SCORES & OUTDOORS: What are all those crazy worms jumping around?

The common earthworm, top, and the crazy worm, below. Note the difference in the clitellum (a raised band encircling the body of worms, made up of reproductive segments), and its location on the two species. (photo courtesy of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Did you know there are no native earthworms in Maine? Here in the Northeast where glaciers scrubbed our bedrock bare a few years back we have no native earthworms. Non-native earthworms from Europe (such as nightcrawlers) have become well established here through early colonial trading. Though they are beneficial to our gardens, earthworms can have destructive effects on our forests.

Are you tired of hearing about new invasive species. Yeah – right there with you. Aside from the fact that there’s too much bad news around as it is, we’re still working on a solution for those good old-fashioned pests that rival the common cold in terms of eluding conquest. Japanese beetles, European chafers, buckthorn, wild parsnip, Japanese knotweed – enough already.

And now, there is another species of worms out there that are not so welcome.

Crazy worms are a type of earthworm native to East Asia. (Here we go with Asian invaders, again. It seems every invasive species, of any kind, originates in Asia). They are smaller than nightcrawlers, reproduce rapidly, are much more active, and have a more voracious appetite. This rapid life cycle and ability to reproduce asexually gives them a competitive edge over native organisms, and even over nightcrawlers. They mature twice as fast as European earthworms, completing two generations per season instead of just one. And their population density gets higher than other worms. And they can get to be eight inches in length, longer than a nightcrawler. When disturbed, crazy worms jump and thrash about, behaving like a threatened snake.

Crazy worms are known and sold for bait and composting under a variety of names including snake worms, Alabama jumper, jumping worms, Asian crazy worm. They are in the genus Amynthas, and distinguishing between the several species in the genus can be difficult. All species in this genus are considered invasive in Maine. It is illegal to import them into Maine (or to propagate or possess them) without a wildlife importation permit from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW). For more information, visit MDIFW’s Fish & Wildlife in Captivity webpage.

Crazy worms are native to Korea and Japan, and are now found in the United States from Maine to South Carolina and west to Wisconsin. Crazy worms were first collected from a Maine greenhouse in 1899, though an established population of this active and damaging pest was not discovered here until about 2014 when two populations were discovered in Augusta (one at the Viles Arboretum) and two populations were found in Portland. They have also been found in a rhododendron display at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, in Boothbay. It is believed that crazy worms are not yet widespread in Maine, but they have been discovered in some new locations since 2014, including nursery settings. If allowed to spread, crazy worms could cause serious damage to horticultural crops and the forest ecosystem in Maine.

So, why are crazy worms a problem? Crazy worms change the soil by accelerating the decomposition of leaf litter on the forest floor. They turn good soil into grainy, dry worm castings (a/k/a poop) that cannot support the native understory plants of our forests. Other native plants, fungi, invertebrates, and vertebrates may decline because the forest and its soils can no longer support them. As native species decline, invasive plants may take their place and further exacerbate the loss of species diversity.

In nurseries and greenhouses, crazy worms reduce the functionality of soils and planting media and cause severe drought symptoms. After irrigating or rains, you may find these worms under pots. These worms may be inadvertently moved to new areas with nursery stock, or in soil, mulch, or compost.

Many of Maine’s forests are already under pressure from invasive insect pests, invasive plants, pathogens, and diseases. Crazy worms could cause long-term effects on our forests.

When handled, these worms act crazy, jump and thrash about, behaving more like a threatened snake than a nightcrawler. They may even shed their tail when handled. Annual species, tiny cocoons overwinter in the soil, and the best time to find them is late June to mid-October. In nurseries, they can often be found underneath pots that are sitting on the ground or on landscape fabric. In forests, they tend to be near the surface, just under accumulations of slash or duff.

There are precautions you can take.

Do not buy or use crazy worms for composting, vermicomposting, gardening, or bait. Do not discard live worms in the wild, but rather dispose of them (preferably dead) in the trash. Check your plantings – know what you are purchasing and look at the soil. Buy bare root stock when possible. Be careful when sharing or moving plantings, cocoons may be in the soil.

