SCORES & OUTDOORS: What will winter bring to us?

Basketball size bee hive, left, and its location in the tree. (photos by Roland D. Hallee)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

OK, it’s mid-September and time for me to go out on a limb, stick my neck out, walk the tightrope – take your pick of the risk I’m about to take.

It’s my annual attempt at reading Mother Nature’s warnings, and predict the upcoming winter. I know…I know, it’s only September, but that season will be here before we know it.

I have been watching signs over the past couple of weeks, and I have to admit, I’m getting mixed messages.

My first observation are onions. If the skin is thin, we can expect a mild winter. The onions I have been peeling lately have had thin skins, thus that would indicate a mild winter. Another sign of a mild winter has been squirrels. They don’t seem to be in a hurry to gather nuts for the winter, another sign of a mild winter.

However, another farmer’s folklore signal is the squirrel’s tail. A bushy tail indicates a tough winter, and a skinny tail means a mild season. I have seen both. One day I noticed a squirrel with a really bushy tail, and later in the day, saw one with a less bushy one.

How about berries and nuts. Let’s examine that. I have wild berries growing in my backyard, black raspberries and choke cherries. My crop of black raspberries this year was minimal, and I have way fewer choke cherries than usual. Both signs of a mild winter.

Now, there are other signs for which to look. Are cornhusks thicker than normal? If so, a rough winter. I have not noticed much of a difference this year. Flowers blooming in late autumn are another sign of a tough winter. I don’t know if this qualifies, but when my rhubarb patch was pretty much finished in late July, I cleared the area, getting it ready for winter. While I was checking on my squash garden this past weekend, I noticed a new crop of rhubarb coming in. I have never seen that before. Also, the abundance of acorns at camp seems to be way down this year. Not as many as we’ve seen in recent years.

Let’s talk bees. Actually yellow jackets.

The old folklore states that bee hives constructed high indicates heavy snow fall. Closer to the ground means mild winter, snow-wise.

This past weekend, while camping with my family in Solon, we noticed plenty of yellow jackets around. On Sunday morning, we finally located the hive. It hung from a tree along the Kennebec River, it was the size of a basketball, and must have been a good 30 feet above ground, hanging over the river. Not a good sign, unless, of course, you’re a skier or a snowmobile enthusiast.

Another is leaves on a tree. If the leaves fall early, it signals a mild winter, but if they fall late, winter will be severe. Upon our return to camp from the camping trip, my wife and I noticed a large number of leaves on the ground. It seems, at least to me, that it’s a little early for that.

Finally, the wooly bear caterpillar. This one I can’t help you with. It is mid-September and I have yet to see one. I will keep a vigil on this, and perhaps report to you later. Remember, the wider the rust colored band on the caterpillar, the milder the winter.

According to the Old Farmers Almanac, weather folklore warnings of a harsh winter are based on La Nina. La Nina conditions for North America tend to be dry in summer and cold in winter, so if birds leave early, the leaves fall quickly, onions and apple skins are tough, and caterpillars are short, it may be due to the La Nina drought. A miserable winter will follow.

So, let’s review. I have presented 12 conditions on which to base my prediction. The score is: Mild winter 7, tough winter 3, and two undecided. It looks like a relatively mild winter. However, all the “weather experts” seem to say a rough winter. Maybe I’m just trying to justify a mild winter in my mind.

So, here is my recommendation. You’d better polish the shovels, and tune up the snowblowers, because to be a true Mainer is to be ready for anything. And we’ve all heard the old saying, “If you don’t like the weather in Maine, wait a minute.”

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

How many years did it take for Bill Belichick to win a Super Bowl as head coach with the New England Patriots?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The sounds at camp

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Well, we are approaching that sad time of year when my wife and I are readying to shutter camp for the winter. It’s with mixed emotions because we really enjoy camp (we live there from May to October), but it’s football season, and we are both avid New England Patriots fans, and home is where we like to be for Sunday afternoon kickoffs.

The big question that comes to mind is which do we prefer, the sounds of the loons’ eerie calls in the night, the barred owls caterwauling at each other in the early morning hours, peepers in the spring and all the other wonderful sounds of nature, or… the sounds of ridiculously large pickup trucks revving their oversized engines with the loud exhaust belching fumes and smoke into the air, squealing tires, police sirens blaring at all hours of the night, barking dogs, arguing neighbors, etc? Living in the middle of Waterville, those sounds always make me think, “Welcome home.” I think the answer to my question is a no-brainer.

With that in mind, here are some of the more memorable things that I witnessed this past summer at camp.

First, we’ll talk about the bald eagles consistently seen circling over Webber Pond in search of food. On two occasions this past summer, while fishing, we witnessed bald eagles come swooping down from a high perch in the trees, to scoop up fish from the surface of the water with their sharp, deadly talons. One time the bird came as close as 20 yards from our boat. The second time, it was a little further away, but still as magnificent.

Then, there was the morning when, on my way to work on the Seaward Mills Road, in Vassalboro, I saw a rafter of geese crossing the road in front of me. I had to come to a standstill because one of the adult turkeys was stationed smack in the middle of the road while the rest of the brood crossed, in single file, with an adult leading the way. That turkey resembled a school crossing guard as he stopped traffic for the kids to cross.

