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.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Wasps have a bad reputation: this one, though, is the gardener’s friend

Internet photo of a Great Golden Digger Wasp.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

A friend of mine was asked by an acquaintance if she recognized a certain bug she found hanging around the garden, and boring holes in the yard. My friend suggested the person send the photo to me for identification. With the help of my insider at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Phillip deMaynadier, Ph.D., a wildlife biologist, with the wildlife research assesment section, it was identified

Photo taken by Sharon Carter of a Great Golden Digger Wasp.

The insect (see photo), is a Great Golden Digger Wasp, Sphex ichneumoneus. Despite its vivid, alarming coloration, the Great Golden Digger Wasp is not an aggressive species of the wasp.

The Great Golden Digger Wasp appears every June, and remains for the next couple of months, going through a methodical routine.

Unfortunately, social wasps like the yellow jackets and hornets give all wasps a bad name. Solitary wasps like the Great Golden Digger Wasp are virtually harmless. They do not guard their nests and are not aggressive towards humans. Females are equipped with stingers but use them only on their prey, although a rare sting to a human may occur if the wasp is grabbed or stepped on. Male wasps may act aggressively, but they have no stingers and can do no harm.

Unlike the social wasps, which live commune-style with a queen and non-reproducing minions that handle the hard labor, digger wasps are solitary creatures.

The Great Golden Digger Wasp measures more than an inch in length. They have a black head, orange and black body, orange legs, and iridescent amber wings. Short, golden hairs cover its head and thorax.

The first reaction of a gardener who confronts a large, intimidating-looking Great Golden Digger Wasp may be to grab a can of bug spray. Don’t do it! Not only are these bugs harmless to humans, they provide many benefits to the garden.

Adult wasps, both male and female, pollinate plants by feeding on flower nectar. Female wasps prey on grasshoppers and similar pests that otherwise cause a lot of damage to vegetable and ornamental plants in the garden. And by digging holes in the ground, the wasps help to aerate the soil and improve drainage.

The female wasp will spend her short life engaged in the methodical building and stocking of a half dozen or so nests.

When the wasp hunts, she stings her prey and releases paralyzing venom. She transports the paralyzed insect back to her nest by air – if it is light enough to fly with – or by dragging it across the ground by its antennas. On the way, she may have to fend off robins, sparrows, and other birds intent on stealing the insect from her. They only hunt members of the grasshopper family. They are great pollinators and should be welcome in your garden.

The female digs a chambered tunnel in open ground, and proceeds to stock it with food for her young to eat. She searches for insects, which usually includes crickets, katydids and grasshoppers. Then she goes through a ritual that is unique among insects. The prey is placed at the opening of the tunnel while she crawls inside to inspect it. Then, she comes back out and grabs the unlucky insect by the antennae and pulls it inside head-first. She has been genetically patterned to perform these motions, and if anything changes, she cannot complete this task.

If the prey insect is moved a few inches from where she left it, she will quickly locate it and pull it to the entrance. Once again she will go inside to inspect the burrow. This scene can be repeated time and time again, and she will perform the same acts. What looks like a thoughtful precaution, is simply genetically programmed into the species.

Should one of the antennae break off, she will usually leave her catch and go find another insect. She is not able to figure out that by grabbing it by a leg, she can accomplish the same thing. It’s either by the antennae or its move on to another prey.

Upon returning to the nest, the wasp drops her prey outside the entrance while she reopens and inspects the tunnel. She then drags her still-paralyzed victim to a nesting chamber, and lays one egg on top of it.

When she leaves the nest, she closes up the nesting chamber behind her. She will not return. Over the fall and winter, the wasp larva will undergo a complete metamorphosis. It will emerge in June as an adult and begin the process all over again. When the adult emerges from the underground nest where it hatched the previous summer, it has but one job to do: to reproduce.

Great Golden Digger Wasps can be found in North America, Mexico, Central and South America, and even the Caribbean.

So, if you’re lucky enough to encounter a Great Golden Digger Wasp in your garden, leave her alone. She’s working hard. Just step back and observe one of the most unique inhabitants in the garden.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

In 1992, what Red Sox pitcher’s no-hitter against the Indians was rescinded by MLB because he only pitched eight innings as the losing pitcher on the road team?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Raccoons back in the news…for the wrong reasons

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

A raccoon “washing” its food…

Raccoons and rabies have been in the news again, recently. It seems there has been a measurable increase in the number of reports of animal bites resulting in humans being treated for rabies.