What ever happened to just having regular nightcrawlers or “trout worms”?

For more information call Gary Fish, 207-287-7545 or email gary.fish@maine.gov.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

In 2008, which Boston Red Sox rookie stole 50 bases?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: What do woolly bear caterpillars do in the spring?

Woolly bear caterpillar that was seen in the parking lot at The Town Line newspaper on May 4. (photo by Roland D. Hallee)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

When I arrived at work on Monday, on my way into the office, I noticed a woolly bear caterpillar walking along the ground.

Strange.

Woolly bears are most visible during September and October. Where did this one come from in May? It was a loner and obviously keepling it’s social distance from other woollies.

The woolly bear caterpillar—also called woolly worm or fuzzy worm – has the reputation of being able to forecast the coming winter weather. Whether this is fact or folklore, can be left up to the interpreter!

Here’s the legend: The Woolly Bear caterpillar has 13 distinct segments of either rusty brown or black. The wider the rusty brown sections (or the more brown segments there are), the milder the coming winter will be. The more black there is, the more severe the winter.

If you recall, woolly bears sighted last fall contained a much larger rust band than black, indicating a mild winter. That is exactly what we experienced. It just didn’t predict the length of the “winter,” which doesn’t seem to want to go away. But that is nothing.

Does anyone remember the blizzard of April 6 – 7, 1982? The unusual nor’easter pummeled the region, dropping up to 30 inches of snow in the central Maine area. There were high winds and numerous power outages throughout the state. I was a district manager for a daily newspaper at the time, and was forced to meet the storm head on, actually staring death in the face when I encountered a state snow plow, approaching from the opposite direction, nearly head on in white out conditions. Only my quick reflexes – I was much younger then (I was 34) – saved me. When people complain about the lateness of the last storm here, on April 9, I always point to April 6 – 7, 1982.

Anyway, I digress.

In the fall 1948, Dr. C. H. Curran, curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City, took his wife 40 miles north of the city to Bear Mountain State Park to look at woolly bear caterpillars.

Dr. Curran collected as many caterpillars as he could in a day, determined the average number of reddish-brown segments, and forecast the coming winter weather through a reporter friend at The New York Herald Tribune.

Dr. Curran’s experiment, which he continued over the next eight years, attempted to prove scientifically a weather rule of thumb that was as old as the hills around Bear Mountain. The resulting publicity made the woolly one of the most recognizable caterpillars in North America (alongside the monarch caterpillar and tomato hornworm).

The caterpillar Curran studied, the banded woolly bear, is the larval form of Pyrrharctia isabella, the Isabella tiger moth.

If you find an all-black woolly caterpillar, don’t worry—this doesn’t mean that we’re in for a severe, endless winter! It’s just a caterpillar of a different species, and is not used for forecasting. The same is true for all-white woolly caterpillars.

Woolly bears, like other caterpillars, hatch during warm weather from eggs laid by a female moth.

Mature woolly bears search for overwintering sites under bark or inside cavities of rocks or logs. That’s why you see so many of them crossing roads in the fall.

When spring arrives, woolly bears spin fuzzy cocoons and transform inside them into full-grown moths.

Typically, the bands at the ends of the caterpillar are black, and the one in the middle is brown or orange, giving the woolly bear its distinctive striped appearance.

Between 1948 and 1956, Dr. Curran’s average brown-segment counts ranged from 5.3 to 5.6 out of the 13-segment total, meaning that the brown band took up more than a good third of the woolly bear’s body. The corresponding winters were milder than average, and Dr. Curran concluded that the folklore has some merit and might be true.

But Curran was under no scientific illusion: He knew his data samples were small. Although the experiments legitimized folklore to some, they were simply an excuse for having fun.

Thirty years later, the woolly bear brown-segment counts and winter forecasts were resurrected by the nature museum at Bear Mountain State Park. The annual counts have continued, more or less tongue in cheek, since then.