Not two long after, on the same road, I saw another flock of turkeys crossing the road, but this time they were accompanied by a house cat, who showed all the techniques of a border collie herding sheep. It would move around the flock to keep the young ones in line as they navigated the asphalt. Quite something to see. The cat showed no interest in harming any of the fowl.

There was also the night, which I mentioned before in this column, of the barred owls as they caterwauled to each other late one night. They started quite innocently as you would expect to hear an owl. These, being barred owls, would call out “who cooks for you, who cooks for you, all.” However, the calling began to intensify and before long the calls began to sound like barking dogs, something I had never heard before from barred owls.

Finally, in mid-May, there was the night we heard noises off in the distance that sounded like a small dog wailing from discomfort. It was a yelping sound, followed by a whine. “An injured dog,” was the first thought. However, as the sound persisted, it became clear that the calling was from red foxes calling out to each other during the mating season. The foxes have been around all summer, but the callings have stopped.

Nature has sounds of its own, and even though they can be loud at times, still trump (Oops, there’s that word, again) the sounds of the city.

Every year, the weekend after Labor Day, we make a fishing trip to Nesowadnehunk Lake, in a remote area abutting Baxter Park to the west, where we can lay in our cots in the tent, and listen to the coyotes howl in the distance. Ah, the wonderful sounds to which to fall asleep.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What was the name of the fictitious former Boston Red Sox relief pitcher played by Ted Danson in the hit TV comedy Cheers?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Is it possible that bees kill other bees?

Honey bee

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Here is something quite interesting. At least I think so.

Last Sunday, while I was talking with a neighbor, we were standing near one of my wife’s hummingbird feeders. She uses a mixture of sugar and water to lure, and watch, the hummingbirds. Well, as sometimes happens, bees take over the feeder.

While we were standing there, two bees decided to occupy the same feeding station. They got into a fight, actually looking as if they were wrestling, both falling to the ground. One of the bees then returned to the feeder. The other lay on the ground, with a very noticeable twitch to its hind end, seemingly unable to fly. It continued to do so for some time before succumbing to its injury. It never did regain flight.

My immediate question: do hornets sting other hornets?

Here goes:

Many years have been spent studying and working with different kinds of bees, and most bee keepers say they have never seen a bee sting another bee. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. There are many different kinds of bees and some live in groups with other bees. The most famous of the bees that live in big groups are honey bees.

Honey bees that live in the same hive are called nestmates because they share a nest. The queen bee lays all the eggs in the hive and has mostly daughters. So usually nestmates are sister-bees that get along very well. They cooperate to feed their little sisters and brothers, collect food, build and protect their nests from animals (or bees from other nests) that want to eat them or their honey.

Because sometimes honey bees steal nectar (the main ingredient for making honey) from other nests, some bees, called guard bees, stand at the door and sniff the bees that land there with their antennae. If the newly-landed bee smells like she belongs in the nest, the guard lets her nestmate in. If not, the guard will bite and sting the intruder bee, preventing the intruder from entering the nest.

In experiments where scientists investigate how bees tell whether a bee is their nestmate or not, bees sometimes fail to recognize their nestmates and end up accidentally stinging their sisters! They also sometimes let bees into the hive that are not their nestmates.

So yes, even when trying to defend their nests from intruders, bees sometimes accidentally sting their nestmate sisters, but only because they mistake their sisters for intruders.

I can’t say I blame them. I’m not sure I’d be so good at recognizing my sisters if I had thousands of them.

Outside their nest area hornets, on the other hand, have been known to be quite passive creatures. It has been noted by some researchers that hornets are shy, peaceful creatures. They tend to avoid conflict and only attack when they absolutely have to.

One beekeeper said, in their 30-plus years in the beekeeping industry, they have never seen a bee sting another bee, hornet or wasp. But on many occasions have seen a number of bees “ball” another bee or wasp. In these instances they aggressively wrestle with the intruder, biting and in the case of another bee pulling the body hair with their jaws until the intruder escapes or dies. That is what may have happened Sunday.

Also observed were many bees attacking and killing a mouse by stinging it to death but never another insect of similar size, or species, but no doubt it may happen. There is no reason for bees to lose one life to take another by stinging it to death when a number of them can chase one individual from the hive in another way.

When a honey bee stings, it dies a gruesome death. The bee’s stinger is structured in such a way that once it punctures human skin, the bee can’t yank it out without self-amputating. As the honey bee tries to pull out the stinger, it ruptures its lower abdomen, leaving the stinger embedded, pulling out instead a string of digestive material, muscles, glands and a venom sac. What results is a gaping hole at the end of the abdomen.

It’s kind of like bleeding to death, except bees don’t have blood,, It’s fake, clear insect blood.”
The honeybee stinger is hollow and pointed, like a hypodermic needle. It contains two rows of lancets, or saw-toothed blades. These blades are barbed in shape, and face outward like a harpoon.

As a bee stings, the blades alternate, scissoring together into your flesh. It looks — and works — like a screw anchor, meaning that once in, the stinger can’t retract. Muscles connect the stinger to a venom sac, from which a cell-destroying toxin is pumped into the hole.

The scent of the venom released from the honey bee signals a threat to the hive. And weirdly, it smells like bananas. It is only the female honey bees, also known as the worker bees, that sting. Each hive contains some 60,000 worker bees, followed by a few hundred male drones and a single female queen bee.