A recent news report from WMTW-TV told of a woman who was attacked by a raccoon while walking along a wooded trail near her home in Hope. The raccoon managed to bite her on the thumb and scratch her arms while she drowned it in a nearby puddle. Hope Animal Control Officer Heidi Blood confirmed last week that the dead raccoon later tested positive for rabies by the Maine Center for Disease Control.

“Not to scare people,” Blood said, “but when there’s one, there’s typically another.”

She went on to say that just because there was one, and it was dispatched, doesn’t mean the risk is reduced. The risk is still there.

As early as last Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that the state of Maine has started dropping packets of vaccine into rural woods in efforts to eliminate raccoon rabies. The program is being funded in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s help, releasing 351,000 packets in northern Maine.

So far this year, 42 cases of oral rabies have been reported in 13 out of the 16 Maine counties. These also include incidences of people being bitten by rabid bats, raccoons, striped skunks, gray foxes, otters, domestic cats and woodchucks. And recently, police reported three individials were bitten by rabid red fox in Brunswick.

Rabies have been rare among pets and farm animals, but since its reintroduction in Maine in 1994, terrestial rabies has increased dramatically in Maine in the above mentioned animals. The last reported case of human rabies in Maine was in 1937.

When bitten by any wild animals, and rabies may be suspected, it is important to get to an emergency room as soon as possible. Humans can start to show symptoms within a few weeks, but often if takes a few months. According to Blood, “The number one thing we try to remind people of is that it’s 100 percent fatal if it goes untreated.”

…but they can also be vicious.

The woman in Hope has received six innoculations of rabies vaccine since the incident and is scheduled for her last shot this weekend.

Don’t believe the myth that raccoons are clean animals because they wash their food before eating. Their name actually comes from that tale. Its scientific name is, Procyon lotor. Lotor is the Latin word for “washer.” The fact is that raccoon have very narrow throats making it difficult to ingest foods. When they encounter food that is dry, they dip it in water to soften it so as to make it easier to swallow. They sometime will remove unwanted parts of the food with their front paws, giving the appearance of washing the morsel. Should a raccoon come across a mushy piece of fruit, it will gulp it down without dipping it in water.

Zoologist Clinton Hart Merriam described raccoons as “clever beasts,” and that “in certain directions their cunning surpasses that of the fox.” In a study by H. B. Davis in 1908, raccoons were able to open 11 of 13 complex locks in fewer than 10 tries and had no problems repeating the action when the locks were rearranged or turned upside down. Davis concluded they understood the abstract principles of the locking mechanisms.

Raccoons have also been part of the mythologies of the indigenous peoples of North America. Indigenous North American belief systems include many sacred narratives. Such spiritual stories are deeply based in nature and are rich with the symbolism of seasons, weather, plants, animals, earth, water, sky and fire. Traditional worship pracrices are often a part of tribal gatherings with dance, rhythm, songs and trance (e.g. the rain dance).

With their bandit-like black mask rings around their eyes, they are cute, especially the young. But never approach a raccoon, even if it is acting normally. Also, as a general rule of safety, never approach an animal in the wild, period. Remember, even though some people believe that any animal can be a pet, they are still animals, with very sharp survival instincts, and could view you as a threat. Stay sway from them. If they are acting irrationally, leave them, and contact your animal control officer of the warden’s service. Take the safe way.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What is the recorded score of a forfeited baseball game?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS – Everybody loves to play a good game: Let’s see how you do

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

I have an idea: let’s play a game! Everybody likes a game. We’ll call it – get a load of this ingenious title – Fact or Fiction!

Many of us have pets, and we also like to watch animals. Let’s ask some questions and see if you can tell if it is fact or fiction.

Bulls get angry when they see red?

Here are the sayings. The answers follow:

  • Bats are blind.
  • Some bees sting only once.
  • An owl is a wise bird
  • A turtle can walk out of its shell.
  • Crickets tell the temperature with their chirps.
  • Goats eat almost anything.
  • Bulls get angry when they see red.
  • Camels store water in their humps.
  • Rats desert a sinking ship.