For the past 10 years, Banner Elk, North Carolina, has held an annual “Woolly Worm Festival” each October, highlighted by a caterpillar race. Retired mayor Charles Von Canon inspects the champion woolly bear and announces his winter forecast.

If the rusty band is wide, then it will be a mild winter. The more black there is, the more severe the winter.

Most scientists discount the folklore of woolly bear predictions as just that, folklore. Mike Peters, an entomologist at the University of Massachusetts, doesn’t disagree, but he says there could, in fact, be a link between winter severity and the brown band of a woolly bear caterpillar. “There’s evidence,” he says, “that the number of brown hairs has to do with the age of the caterpillar – in other words, how late it got going in the spring. The [band] does say something about a heavy winter or an early spring. The only thing is … it’s telling you about the previous year.”

Every year, the woolly worms do indeed look different – and it depends on their region. So, if you come across a local woolly bear, observe the colors of the bands and what they foretell about your winter weather.

So, what about seeing one in the spring. Woolly Bears nearly freeze solid during hibernation. Their body produces a chemical called a cryoprotectant that acts like an antifreeze which protects their organs and body tissues from being damaged from freezing. Once spring arrives and the outdoor temperatures begin to warm to the high 40s and 50s the caterpillar thaws and becomes active again. The Woolly Bear will soon spin a cocoon and pupate, eventually emerging as an adult Tiger Moth. When the caterpillar emerges as an adult it will have a short life span where it will need to find a mate and lay its eggs to complete the life cycle. The adult moth will only live for one to two weeks. They have no mouth parts so they essentially starve to death.

To watch the process evolve, you witness one of the true miracles of nature.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Before joining the Red Sox, Manny Ramirez spent seven years with which team?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Honestly, they didn’t make up this bug on TV sitcom

field cricket

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Over the past 50 years or so of my adult life, I have been involved in many activities, including coaching sports at the youth and high school levels, and have done my share of local political participation. So, in exposing myself to critics, I have been called some unflattering names. Some more colorful than others. But, one thing of which I have never been accused is being a nerd.

So, with that, I must make a confession. Although skeptical at first, I have become a follower of the now defunct TV sitcom, The Big Bang Theory. That group of nerds deals solely in science, and very rarely on practicality. My original evaluation of the show was that no one could be that nerdy. So, in one recent rerun episode, Sheldon, the “top” nerd of the group, talked about the Snowy Tree Cricket.

That was a good one. Who made up that name? It sounds contrary to anything about crickets I know. Well, I looked it up, and sure enough, it actually exists.

snowy tree cricket

This is what I found. The snowy tree cricket, Oecanthus fultoni, also known as the thermometer cricket, is a species of tree cricket from North America. It feeds on leaves but also damages fruit. The chirp of this species is often dubbed onto sound tracks of films and television shows to depict a quiet summer’s night, or ridicule from an audience attending a comic’s show when they don’t think the joke was funny. The rate of chirp varies depending on the heat of the environment, allowing a listener to estimate the temperature.

The cricket’s common name of the thermometer cricket is derived from a relationship between the rate of its chirps and the temperature. An estimate of the temperature in Fahrenheit can be made by adding 40 to the number of chirps made in 15 seconds. Before 1960, the name Oecanthus niveus was wrongly applied to this species. Oecanthus fultoni was named in honor of Bentley Ball Fulton (1880 – 1960), an American entomologist who laid the principal groundwork on North American cricket classification.

Of course, if you are really interested in using the snowy tree cricket as a thermometer, you should calibrate your local crickets against a thermometer placed near where they sing. Count their chirps per minute at a variety of temperatures, graph the results, draw a line that fits the points, and use a little algebra to arrive at a handy formula.

The species is about a half inch long and is light green with translucent light green wings. It has black marks on the first and second antennal segments, that are either round or oval shaped, and is about half the length of a segment. The antennae are longer than its body and it has a small head. The eggs are pale yellow and shaped like a kidney. Its nymphs are pale and slender with wings that are not completely developed. The nymphs develop wings slowly. It has one generation per year.