Worker bees are like disposable soldiers for the colony: their sole function is to gather nectar, pollinate, and defend the base. They are all infertile females. The queen lays all eggs and the drones fertilize them.

The queen bee only stings when fighting for dominance against another queen, Winston said.

And while the hornet and the wasp are known for being more aggressive, honey bees are more docile, and typically only attack when threatened.

Although queen bees have never been stung, many times the workers will participate in “balling” a queen for no apparent reason. Perhaps they just don’t like some individuals.

Colony usurpation is when a summer swarm takes over an established colony by quickly invading it in a matter of minutes. While some of the hive bees and the usurpation bees fight, the crucial action is with the queens. Queen balling is where bees form a tight ball about the size of a walnut around a queen. Once a new queen has hatched, it is the duty of the worker bees to kill the existing queen through a process known as “balling”, in which they cluster around the queen bee, essentially suffocating her.

So, everything that we have learned so far about bees and hornets, it still doesn’t answer the question of why these two bees got into a “wrestling” match, with one killing the other, around a hummingbird feeding station. The only thing that comes to mind is, because summer is fading, the bees might come from different hives, and are fighting to bring back as many nutrients as possible to their respective hives.

Only a theory.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

True or False. After retiring from baseball pitcher Jim Lonborg, of the Boston Red Sox, became a used car salesman.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Those giant mosquitoes buzzing around at night

Crane fly

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Have you ever gone to bed on a warm summer night, and seen this thing flying around that resembles a large mosquito?

It happens to me all the time at camp.

Sitting up in bed, grabbing the book I’m reading, or possibly a magazine for some light and quick reading. And, there it is, buzzing around the light, and becoming extremely annoying. It looks like a giant mosquito.

One of my relatives recently posted a photo on Facebook of that exact same insect on her arm. In the posting, she notes, “it’s a good thing I’m not afraid of spiders.” Wait a minute, this insect has six legs. All arachnids have eight legs. That is not a spider.

Well, I quickly fired off an email to my biologist contact at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, along with the photo. It didn’t take long to receive a reply.

His response was, “this is a cranefly, a true fly in the order Diptera, and probably from the family Tipulidae. There are over 1,500 species of Craneflies in North America and possibly several hundred in Maine. The adults are harmless, some species not feeding at all, and some species feeding predominantly on nectar.”

In colloquial speech, the cranefly is sometimes called Daddy Longlegs, a term also used to describe opiliones, or harvestmen, both of which are arachnids. The larvae of the cranefly are known commonly as leatherjackets.

Craneflies are found worldwide, though individual species usually have limited ranges.

The adult crane fly, like mentioned earlier, resembles an oversized mosquito, and has stilt-like legs that are deciduous, easily coming off the body.

The adult female usually contains mature eggs as she emerges from her pupa, and often mates immediately if a male is available. Adult craneflies have a lifespan of 10 – 15 days. Cranefly larvae (leatherjackets) have been observed in many habitat types on dry land and in water. They are cylindrical in shape, but taper toward the front end, and the head capsule is often retracted into the thorax. Larvae may eat algae, microflora, and living or decomposing plant matter, including wood. Some are predatory.

The sole purpose of the adult crane fly is to mate and, for the females, to lay eggs for next spring’s crop of flies. Crane flies are harmless to handle, so the next time one makes its way indoors, simply cup it gently to release outdoors. Think of it as a romantic gesture.

Some lavae species consume some living aquatic insects and invertebrates, which could potentially include mosquito larvae. Many, however, because of their short lifespan, never eat at all.

Numerous other common names have been applied to the crane fly. Many of the names are more or less regional in the U.S., including mosquito hawk, mosquito eater, gallinipper, and gollywhopper.

There are other misconceptions about the crane fly.

There is an enduring urban legend that crane flies are the most venomous insects in the world, but have no ability to administer the venom; this is not true. The myth likely arose due to their being confused with the cellar spider as they are also informally called “daddy longlegs”, and although the arachnid does possess venom, it is not especially potent.

Despite widely held beliefs that adult crane flies prey on mosquito populations, the adult crane fly is anatomically incapable of killing or consuming other insects.

Crane flies are generally thought as agricultural pests. Since the late 1900s they have become invasive in the United States. The larvae have been observed on many crops, including vegetables, fruits, cereals, pasture, lawn grasses and ornamental plants.

Should you kill crane flies? Adult crane flies are harmless and do not feed on blood. However, crane fly larva, known as leatherjackets, can cause damage to your lawn. You can kill the flies immediately with an insecticide or you can take preventative measures by killing their larva.

First, you must use home remedies with essential oils to prevent adult crane flies. It will also prevent them from laying their eggs in your garden or lawn. There are many essential oils that you can use to make your treatment, the most common being lavender, and peppermint oil.

It is harmless to humans, can be a nuisance to agriculture, but I wish it would stop reading over my shoulder.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which Red Sox relief pitcher appeared in a record 81 games during the 2005 season?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Banded longhorn beetles common in central Maine

Banded longhorn beetle

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

A little while back, while we were sitting with neighbors at camp, we noticed a bug walking along the floor of the porch. Strange looking thing…really ugly! They asked what it was. That was easy.