Here are the answers:

  • Bats are Blind: Fiction – In the night sky, they seem to be blind. They fly back and forth in odd ways. Bats use their ears as well as their eyes to find their way at night, flying in different patterns as they gather insects in flight. They emit high-pitched sounds that echo back to them from objects, similar to radar.
  • Some bees sting only once: Fact – many kinds of bees can sting only once. A honeybee’s stinger has barbs on it and when they catch, they hold fast. The stinger breaks off and stays behind. The bee will die after losing its stinger. Queens, however, can sting multiple times. Its stinger has no barbs. Male bees, called drones, have no stinger and cannot sting at all.
  • An owl is a wise bird: Fiction – Some people think owls look wise because of their eyes. But for a bird its size, the owl has a tiny brain. An owl never moves its eyes to look for prey, but, instead, moves its whole head from side to side.
  • A turtle can walk out of its shell: Fiction – When people find an empty turtle shell on the ground, they may think a turtle left it behind and moved into a new one. A turtle can no more walk out of its shell than you can walk away from your ribs. The empty shells you may find on the ground are the remains of turtles that have died.
  • Crickets tell the temperature with their chirps… Fact – Crickets are animals whose body temperatures change with the temperature around them. On a hot day, crickets chirp so rapidly that it is hard to count the number of chirps. But on a cool day, crickets chirp much more slowly. You can easily count the times they chirp.
  • Dogs talk with their tails: Fact – When a dog wags its tail from side to side, the dog is happy and playful. But when a dog wags its tail up and down, it may be because it has done something wrong and expects to be punished. If a dog keeps its tail straight up, be careful, that is the signal that it may attack. Don’t run, just back away slowly.
  • Goats will eat almost anything: Fact – Goats will eat almost anything they can find. They have been accused of eating tin cans. But they are not really eating the metal; they are chewing the label to get at the glue underneath. They will eat string and paper, but would rather eat fruit, vegetables, grass and leaves of plants.
  • Bulls get angry when they see red: Fiction – A bullfighter waves a red cape before a charging bull. There are many stories which tell us that bulls become angry when they see red. The trouble with these stories is that bulls are color blind. It’s the motion of an object in front of it that angers a bull. Bulls will get angry if you wave anything in front of them.
  • Camels store water in their humps: Fiction – Camels store fat in the humps. The stored fat is used for energy when the camel doesn’t get enough to eat. But camels can go for days or even weeks without drinking water. Their woolly coats keep out the heat of the direct sunlight. The wool also keeps them from sweating and losing water too rapidly.
  • Rats desert a sinking ship: Fact – Rats will jump overboard if a ship is sinking. But that is true of any animal that can swim. Rats sometimes desert a ship even if it isn’t sinking. In the days of sailing ships, it was a common sight to see packs of rats jumping overboard. The ships were slow and would be at sea for months. By the time they returned to port, there was little food left for the rats so when the ship came close to shore, they would dive overboard and swim to land in search of food.

So, how did you do?

Roland’s trivia question of the wee:

What is the most common pitch thrown by a baseball pitcher.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Challenge met: mystery moths identified, and a bonus

Bronze-copper butterfly (photo: John V. Calhoun)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Back in the June 21, 2018, issue of The Town Line, I showed a couple of photos of moths which I could not identify, and asked for help from our readership.

The following week, I received an email from John V. Calhoun, Research Associate, at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, Florida Museum of Natural History, at the University of Florida, in Gainesville. He has studied butterflies and moths for 45 years, and has authored many scientific publications on the subject.

His wife was born in Waterville, and they own a camp in Oakland where they visit for a few weeks each summer.

Baltimore Snout Moth, Hypena baltimoralis

Challenge A was a photo I took of a moth on my screen door at camp. I had never seen one before. John informed me, with the assistance of a colleague, James K. Adams, professor of biology, Dalton State College, in Dalton, Georgia, that it was a Baltimore Snout Moth, Hypena baltimoralis, which is a common species in much of the eastern United States. Adams is an expert at identifying many obscure moths, and is the long-time editor of the News of the Lepidopterists’ Society, which Calhoun served as president in 2016-17.

The caterpillars feed on maple trees. Maybe that is why I have not seen one at camp; there aren’t any maple trees around me. I am surprised I have not seen it at my home seeing that I have several maple trees on my property.