Tree crickets, unlike the large black crickets that occasionally enter houses, these are small brownish or greenish crickets. On warm summer evenings they make the familiar chirping sound that fills the night air, as males rub their wings together to attract females. The “song” is produced by frictional movements of roughened veins at the bases of the forewings. Like many other animals, the chirping is a prelude to courtship and mating.

When most people think of crickets, they are probably referring to the large, black or brown crickets. Although they make loud chirping sounds in spring and early summer, they are very different from smaller tree crickets that produce the predominant sounds on warm summer nights. Field crickets can be a nuisance with their annoying, incessant chirping, especially when you are trying to sleep. Like master ventriloquists, it is difficult to locate their origin. They are usually in very inaccessible locations, such as under furniture or appliances. Their presence in the home is considered an omen of good fortune in many parts of the world, and, in China, they are kept in captivity. Since they are omnivorous, they may nibble on a variety of foods, including food-stained clothing. They also have a taste for beverages, including beer.

American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne said of the snowy tree cricket’s chirps, “If moonlight could be heard, it would sound just like that.”

The species can be found throughout the United States except the southeastern part of the country. In Maine, they are predominantly in the southern part of the state, to include Ox­ford, Cum­ber­land, York, An­dros­­coggin, Sagadahoc, Kennebec and Lincoln counties. It exists in most fruit-growing states and provinces in eastern North America. It is located in shrubs, vines, fruit trees, broad-leaved trees, and oaks. The cricket can rarely be found in grass. Adults of the species can be found from mid-July to mid-November. The cricket can sometimes be so high in oak trees that its chirp is the only way to identify it.

Both nymphs and adults feed on leaves and their feeding causes barely any damage. The cricket is known to destroy apples, plums, peaches, and cherries. The female drills a hole into a twig’s cambium in which to lay its egg. It then makes a row of punctures on one side of the hole and seals it with either excrement or chewed plant tissue once the egg is placed. Adults of the species eat holes in ripe fruits which results in the fruit rotting. It normally does not cause any damage in orchards that are consistently sprayed.

There is yet more to know about the song of the snowy tree cricket. Although Sheldon talked about it, the cricket never did make an appearance.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

In how many Stanley Cup finals did Boston Bruins’ defenseman Bobby Orr play?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Let’s talk about deer ticks…one more time

Deer tick, left, and Engorged female deer tick, right.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

There is nothing like beating a subject to death. But, in this case, it’s worth every word.

You have to be living in a cave not to know that deer ticks are at an all time high. They are everywhere. Friends and family have told me stories about their encounters with the insect, and they all have one thing in common. They have all had multiple numbers on them at one time.

Also, as you know, deer ticks are hazardous to your health, primarily because they are the carriers of the dreaded Lyme Disease. In the last decade alone, the population of ticks of all kinds has ballooned in the United States. The number of ticks that carry Lyme disease has been on the rise in the mid-Atlantic states, and has skyrocketed throughout the Northeast. It has gained a reputation as a serious health problem in many areas.

On top of that, with most of us trying to get outdoors this time of year, and with the recent mild winter we experienced, the deer ticks are already active and will be out in force this summer. My wife and I have been to camp to begin opening up for the season, and we are already wary of their presence. We haven’t seen one, yet, but we know they are out there.

Only adult female ticks and nymphs can transmit infections through their bite. Male ticks attach, but they don’t feed or become engorged. Adult females have red and brown bodies and are larger than males. Nymphs are actively feeding between early April and early August.

Although not all deer ticks are infected with Lyme disease, you never really know. Only ticks that have fed on infected mammals are infected. About half of deer ticks are infected (usually white-footed mice can be other culprits).

Deer ticks live two to three years, and in that time usually enjoy three blood meals. In the spring and summer of its second year, a nymph will take its second meal. They insert their mouth parts into the skin much like a corkscrew, which ensures them a nice tight grasp. They often take up to five days to complete their meal.