It was a longhorn beetle.

Although you don’t see them often, they are pretty common around the world, including Maine. Oh, I forgot. They are called banded longhorn beetles. There are over 20,000 species worldwide, 1,200 of which occur in North America.

Adult longhorn beetles, Typocerus velutinus, vary greatly in shape, size and color. In general, they are cylindrical and rather long-bodied. Some of the larger ones can reach six inches in length, but most species measure around two to three inches long. Some are dull brown, while others have bright colors or intricate patterns on their wing covers.

But the dominant part of their bodies are their antennae. They can reach at least two-thirds as long as the body, and in some species the antennae are longer than the body. Males have longer antennae than females. Some are slow moving, while others can run quickly or are strong fliers. Depending on the species, adults may be observed feeding on flower parts, leaves or bark.

Banded Longhorn Beetles have extremely long antennae (horns) like their other relatives. Their bodies are colored in alternating bands of red and yellow. The head and pronotum are black. A thin band of yellow separates the pronotum from the head and abdomen. They are wider at the ‘shoulders’ and taper at the tip of the abdomen. Antennae are black and segmented. Legs are yellow with black ‘feet’.

They are often found on flowers, eating the pollen of a variety of species though they seem to favor parsley, carrot and celery flowers. Look for them in herb, vegetable, and flower gardens. Adult beetles can also be found on hardwood trees. Eggs are laid on dead or decaying trees where larvae hatch and begin boring into the wood. Look for larval frass, a mix of feces and sawdust, on the trunk or near the base of the tree. It is produced as a larva digs and is expelled as the tunneling deepens. This species’ larvae seem to prefer birch, sumac and goldenrod. Examine fallen trees and rotting logs in mixed wood forests for signs of the Banded Longhorn Beetle.

Longhorn beetles have many natural enemies, especially parasitic wasps and the larvae of certain other beetles. Many birds feed on adults and woodpeckers are fond of the larvae. Lizards sometimes lie in wait and capture adults when the beetles land on bark to mate or lay eggs.

Adults can be found on hardwood trees. Eggs are laid on the dead or decaying trees where lavae hatch, boring into the wood. Look for larval frass, a mix of feces and sawdust created when the larva tunnels deeper. This species seems to prefer birch, sumac and goldenrod, of which there are plenty in central Maine. They can be found in 38 states, seven Canadian provinces, mostly in eastern Canada, and Mexico.

Partly because of their relatively slow rate of reproduction, the survival of some species of longhorn beetles is endangered. For example, the valley elderberry longhorn beetle is threatened with extinction in California. Development and farming along river banks have destroyed much of this beetle’s natural habitat.

And then, you have the Asian longhorn beetle, which have become a serious threat to some of North America’s most beautiful and popular trees. Native to parts of Asia, the beetle is believed to have arrived in North America in the wooden packing material used in cargo shipments from China. Isolated Asian Longhorn Beetle infestations have been discovered in Brooklyn and Amityville, New York, and in Chicago, Illinois. In all instances where Asian longhorn beetles have been found, authorities have reacted quickly to stop the infestation from spreading.

Trees favored by the Asian longhorn beetle are predominantly maples, but infestations have also been discovered in horse chestnuts, poplars, willows, elms, mulberries and black locusts. Currently, there are no known chemical or biological defense against the Asian longhorn beetle and, in North America, they have few natural predators. In all cases of infestation, the affected trees are cut down and the wood destroyed.

In concluding, if you see a banded longhorn beetle, they are scary looking, but quite harmless to humans.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who holds the record for hitting the most home runs in Red Sox history?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Turtles are laying their eggs: please use caution when approaching

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

“It’s that time of year, again.” Probably one of the most over used phrases in the English language, and one that I loathe to hear. Why? Because when you come right down to it, everyday is that time of year for something. Anyway, here we go.

It’s that time of the year again when snapping turtles appear everywhere to lay their eggs. Just this past week I have seen at least a half dozen snappers on the side of the road; saw one person stop to help it across the road, and I myself have done it once on the Nelson Road, in Vassalboro.

And, two concientious young citizens, Bella and Sophie Lefferts, have created and placed signs along a stretch of Village Street, in South China, proclaiming, “Take it Slow, Turtles Crossing.”

Snapping turtles, Chelydra s. serpentina, range across the eastern United States to the Rocky Mountains, from southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and into Central America.

common snapping turtle

The snapping turtle can be easily recognized by its dark upper shell with a deeply serrated back margin, and a small bottom shell that does not completely cover all of the animal’s flesh. The upper shell can measure between 8 – 12 inches in length on average in adults, and it can weigh between 10-35 pounds. These turtles have long tails, often measuring as long or longer than the shell, and is covered with bony plates. They also have a large head, long neck, and a sharp, hooked upper jaw. This hard beak has a rough cutting edge that is used for tearing food.

Once turtles mature and their shell hardens, they are virtually predator-free.

If you see a snapping turtle crossing the road, and decide to help it out, always make sure you relocate it on the side of the road in which it was headed. If not, it will only try to cross the road again. It’s obviously headed in a direction that is important to it. Always use caution when picking one up. Place your thumbs in the center of the upper shell, and the rest of your hand on its stomach. Be careful not to make contact with its mouth. It could be painfully uncomfortable if it were to bite you.