However, I can’t write too much about that particular moth because I could not find any information in all the research I have done. The internet has many photos and illustrations, but no information.

Io Moth closed

The second challenge, a moth that I photographed in 2015, was identified by John as the male Io Moth, Automeris io. Now, that moth I have seen before, just never in that position.

The Io moth is a colorful North American moth. It is found in a large part of the United States, and Canada.

Adult Io moths are strictly nocturnal, flying generally only during the first hours of the night. The females wait until nightfall and then extend a scent gland from the posterior region of the abdomen, in order to attract males.

Io Moth opened

The caterpillars are gregarious in all their instars, many times traveling in single file processions all over the food plant. As the larvae develop, they will lose their orange color and will turn bright green, having many spines. These stinging spines have a very painful venom that is released with the slightest touch.

Just this past week, John sent another photo. That of the Bronze Copper butterfly, which he photographed on June 29, in Benton. I guess you never know what you will find in nature. I have seen many different types of butterflies and moths, but again, never one like this.

Their range is widespread, from Alberta to northern Nevada in the west through to the east coasts of Canada and the United States. It is listed as a species of special concern in Connecticut, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Adults have been observed feeding from blackberry and red clover.

So, that is our lesson on moths and butterflies for this week. I continue to be intrigued by what actually goes on in the natural world around us. So many different species of bugs and animals that are either obscure to us or with which we have little contact.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

In the 2004 ALCS between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, who was named the series MVP: Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, Derek Lowe, or Mariano Rivera?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The shell-middens (what are they?) are trying to tell us something

shell-middens

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

This week I’m going to give up this space to a subject of very much interest. It came across my desk last week, written by Alan G. Button, and it is something that I think I should share with you. It begins:

Three feet! I say again… THREE FEET BY THE END OF THIS CENTURY! This is the new alarming projection for sea level rise reported to us by the evening news over the last few weeks. Wake up people—Al Gore has warned us… TWICE! And scientists around the world, not influenced by politics and financial manipulation, all agree.

My interest (as a volunteer since 200l) has been to study prehistoric shell-middens, only a small number of some 2,000 existing along our often dangerous coastline. And they have been and still are disappearing at alarming rates. Over the last ten years I have witnessed the aftermath of total destruction to at least six middens within the Cushing, Friendship and Waldoboro coastal floodplains. And there is no exemption for what I see ahead.

Shell-Middens (sometimes called ‘kitchen middens’) are the remains of two basic time periods: the Ceramic Period people (precursors to the Wabanaki tribes of today) and the Late Archaics. Dates on rare occasion may range as far back as 5,000 B.P. (before present) which may include the Red Paint People. But most remains are of the four Ceramic Period divisions which terminated when European diseases wiped out upwards of 90 percent of these coastal families during the late 1520s.

Shell-Middens come in all shapes and sizes. But it is their content of bone, small pottery shards, charcoal, numerous lithic types, and various shell types which have only begun to help us understand these cultures. Many questions still remain: including migration and trade routes, hunting traditions, winter survival, and the extent of social life and cultural beliefs. The testing of one charcoal sample costs $250.00 or more. And the testing and analysis of faunal/soil material within a lab just for one site would be in the hundreds of hours.

Protection? Unlike other states, none exists. And unlike research and protection of historic sites funded directly by state legislation… Pre-historic field research performed by a handful of volunteers like myself has no funding. Where are the ‘Field Schools’? Where are the mandates to retrieve vital dateable faunal and charcoal remains? It baffles me, even with a ‘12,000 Year History of Prehistoric Maine’ exhibition within our Maine State Museum, just how many people (even our own legislators) who do not know or understand what shell-middens are nor what they represent.

And what boundaries, besides the lack of money, do we face? Three… Logistics and manpower, especially to offshore islands, ‘Potters’ who seem to believe valuable artifacts may still be found (rarely, and the damage they do is outrageous), and restricted access by landowners who have no
valid reason other than their own personal ideals. One such site on the upper Medomak River is reported to contain at least 800 cubic meters of intact shell/soil matrix. This site has never been sampled. And a 1983 report states a 115 meter (377 feet) wide erosion plain existed within the tidal margin below this midden.