This fact is key to reducing panic when discovering a tick. An infected tick must be attached to its host for at least 24 hours, and up to 48 hours to transmit the disease. It’s the very reason for checking your body right away after any possible exposure to a tick-infested environment.

Deer ticks crawl. They usually grab onto people or animals that brush up against plants near ground level, and then they crawl upwards to find a quiet place for their blood meal. Although many sources will state that ticks don’t land on you from an overhanging tree branch, many people have insisted it has happened to them.

Ticks live in wooded, brushy areas that provide food and cover for mice, deer and other mammals. The ideal tick environment is humid. Your exposure will be greatest along trails in the woods and fringe areas between woods and the border, where they will wait patiently on the tips of vegetation for an unsuspecting host to walk by.

Life is too short to avoid the outdoors during our short spring, summer and fall. In Maine, that is about half the year. There is no need to be brave, just be smart: cover your body; wear repellent; check yourself for ticks, if you find a tick, remove it immediately; shower soon after being outdoors; throw clothing in the dryer, that will kill any ticks present; and finally, if you are concerned, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor.

The best way to remove a tick is to use fine-point tweezers and grab the tick as close to the skin surface as possible. Pull backwards gently but firmly, using an even, steady pressure. Do your best not to jerk or twist. Don’t squeeze, crush or puncture the tick’s body, the fluids inside may contain infection-causing organisms. After removing the tick, wash the skin and your hands thoroughly with hot soap and water. If any mouth part of the tick remain in the skin, leave them alone. They will be expelled on their own. It could take weeks. Trying to remove them will only cause you unnecessary pain.

For the deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, deer are the preferred host, but they can also be found on small rodents. After the female is engorged, the tick drops off and overwinters in the leaf litter of the forest floor. The following spring, she will lay several hundred to a few thousand eggs in clusters. They are very hardy creatures. They will be active even after a moderate to severe frost, as daytime temperatures can warm them enough to keep them actively searching for a host. In the spring, they are one of the first invertebrates to become active.

It may be monotonous to keep hearing about the health hazards of being infected by a deer tick, but it’s one that needs to be repeated.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

The 1927 New York Yankees batting order, including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, was known by what nickname?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Putting up with the barnyard rooster; an annoyance and life threatening

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

One of the more common sights around a barnyard is the good ol’ rooster. But, why is he there?

My granddaughter and her husband live in Belgrade on about seven acres of land that they have kind of turned into a mini farm. They have pigs, goats, and chickens. A little while back, they acquired a rooster to fill out their immediate roster.

However, the rooster has become a problem. While we were there a few weeks back, the rooster seemed to be crowing all afternoon. Well, truth be told, that was only the tip of the iceberg. It seems he likes to visit the neighbors, and goes into his routine, which I thought was only at sunrise. I always thought the rooster would crow at the rising of the sun on the farm to awaken everyone to chores of the day. I guess not.

So, with complete understanding, the neighbors were getting a little annoyed with the scene.

I, personally, have had an up close encounter with one of those little critters.

When I was around 10 years old, or so, the family used to drive to the Abitibi region of Canada, to spend a few days at our grandfather’s farm. While we were there, it was no vacation. My three brothers and I had chores to do along with their children. It was up at dawn – before breakfast – and off to the barn. The older boys would round up the cows for milking, while my younger brother and I had smaller chores.

One of them was to feed the chickens and the pig. Well, I don’t have to tell you the encounters with the rooster weren’t always pleasant. He would defend the roost to no end. So, one day, I thought I would outfox the little devil. Since we had to enter the chicken coop, I looked around to see if I could locate him. Not seeing him in the field, I checked the inside of the coop by peering through the window. Still no rooster.

At that point I figured he was out and about, and had no interest in me today. Slowly, I opened the door to the pen and glanced around one last time. The coast was clear. I entered the coop and closed the door behind me. Well, the little dickens was hiding behind the door, and now had me trapped because he was between me and the door.