Never use a broom or shovel to help it along, as you could injure the turtle.

The female turtle will lay eggs in sandy, soft soil between April and November, depending on its location. In our area, they usually lay their eggs in May and June. That is why the shoulder of a road looks inviting to them. Be on the lookout, and try to avoid the nest. The female will generally lay between 10 and 50 eggs, and they take three to four months to hatch. Interestingly, eggs incubated at 68 degrees will produce only females; eggs maintained at 70-72 degrees will produce both male and female and those incubated at 73-75 degrees produce only males.

The female will dig a nest, lay the eggs, using her back feet to position them, and then bury the clutch. That makes the nest extremely vulnerable, and is usually a target for raccoons who consider the turtle eggs a delicacy. Skunks, crows, dogs and other mammals are also culprits. It is estimated that up to 90 percent of the nests are destroyed by predators. Countless turtles are also killed or injured on roads during their terrestrial treks. Despite this high rate of mortality, snapping turtles are not endangered, although some states have placed a ban on harvesting them.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W) has voted to outlaw the commercial harvest of snapping turtles. It was urged by then-Commissioner Lee Perry to support the ban, to ensure the sustainability of snappers, which don’t breed until 20 years of age in the north. “While I have no reason to believe that snapping turtles are threatened with extinction in Maine, there is reason to be concerned about the viability of the population,” he said.

Snapping turtles typically live until between 20 and 50 years of age in captivity, although records are poor as to the actual longevity of turtles in the wild. Some studies have indicated that snapping turtles can live well over 100 years.

However, turtles are not innocent victims. They may cause depredation at privately-owned ponds, fish farms, or waterfowl sanctuaries and control methods may be warranted. They will feed on plants, insects, spiders, worms, fish, frogs, small turtles, snakes, birds, crayfish, small mammals and carrion.

It’s important to be on the lookout for turtles this time of year. By driving defensively and keeping alert to conditions on the road, motorists should be able to avoid hitting a turtle.

Have you ever heard the riddle, “If a turtles leaves its shell, is it naked or homeless?”

Well, the answer is: it is not possible for a turtle to “lose” its shell. Their shell is part of them just as much as our skeleton is a part of us. The turtle is connected to its shell through its nerves, skin, ribs, and spinal cord.

I guess you learn something everyday.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What do the “away” jerseys of the Boston Red Sox say on the front, Boston or Red Sox?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS – Slugs: what are they good for in the realm of things?

Slugs

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Slugs! They have been raising havoc with my tomatoes, turnip green and even marigolds. Last year they were responsible for the complete destruction of my cucumber, green pepper and marigold plantings at camp. There seems to be no end to them. That raised the question: what are slugs, what are their usefulness and how do we get rid of them?

First of all, let’s find out a little bit about them.

Slug is a common non-scientific word, which is often applied to any gastropod mollusc, and the word “slug” is more frequently encountered as applied to air-breathing land species, including a few agricultural and horticultural pest species.

Land slugs, like all other slow-moving gastropods, undergo torsion (a 180-degree twisting of the internal organs) during development. Internally the anatomy of a slug clearly shows the effects of this rotation, but externally the bodies of slugs appear rather symmetrical.

The soft, slimy bodies of slugs are prone to dry up (desiccation), so land-living slugs are confined to moist environments and are forced to retreat to damp hiding places when the weather is dry.

Like other snails, a slug moves by rhythmic waves of muscular contraction on the underside of its foot. It simultaneously secretes a layer of mucus on which it travels, which helps prevent damage to the tissues of the foot.

Slugs produce two types of mucus: one which is thin and watery, and another which is thick and sticky. Both kinds of mucus are hygroscopic (absorb and retain moisture). The thin mucus is spread out from the center of the foot to the edges, whereas the thick mucus spreads out from front to back. They also produce thick mucus which coats the whole body of the animal.

Slugs’ bodies are made up mostly of water, and without a full-sized shell to retreat into, their soft tissues are prone to desiccation.

Slugs are hermaphrodites, having both female and male reproductive organs. After mating, the slugs lay around 30 eggs in a hole in the ground, or beneath the cover of objects such as fallen logs.

Mostly, slugs are harmless to humans and to their interests, except for a small number of species of slugs that are great pests of agriculture and horticulture. They feed on fruits and vegetables prior to harvest, making holes in the crop, which can make individual items unsuitable to sell for aesthetic reasons, and which can make the crop more susceptible to rot and disease.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but so far I haven’t mentioned any benefits to the ecosystem. Their only contribution seems to be the fact they eat dead leaves, fungus and decaying vegetable material. It has always been my belief that if you allowed those to decompose, they will turn to dirt. Why do the slugs have to eat them?

Frogs, toads, snakes, hedgehogs, salamanders, eastern box turtles and certain birds and beetles are slug predators. Birds include blackbirds, crows, ducks, jays, owls, robins, seagulls, starlings and thrushes. With the large number of crows we have around our camp, I can’t figure out why they haven’t wiped out the slug population.

I also have seen numerous frogs and toads in my garden which might be helping with the fact that the slugs have not attacked my tomatoes. Snakes, which are a no-no as far as I’m concerned are allowed to stay. However, those sightings have been few and far in between, partly due, I think, to the large number of raptors in the area.