I could think of several colorful adjectives one may apply to this mindset. Should we not demand some form of responsibility? Should not landowners be required to share these educational venues? Have we not learned any lessons from our past with knowledge that has been fragmented, obscured, altered or totally omitted?

I find it strange that when a bridge, culvert or road upgrade takes place at an inland stream crossover, it is a state mandate to have a licensed archaeologist on scene. Yet no such oversight exists for shell midden degradation.

Coastal towns are facing two major types of erosion: a) Wash-over from storm surge and b) Undermining of glacial till from tidal turbulence. The second is the most damaging as it involves subsurface whirlpools during flood-tides skirting in and out of coves and rivers, gouging and undercutting shorelines. Site 17.66 on the west shore of the St George River totally disappeared from undermining during the winter of 2016-17 (estimated to have been 20M x 6M x 25cm). I found nothing but shell hash scattered across the shoreline during a spring inspection in 2017.

What are we going to do? I do not place blame on the hardworking department heads and former state lab techs (where I volunteer) dedicated to conserving former research. But it’s going to take money, man-power, and a research center dedicated to a 10-20 year project to collect this information—something I had proposed some ten years ago. Perhaps, as so often happens, we will wait until it’s too late. And for many sites, it already is!

Let me know folks, only 60 years to go. This is your state… and your history.

Alan G Button is a volunteer with the Mid-Coast Shell-Midden Research; abfirewalker@gmail.com.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

In 1967, Billy Rohr, of the Red Sox, pitched 8-2/3 hitless innings at the New York Yankees in his first major league appearance. Who got the hit that broke up the no-hitter?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The proliferation of the turkey vulture in central Maine

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

I remember as a young boy growing up and going to the “movies” at the old State Theater, on Silver St., in Waterville. It was the Saturday kids’ marathon. You would get to the theater at 10 a.m., and probably wouldn’t come out until dark. There were cartoons galore, news reels, several feature films, and even a commercial for popcorn in the lobby. (For 25-cents, you got admission to the theater, a bag of popcorn and soda – and get change back.)

One of the things I remember well, and are still my favorites today, were the old film noir westerns. The films were marked with poor lighting, corny sound effects and acting – but Gene and Roy could sing you a tune, and beat up the bad dudes. Pretty versatile guys to have around.

One scene would always be of a vulture circling overhead, signaling the presence of a corpse, or a carcass of a dead animal near a watering hole an indication of a poisoned pool.

Turkey vulture

I had never seen a real vulture. I thought they only existed where the cowboys roamed the western range.

Later in life, around the 1980s, I saw my first real vulture on top of French’s Mountain, in the town of Rome. However, recently I have seen a growing population of the turkey vulture in central Maine. First, on the Nelson Rd., in Vassalboro, and recently on Chase Ave., in Waterville, near the Delta Ambulance headquarters. Last Sunday, I saw four of them in the road.

Its range is from southern Canada to the southermost tip of South America.

The turkey vulture, Cathartes aura, or turkey buzzard as it is known in some North American regions, is a scavenger that feeds almost exclusively on carrion. It finds it food using its keen eyes and sense of smell, flying low enough to detect the gasses produced by the beginnings of the process of decay in dead animals. This is an uncommon ability in the avian world. The olfactory lobe of its brain, responsible for processing smells, is particularly large compared to that of other animals. Lacking a syrinx, the vocal organ of birds, its only vocalizations are grunts or low hisses. It nests in caves, hollow trees, or thickets. It has very few natural predators. In the United States, the vulture receives legal protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

It is illegal in the U.S. to take, kill or possess a turkey vulture. It is listed as a species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list. Populations appear to be stable, thus has not reached the threshold of inclusion as a threatened species, which requires a decline of more than 30 percent in 10 years or three generations.

The turkey vulture received its common name from the resemblance of the adult head of a wild turkey, while the name vulture is derived from the Latin word vulturus, meaning “tearer,” and is a reference to its feeding habits.

The wingspan of a turkey vulture is between 63 – 72 inches, has a length of 24 – 32 inches and weighs 1.8 to 5.3 pounds. Northern vulture are generally larger than the ones from its southern range. It is the most abundant vulture in the Americas. The global population of the turkey vulture is estimated to be 4.5 million individuals.

