coated with thick plates of keratin, and they are embedded in the skin.

Quills are released by contact with them, or they may drop out when the porcupine shakes its body. The porcupine does not throw quills, but the flailing muscular tail and powerful body may help impale quills deeply into attackers. The quills’ barbed ends expand with moisture and continue to work deeper into flesh. Porcupine quills have mildly antibiotic properties and thus are not infectious. Quills, however, may cause death in animals if they puncture a vital organ or if a muzzle full of quills leads to starvation.

Once embedded, the hollow quills swell, burn and work their way into the flesh every time a victim’s muscles contract, digging a millimeter deeper each hour. Eventually, they emerge through the skin again, some distance from the entry point though sometimes they spear right through the body.

I have had first hand knowledge of how painful a porcupine quill can be. Many years ago, my children had chores to do after they got home from school. One of them was to make sure they picked up after themselves following their after-school snack. Upon returning home from work, I found a folded paper towel on the counter. I grabbed it to crush it into a ball to throw away when this sharp pain shot through my hand. When I unwrapped the towel, I found a porcupine quill inside, but now embedded in my hand. It turned out my daughter had brought it home from school to show it to me. She obtained the quill from a “show and tell” session at school.

Because they have few effective predators, porcupines are relatively long-lived. The average life span of the porcupine is 7 – 8 years, however, they have lived up to 15 years in the wild, and 18 years in captivity. A predator needs to learn only once to leave a porcupine alone. Bobcats, great-horned owls, mountain lions, coyotes and wolves, when extremely hungry and unable to catch anything else, may give it a try anyway. The fisher, however, is a skilled porcupine killer. It uses its speed and agility to snake around a porcupine’s rear guard defense and viciously bite its face until it dies.

Native American quill art

At one time, however, especially when game was scarce, the porcupine was hunted for its meat and considered a delicacy. A practice that continues in Kenya today. Because they are slow, and can remain in the same tree for days at a time, they are about the only animal that can be killed simply with a large rock. Native people of the North Woods also wove elaborate dyed quill-work decorations into clothing, moccasins, belts, mats, necklaces, bracelets and bags. Because the work was so time-consuming and highly valued, quill embroideries were used as a medium of exchange before the coming of Europeans.

When not in trees or feeding, porcupines prefer the protection of a den, which can be found in rock crevices, caves, hollow logs, abandoned mines and even under houses and barns.

Porcupines are highly attracted to salt. They may chew on any tool handle that has salt left from human sweat. They have even been known to chew on outhouse toilet seats. Road rock salt is very tempting to them, and puddles of water from the snow-melt in the spring are especially luring and could account for their high road-kill mortality rate. They have even been seen gnawing on automobile tires that have been exposed to rock salt.

In Maine, porcupines join a short list of other animals that are open to hunting all year, including coyotes, woodchucks and red squirrels.

So, are porcupines a nuisance, or do they have a role in the grand scheme of things, ecologically?

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who is the only player in New York Yankees history to achieve over 3,000 hits in his career?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Yes, there are flying squirrels in Maine

flying squirrel

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Did you know flying squirrels exist in Maine? Well, be it known that Maine is home to the northern flying squirrel.

The northern flying squirrel, Glaucomys sabrinus, is one of two species of the animal, the only flying squirrels found in North America. The northern flying squirrel is found in coniferous and mixed forests across the top of North America, from Alaska to Nova Scotia, south to North Carolina and west to California. The flying squirrel was placed on the protection list on June 6, 2011, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

If you want to see a flying squirrel, you will have to be an early riser, because the flying squirrel, unlike its cousins, is nocturnal. All other North American squirrels are active during the day.

Arboreal rodents, they have thick light brown or cinnamon fur on their upper body. A furry membrane extends between the front and rear legs, and allows the animal to glide through the air. It’s grayish on the flanks and whitish underneath. They have large eyes and a flat tail. They can also be identified by their long whiskers, which are common to nocturnal mammals.

A flying squirrel doesn’t actually fly, but glides downward, using the wide flaps of skin along its sides to help slow its descent. To become airborne, this mammal leaps and spreads its legs, uses its tail as a rudder and moves its legs. Immediately after it lands, it will scurry to the far side of the tree just in case an owl is in pursuit. They can glide distances of 20 to 30 feet.

Northern Spotted Owl

Northern flying squirrels are an important prey species for the Spotted Owl. Other predators include large birds, especially the Great Horned Owl, hawks, the American Marten, the Canadian Lynx and Red Fox.

The major food sources for the squirrels are mushrooms of various species, although they also eat lichens, nuts, tree sap, insects, carrion, bird eggs and nestlings, and buds and flowers. The squirrels are able to locate truffles, although they also seem to use cues such as the presence of coarse woody debris, indicating a decaying log, and spatial memory of locations where truffles were found in the past.

They are also known to cache food for when food supplies are lower. These caches can be in cavities of trees, as well as in the squirrels’ nest. Lichens and seeds are commonly cached.

The northern flying squirrel nests in holes in trees, and will also build outside nests called dreys. They sometimes use cavities created by woodpeckers.

Except when rearing young, the squirrels shift from nest to nest frequently. They often share nests. Although there usually are 2-5 individuals in a nest, it was once observed that over 50 individuals were occupying one nest.

The sharing of nests is important in maintaining body temperature in the winter, as flying squirrels do not hibernate. In the winter, they tend to live in conifer areas of mixed woods, while in summer they are found in conifers and deciduous areas. This behavior is associated with the belief that the canopy cover is important in protecting the squirrels from predation and colder temperatures. In all but the worst severe weather conditions, the squirrels are active year round.

Squirrels, in general, get no respect. They are a nuisance around bird feeders and can raise havoc in a garden, not to mention them digging through your pumpkins in search of the seeds. But, did you know that January 21 is Squirrel Appreciation Day? Founded by Christy Hargrove, a wildlife rehabilitator, from Asheville, North Carolina, in 2001, that day is set aside annually to give us all the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate the tree-climbing, nut-gathering neighborhood squirrels. That includes flying squirrels, too.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What player made the first 3-point basket in the NBA?

Answer can be found here.