So, as you can see, slugs are a pest, they are disgusting, and they serve very little purpose in our environs.

Here are a few general tips on how to deal with slugs:

  • Seedling protection: Protect your seedlings with 2-3 liter plastic soda bottles. Make sure no slugs are around the seedlings first. Cut the bottoms out of the bottles, sink them into the soil around the seedlings and remove the caps. You can reuse them over and over.
  • Mulch: Keep mulch pulled away from the base of your plants. Consider waiting to apply mulch until the soil temperatures have warmed to above 75°F.
  • Garden debris: Keep all decaying matter cleaned out of your garden beds. Clear all dead leaves and debris from the garden on a regular basis and put it in the compost pile which is best located in an area away from the garden.
  • Slug havens: The shaded areas beneath decks can be a slug arena. Keep them weed and litter free.
    You can also build barriers around your garden:
  • Use cedar, oak bark chips or gravel chips which will irritate and dehydrate them.
  • Try a barrier line or an overall sprinkle of powdered ginger.
  • Use wood ashes as a barrier around plants, however try not to let the plant come into contact with the ashes. The ashes act as a desiccant and dry up the slugs.
  • Spread well crushed eggshells around the plants. The calcium released from the eggshells is an extra benefit that “sweetens” the soil. The sharp edges of the shells will kill slugs.
  • Talcum powder works as a barrier but must be replenished after rainfall or watering.
    Finally, there is always the slug trap method:
  • Beer or yeast traps: A traditional trap that seems to work well is to place containers of beer or yeast and water at one inch above the ground level in the garden to entice and drown your prey. Empty traps as needed. For the yeast trap, use one package of yeast to 8 ounces of water.
  • Grape juice: A new rendition on the beer trap is to use grape juice. For some reason slugs really have a taste for this. Use just as you would in the beer method and buy the cheapest grape juice you can find.
  • Beer batter bait: Mix 2 tablespoons of flour with enough beer to make a thick batter. Put 1 teaspoon of this in a small paper cup and lay the cups on their sides around your plants. Slugs will flock to this, get snared in the flour and die. When the trap is full toss the whole thing in the compost pile.
  • Comfrey: This perennial is a preference of slugs and can be used as a trap. Comfrey is considered to be an invasive plant, however, it has so many uses for the garden and medicinally that it is worth having around. Comfrey has more protein in its leaves than any other vegetable, perhaps explaining its appeal to slugs.

I have comfrey around my garden at home and have had very little problems with slugs. So, I might just transplant some to the garden at camp.

Taking into consideration everything we have learned about slugs, the more I think about it, slugs remind me of college students: They suck up available resources, give very little in return, and they like to drink beer. They even prefer the same beers (a study conducted by students at Colorado State University concluded that the slug’s favorite beers are Budweiser products).

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which two Red Sox players were known as the Gold Dust twins?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Immature bald eagles sometimes mistaken for golden eagles

Bald eagle, left, and golden eagle.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Sitting with friends around a camp fire a while back, one of the neighbors said, that while kayaking that afternoon, she had seen a Golden eagle. I immediately chimed in that they were an endangered species, and were not known to exist in Maine (according to something I had read years ago).

The following day, while taking a boat ride around Webber Pond with some friends who are year-round residents on the pond, he asked if we had seen the Golden eagles. That did it.

Was it possible for Golden eagles to exist on Webber Pond. My friend went on to say he had witnessed them on the ice during the winter, actually devouring some fish that had been left on the ice by fishermen.

To prove his point, he steered the party boat toward the west shore of Webber Pond, where, high in the top of a tree, was this large nest, occupied by some rather large birds. We were not able to discern what was occupying the nest from that distance. Bald eagles were circling in the area. I was still not sold.

Well, research taught me that Golden eagles, one of the largest and fastest of raptors in North America, do exist in Maine, although a rarity, mainly to the west and north of Moosehead Lake. So, now are they moving east in our state? Maine hosts golden eagles in all seasons, but is currently on the edge of both the breeding and wintering range in the East. Most migrants in the East pass west of Maine. Very few golden eagles are in the state at any time of year.

Golden eagles, Equila chrysaetos, can be found throughout the northern hemisphere. A large population exists in the western Rockies and north into Alaska. In the east, a small breeding population occurs in Maine, Labrador and Québec Province, although its range is greatly reduced from its former extent down the Appalachians to North Carolina.

According to Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, Golden eagle populations appear to have been stable between 1966 and 2014. Partners in Flight estimates their global breeding population to be 300,000, with 35 percent spending some part of the year in the U.S.

Golden eagles are listed as an endangered species in Maine. The decline in their numbers is directly attributed to environmental contaminants, especially DDT, that caused reproductive impairment during the post World War II era. Although these contaminants are now banned, they still persist in the birds’ bodies. Maine’s golden eagles depend heavily on wading birds as prey, which had high levels of contaminants. Five dead golden eagles have been found since 1985. Golden eagle eggs recovered from a nest in 1996 showed high levels of DDE, a variant of DDT.