He then went into full attack mode, snipping at my Achilles with relentless ferocity. As a 10-year-old, I wasn’t sure I would survive. (That’s even more so now, since I read where a 76-year-old woman in Australia was killed by her rooster while she was picking up eggs from the barnyard.) I managed to push him aside – actually, it was more like kicking him – with my foot, and made my escape. Needless to say I have since not had fond feelings towards roosters. I don’t trust them.

So, what exactly is the function of the rooster.

The rooster is polygamous, but cannot guard several nests of eggs at once. He guards the general area where his hens are nesting, and attacks other roosters that enter his territory. During the daytime, a rooster often sits on a high perch to serve as a lookout for his group (hence the term “rooster”). He sounds a distinctive alarm call if predators are nearby and will frequently crow to assert his territory.

The term “rooster” actually originated in the United States as a puritan euphemism to avoid the sexual connotation of the original English name of a “cock.” Since a rooster roosts, it was only natural to give it that name.

Roosters almost always start crowing before four months of age. Although it is possible for a hen to crow as well, crowing, together with hackles development, is one of the clearest signs of being a rooster.

The rooster is often portrayed as crowing at the break of dawn. However, while many roosters crow shortly after waking up, this idea is not exactly true. A rooster can and will crow at any time of the day. Some roosters are especially vociferous, crowing almost constantly, while others only crow a few times a day. These differences are dependent both upon the rooster’s breed and it’s individual personality. A rooster can often be seen sitting on fence posts or other objects, where he crows to proclaim his territory.

But, I do have to say I felt bad when my granddaughter told me they had to get rid of the rooster in order to maintain good relations with the neighbors. He was only doing his job.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who was the Red Sox MVP following their 2018 World Series victory?

Answer on can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Observations while riding out the stay at home order

How to work from home when the office is closed.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

I think this week we will make a diversion from the usual. To paraphrase an old adage, “Even though our ancestors came across on different ships, we are all in the same boat, now.”

I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but I will present my take on observations I have made since the outbreak of the pandemic and the subsequent order to stay at home.

Because I am one of those deemed essential workers because of my job in the media, I get around a little, but I don’t flaunt it nor abuse it. It’s from the house to the car, to the office, which is closed to the public, confined with one other worker. At the end of the day, it’s back to the car and back home.

Because I am doing some work from home, I discovered last Friday that my printer was out of ink. Figuring it was essential that I go get some, we traveled to Staples, where the store was practically empty. We only saw three people. My wife and I needed a few items at home, so we figured while we were out, we would do that task so we could hunker down for the rest of the weekend. We avoided Walmart where the line was almost never-ending. We have friends who went there over the weekend and stood in line for two hours. Not a healthy situation.

So, we went to Hannaford where there was a short line – everyone obeying the six-foot markers that had been installed on the sidewalk. Something wonderful happened. Everyone, young and old, was extremely patient and cordial, even though we were standing in the rain. Something else developed. There we were, actually having conversations with total strangers. How refreshing was that?

They were only allowing 50 patrons at a time in the store. Once my wife and I were permitted to enter, we considered all the other people waiting in line, and hurried as best we could to get what we needed, going our separate ways in the store to gather the items, check out and let someone else enter the store, and out of the weather. We wondered how many other people did that. They even had toilet paper, which we took only one 4-pack, leaving some for others. Again, thinking of our neighbors.

The following day, we continued our early and accelerated spring cleaning. Following that, we dressed warmly, and went off for a walk through the neighborhood and around the nearby park. A power walk that took about 20 minutes. Once home, on a relatively quiet day, weatherwise, we sat on our side porch to enjoy the rest of the afternoon until the temperature starting dropping.

In that hour we sat there, we couldn’t help but notice people in the neighborhood still going about their routines – and some not so routine – while the rest of us conscientious citizens stayed home in the hopes it would help mitigate this pandemic. We watched one building, which we couldn’t help because it is located right across from us, where a group of young people – mostly teenagers – as they came and went out of the apartment all day long, piling into cars and pickup trucks, and certainly not practicing social distancing. We wondered what it was they were doing that was essential.