The turkey vulture is gregarious and roosts in large community groups, breaking away to forage independently during the day. It roosts on dead, leafless trees, and will also roost on man-made structures such as water and microwave towers. Though it nests in caves, it does not enter them except during the breeding season. The turkey vulture lowers its night time body temperature to about 93 degrees F, becoming slightly hypothermic.

Turkey vultures are perceived as a threat by farmers due to the similar black vulture’s tendency to attack and kill newborn cattle. Turkey vultures will not kill live animals, but will mix with other flocks of black vultures and will scavenge what they leave behind.

The breeding season varies according to region. In the north, it commences around May and continues into August. They do not lay eggs in a nest, but rather on a bare surface. Females generally lay two eggs, but sometimes one and rarely three. The incubation period lasts between 30 – 40 days. Chicks are helpless at birth. The young fledge at about nine to ten weeks, and family groups will remain together until fall.

Again, like many other species I have observed, more and more of these animals are beginning to show up in the urban surroundings, where in the past they were only seen in rural areas.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who holds the Red Sox record for the most home runs at the All-Star break?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The irritating brown-tailed moth is back in the news

brown-tailed moth

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

The brown-tailed moth is back in the news. We covered this subject a couple of months ago, but it may warrant going over again. It is not a human friendly insect. This particular moth, Euproctis chrysorrhoea, is one that we probably could do without.

This moth, once native only to Europe, was accidentally brought to Massachusetts in 1897 on nursery stock, and soon spread to the rest of New England, Today, it is found only on Cape Cod and along the coast of Maine, where it is considered an invasive species.

The brown-tail moth is armed with defensive barbed hairs throughout its life span but especially during the caterpillar stage. These hairs break off, and for many people exposed, are susceptible to skin rashes, headaches, and even difficulty breathing. This caterpillar also has a huge host range of plants on which they feed.

The brown-tail moth caterpillar has tiny poisonous hairs that cause rashes similar to poison ivy on sensitive individuals. Rashes may develop when people come in direct contact with the caterpillar or indirectly from airborne hairs. The hairs become airborne by either being dislodged from living or dead caterpillars, or they come from cast skins with the caterpillar molts. Respiratory distress from inhaling the hairs can be serious.

Typical brown-tailed moth rash.

Caterpillars are active from April to late June. Hairs remain toxic throughout the summer but get washed into the soil and are less of problem over time.

The moths, which are attracted to light and fly at night, and active in July and August, have a wingspan of about 1.5 inches. The wings and midsection are solid white on both the male and female. The abdomen has brown on it, and the brown coloration extends along most of the upper surface of the abdomen in the male, whereas the top of the abdomen is white on the female, but the tuft of brown hairs are much larger.

The factors underlying brown-tail moth population dynamics are little understood and have been only thoroughly investigated by few researchers.

According to the Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness staff, the brown-tail moth has been getting plenty of attention over the past few years. This is because the numbers have spiked to a level that haven’t been seen in quite some time. Last year was a banner year and this year’s population is predicted to be even higher.

Throughout much of its life cycle, the moth sheds its toxic hairs. Eggs are laid in August-September, when a female can lay up to 400 eggs. They build their winter nest in the fall and remain there from September to June. In June and July, the larvae spin cocoons in which to pupate. The cocoons are full of toxic hairs. The moth emerges in July and August, mate and lay eggs to begin a new cycle. During this period, more hairs are shed to cover the egg mass.

The brown-tail moth’s excessive desire to eat, and its habit of feeding on many different kinds of foods, together with its tendency to reach outbreak densities, makes this species a major pest of hardwood forests and may also attack fruit and ornamental trees.

According to the Coastal Pharmacy and Wellness staff, moth spray or lotion, to combat the rash, are available by prescription from your doctor. There is no antidote for the toxins, so treatment is focused on relieving symptoms and eliminating further exposure. “Since many reactions occur over weekends, seeing a doctor may not be immediately possible. In these cases, you may find relief by soaking in a warm bath and applying calamine lotion or antihistamine cream.”

Pursuant to Maine Statute Title 22§1444 the Chief Operating Officer of the Maine Center for Disease Control can declare an infestation of brown-tail moths as a public health nuisance. The declaration may be made on the COO’s initiative or upon petition by municipal officers.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

With his win in game five of the 2013 World Series, Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox became only the second Red Sox left-handed pitcher to win three World Series games. Who was the first?

Answer can be found here.