Golden eagle populations have declined in the east throughout the 20th century, and were extirpated 20-40 years ago in the eastern states. Only 10 nesting territories have been documented with certainty, but at least 18 more locations are suspected. Six successful nesting attempts were recorded at three Maine eyries [nests of birds of prey] from 1955-1967. Goldens disappeared from Oxford, Franklin and Somerset counties during the 1980s. The last known nesting pair in Maine existed until 1999, then disappeared completely. That pair was heavily contaminated and had not produced young since 1986.

Today, Golden eagles can fall prey to collisions with automobiles, wind turbines, and other structures or from electrocution at power poles. Urbanization, agricultural development and changes in wildfire regimes have compromised nesting and hunting grounds.

There have been sporadic sightings of Golden eagles in recent years, and it is hoped that individual eagles from Canada may be moving into previously unoccupied eyries. Counts at hawk watch sites seem to indicate the Eastern population is slowly recovering. Golden eagles still nest in Québec and Labrador. As a result, they are spotted annually in Maine during migration season.

Adults may live 15 – 20 years in the wild, although they have been known to live 46 years in captivity. The oldest recorded Golden eagle in the wild was at least 31 years, 8 months old when it was found in Utah in 2012.

Once I was almost convinced the two friends thought they had seen golden eagles, I asked if they had misidentified immature bald eagles, which resemble each other. Both told me the birds they saw were much larger than bald eagles. My skepticism continues. Golden eagle wingspans can extend up to six feet, with a 40-inch body, and can weigh 8 – 13 pounds. Bald eagles have a body length of up to 40 inches, with wingspans of 6 – 7.5 feet, and a body weight of between 6.5 – 14 pounds. Many sources say the bald eagle has sometimes been considered the largest true raptor in North America, outsizing the Golden eagle. I summary, Bald eagles are larger than Golden eagles.

Golden eagles are uniformly brown throughout their lives. They get their name from amber or golden highlights on the head and neck. Golden eagles have shorter hawk-like bills, their lower legs are feathered to the ankles, and they soar with slightly uplifted wings, whereas a bald eagle flies with its wings stretched straight out so you can see their “fingers.” Golden eagles remain with the same mate for life. The female is larger than the male, otherwise, they look identical.

Sightseers and photographers should stay away from the nest during the nesting season, which is February through August. Like bald eagles, golden eagles are disturbed by human activities near the nests. Humans should avoid the nests during the nesting period.

Wintering areas for Maine golden eagles can stretch to the Maritime Provinces, depending on the availability of food. Their normal diet consists of ground squirrels, marmots, ptarmigan and seabirds.

I’m still not convinced they saw Golden eagles on Webber Pond.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who holds the Boston Red Sox career record for being hit by a pitch, Mo Vaughn, Kevin Youkilis or Jim Rice?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Browntail moth produces one generation per year; timing is important

A browntail moth nest.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

The browntail moth continues to be in a lot of conversations. Now that the caterpillar is all but gone, the moth is abundant, and is the carrier of the next generation. That is why experts say they need to be dealt with now before the next round of caterpillars are hatched.

After they were sighted in all 16 Maine counties, and countless Mainers itching the blistery rash, it appears the worst may be over for the year’s browntail moth caterpillar infestation.

In April, experts predicted this summer would be the worst for browntail moth caterpillar infestations since the invasive insect arrived in Maine 100 years ago. They were right.

The browntail moth is an invasive species found only on the coast of Maine and Cape Cod. Over the last few years, it has been moving inland. This moth is an insect of both forest and human health concern.

The browntail moth caterpillar has tiny poisonous hairs that cause dermatitis similar to poison ivy on sensitive individuals. People may develop dermatitis from direct contact with the caterpillar or indirectly from contact with airborne hairs. The hairs become airborne from either being dislodged from the living or dead caterpillar or they come from cast skins with the caterpillar molts. 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. The rash results from both a chemical reaction to a toxin in the hairs and a physical irritation as the barbed hairs become embedded in the skin. Resp­iratory distress from inhaling the hairs can be serious.

One of The Town Line’s supporters, while out for his daily walk, picked up this leaf from the side of the road. It is two browntail moths with the egg sacks attached. Inside each of those sacks are around 400 eggs.

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

Pursuant to Maine Statute Title 22, §1444, the Director of Maine CDC can declare an infestation of browntail moths (BTM) as a public health nuisance. The declaration may be made on the director’s initiative or upon petition by municipal officers.

I’ve spoken with folks who believe there will be another round of browntail moth caterpillars and their toxic hairs this fall.

Usually, when I write about certain creatures of the forest, I rarely go into great detail on the reproductive cycle, mostly because of space. But I’m making an ex­ception this week so we can see why now is the time to act on browntail moths.

The brown-tail moth produces one generation a year. It has four life stages; egg, larval, pupal, and adult. Eggs are laid in July and hatch in August. The annual cycle is approximately one month as eggs, nine months as larvae, one month as pupae, and one month as winged, sexually mature adults.

Eggs are preferentially laid on oak trees.

Pre-diapausing larvae (caterpillar): Emerge and feed gregariously starting in August after about three weeks of egg incubation.

Diapausing larvae: As a response to shortened periods of daylight, larvae build communal winter nests in the fall, inside of which they overwinter. These involve webbing, binding leaves together at tree-top branch tips. Distinct from other communal moth larvae such as eastern tent caterpillar which over-winter as eggs, then create webbed nests in branch crotches during spring and summer. Should you see a nest, cut it down and, preferably, burn it.