Obviously, there are people out there that are not taking this crisis seriously. Also, from our home, we can see one of Waterville’s more traveled streets, and the flow of vehicles was non-stop, all day long.

This is not meant to complain, but to alert some people that this virus is for real, and we need to take the appropriate measures to try to end it sooner than later.

On Sunday morning, we attended church services, at home, of course. It was a little strange to see it live and not being able to actively participate. We also noticed over 200 other parishers were viewing the service. It made us think how very fortunate we are to not be among the infected, and to live in a rural state like Maine, away from the “hot spots” in the country, and separated from all the congestion of everyday living in the more populated regions.

So, to everyone else out there, let’s be smart, considerate, patient, and above all safe. The bottom line is that everyone else’s safety depends on you.

DEFIANCE

Did you hear about the doctor who decided it was OK to play a round of golf at the Augusta Country Club, despite Gov. Janet Mills’ order for all golf courses to close in conjunction with the stay at home order, and social distancing? It seems he essentially claimed the order didn’t pertain to him because no one was profiting. Nice example, doc, for the rest of us.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the four Boston Red Sox batters to have hit 200 or more home runs at Fenway Park?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Lady bugs make their appearance

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

While at our granddaughter’s home on Sunday, I noticed many lady bugs in the window on the north side of the house. Unusual, in a way. They like warmth. That made me think:

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

The ladybug as immortalized in the still-popular children’s nursery rhyme. They have been, for very many years, a favorite insect of children. But what about these little bugs that appear in our houses at certain times of the year?

Well, they come from the beetle family Coccinellidae, and are found worldwide with over 5,000 species, with more than 450 native to North America.

It is known by numerous names, but only in the U.S. is it called a ladybug. Other names include ladybirds, God’s cow, ladycock, lady cow and lady fly. Scientists increasingly prefer the name ladybird beetle, as ladybugs are not true bugs.

Coccinellids are small insects, and are commonly yellow, orange, or scarlet with small black spots on their wing covers, with black legs, head and antennae. A common myth is that the number of spots on the insect’s back indicates its age.

For the sake of this column, let’s refer to Coccinellids by the commonly-known name, ladybug.

A few species are considered pests in North America and Europe, but they are generally considered useful insects, as many species feed on aphids or scale insects, which are pests in gardens, agricultural fields, orchards and similar places. These insects were introduced into North America from Asia in 1916 to control aphids, but is now the most common species as it is out-competing many of the native species. While predatory species are often used as biological control agents, introduced species of ladybugs out-compete and displace native insects, and become pests in their own right.

Ladybugs are brightly colored to ward away potential predators. Mechanical stimulation — such as by predator attack — causes reflex bleeding in both larval and adult lady beetles, in which an alkaloid toxin is exuded through the joints of the outer shell, deterring feeding. Ladybugs are known to spray a toxin that is venomous to certain mammals and other insects when threatened.

These insects overwinter as adults, aggregating on the south sides of large objects such as trees or houses during the winter months, dispersing in response to increasing day length in the spring. Eggs hatch in three to four days from clutches numbering from a few to several dozen. Depending on resource availability, the larvae pass through four phases over 10-14 days, after which pupation occurs. After a moulting period of several days, the adults become reproductively active, and are able to reproduce again. Total life span is one to two years on average.

Predatory ladybugs are usually found on plants where aphids or scale insects are, and they lay their eggs near their prey, to increase the likelihood the larvae will find the prey easily. A larva uses its sharp jaws to crush an aphid’s body and sucks out the aphid’s juices.

The most common plants where you will find ladybugs include any type of mustard plant, such as other early blooming nectar and pollen sources, like buckwheat, coriander, red or crimson clover, and legumes, and also early aphid sources such as bronze fennel, dill, coriander, caraway, angelica, tansy, yarrow of the wild carrot family, dandelions and scented geraniums.