Post-diapausing gregarious larvae: The emerging larvae, approximately three-eighths of an inch long, resume feeding in early April synchronized with bud break, and still inhabit the winter nests as their resting places, or else make communal web-nests. These small larvae will also detach from trees and fall to the ground, then search for new trees.

Post-diapausing dispersive larvae: Once larvae reach late instars, colonies break up and larvae start feeding independently.

Pupation: Larvae pupate in June after six to eight instars.

Emergence: Imagoes (winged, sexually mature adults) appear about one month later; mate, lay eggs and die.

One of the remedies going around right now calls to fill a bucket with Dawn dishsoap (only Dawn will do) and water. Place a light near the bucket to attract the moth, which is nocturnal but attracted to light. The moths will fall in the bucket, and the soap will prevent the moth from taking flight. In the morning, dig a hole and bury the moths. Some friends have tried it and they say it works.

CICAEDA PREDICTS FIRST FROST

Well, it’s July and guess what usually happens: the cicaeda made its first appearance of the year on Saturday, July 17. We only heard it twice, but it was there. You know the old folklore, when you first hear the cicaeda’s call, the first killing frost will occur 90 days later, following the full moon, which this year, puts that date at October 20.

Isn’t it awful to be talking about frost already.

MOUNTAIN LION SIGHTING

Last week, I received another email from a reader reporting a Mountain Lion sighting. The email stated: “This week, a large cat was creeping across our property as my wife was letting out our [German] shepherd. The shepherd doesn’t chase deer but gave a hard chase of what I assumed [at first] was a bobcat. My wife said the cat was tawny [in color], had a long tail and was the same size as our shepherd (75-80 lbs.).”

It seems there have been more frequent sightings recently, but the “experts” continue to dispel their existence in Maine.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which Red Sox pitcher has recorded the most wins at Fenway Park?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Why are those trees dripping on me?

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Have you ever noticed during the summer, especially when we head into the more humid days, that trees begin to drip on you? It isn’t sap, just water.

Well, the simple answer is the tree is “sweating.”

Now, for the more scientific explanation.

According to the United States Geological Survey, the process is actually called transpiration, and it is the process of water movement through a plant and its evaporation from aerial parts, such as from leaves but also from stems and flowers. Leaf surfaces are dotted with pores, similar to our skin, which are called stomata, and in most plants they are more numerous on the undersides of the foliage. The stomata are bordered by guard cells and their accessory cells that open and close the pore. Transpiration occurs through the stomatal apertures, and can be thought of as a necessary cost associated with the opening of the stomata to allow the diffusion of carbon dioxide gas from the air for photosynthesis. Transpiration also cools plants – again similar to our sweating – changes the pressure of cells, and enables mass flow of mineral nutrients and water from roots to shoots.

Mass flow of liquid water from the roots to the leaves is driven in part by capillary action, but primarily driven by water potential differences. In taller plants and trees, the force of gravity can only be overcome by the decrease in water pressure in the upper parts of the plants due to the diffusion of water out of stomata into the atmosphere. Water is absorbed at the roots by osmosis, and any dissolved mineral nutrients travel with it through the xylem (the woody portion of the plant).

Plant transpiration is pretty much an invisible process, since the water is evaporating from the leaf surfaces, you don’t just go out and see the leaves “sweating.” Just because you can’t see the water doesn’t mean it is not being put into the air, though. During a growing season, a leaf will transpire many times more water than its own weight. An acre of corn gives off about 3,000-4,000 gallons of water each day, and a large oak tree can transpire 40,000 gallons per year.

The rate of transpiration is also influenced by the evaporative demand of the atmosphere surrounding the leaf such as humidity, change in temperature, wind and incident sunlight.

Soil water supply and soil temperature can influence stomatal opening, and thus transpiration rate. The amount of water lost by a plant also depends on its size and the amount of water absorbed at the roots. Transpiration accounts for most of the water loss by a plant, but some direct evaporation also takes place through the cuticle of the leaves and young stems. Transpiration serves to evaporatively cool plants as the escaping water vapor carries away heat energy.

Transpiration rates go up as the temperature goes up, especially during the growing season, when the air is warmer due to stronger sunlight and warmer air masses. Higher temperatures cause the plant cells which control the openings (stoma) where water is released to the atmosphere to open, whereas colder temperatures cause the openings to close.

As the relative humidity of the air surrounding the plant rises the transpiration rate falls. It is easier for water to evaporate into dryer air than into more saturated air.

Increased movement of the air around a plant will result in a higher transpiration rate. This is somewhat related to the relative humidity of the air, in that as water transpires from a leaf, the water saturates the air surrounding the leaf. If there is no wind, the air around the leaf may not move very much, raising the humidity of the air around the leaf. Wind will move the air around, with the result that the more saturated air close to the leaf is replaced by drier air.

When moisture is lacking, plants can begin premature aging, which can result in leaf loss, and transpire less water.

So, if anyone asks you why the trees are dripping, you can go into the long, scientific explanation, or you just simply say, “the tree is sweating,” and watch for the looks you will get.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who played for both the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Celtics?

Answer can be found here.