These insects are sensitive to synthetic insecticides.

Many cultures consider ladybugs lucky. In many countries, including Russia, Turkey and Italy, the sight of a ladybug is either a call to make a wish or a sign that a wish will soon be granted.

In Christian areas, they are often associated with the Virgin Mary, and the name that this insect bears in various languages in Europe corresponds to this. Though historically many European languages referenced Freyja, the fertility goddess of Norse mythology, in the names, the Virgin Mary has now largely supplanted her.

For example, freyjuhoena (Old Norse), and Frouehenge (Norwegian) have been changed into marihone, which corresponds with Our Lady’s Bug.

Although the ladybugs are beneficial insects to have around, they still gather the curiosity of children. In the animated film, A Bug’s Life, Francis the Ladybug (voiced by Dennis Leary) is an aggressive beetle and the clown in P.T. Flea’s circus. The contrast between him being a male and a “lady”bug, is a recurring joke in the film.

Don’t squish that ladybug, it will keep unwanted insects off your plants, and even entertain the children and grandchildren.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

In 2018, which Red Sox player appeared at catcher, first base, second base, left field and right field?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Life seems to have slowed down

Ice free Webber Pond.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Well, here we are. All stuck in the same place. I realize the severity of the COVID-19 coronavirus that has now taken a strangle hold on all of our normal every day lives.

But, after speaking with several other people, with the media blitz we are getting from the news, it is becoming a little much. I understand that it is suggested that we all stay in our homes, until this passes, so as to not spread the virus any more than is occurring.

Last weekend, I spent many hours in my garage, at home, while processing the maple sap I gathered during the previous week. That is always a promising time of year. The gathering of maple sap, and converting it to that sweet, homemade maple syrup, usually, in my mind anyway, marks the end of winter. At least it’s within sight. I even took the time to clean my car from the winter grime and clutter that accumulates inside the car, by what seems like mysterious ways. Where did all those receipts and cough drop wrappers come from?

The day was Saturday, and it was quite a pleasant day, save for the cold wind that would gust up from time to time. One thing I did notice was that my neighborhood, which is located in the middle of the city of Waterville, was quieter than normal. Far less vehicular traffic than in the past. No buses nor children walking home from their daily schooling. Not a sniff of diesel fuel in the air.

Oblivious of the coronavirus outbreak were the numerous birds that visited our feeders which hang from our side porch. In and out, all day long, going about their normal routine.

Squirrels scurrying about, from tree to tree, down the driveway and across the street. A never-ending process of survival. I did notice, however, that winter, and even the spring’s strong winds, had dislodged a nest from high in one of my pine trees. Do squirrels begin to build new nests, or do they bunk in together in someone else’s crib?

On Sunday, a beautiful day of sunshine without a cloud in the sky, my wife and I decided to take a Sunday drive. Something we had not done in quite some time because there was always something else to do. With our church suspending all Sunday Masses for the foreseeable future, we took advantage of the extra time to get out of the house. After all, we would be in our car, and have no physical contact with any other human beings.

We decided to do the circular drive through the towns around China Lake. Rumors had it that ice was out.

We proceeded out of Winslow and toward China on Rte. 137/202. As we approached the head of the lake, it was, “nope, ice is not out yet.” Let’s go take a look at Three Mile Pond and Togus Pond. “Eureka, ice out at both locations.” There is hope after all.

The last destination would be our lake, where we spend the summers, Webber Pond. Sure enough, ice is out on Webber Pond, except for a small portion in the east cove. Historically, that will disappear quickly as winds shift the ice.

After arriving home, we sat and discussed our little excursion of the day.

It reminded us of the “good ol’ days.” Being able to go for a Sunday drive without the problems of heavy traffic. Hardly anyone on the roads.

It almost seems like since the outbreak of this virus, life has actually slowed down.

It is interesting, though, to observe Mother Nature, at its finest, continue at its own pace, with all the wildlife going about their own routine.

The bears are awakening from their winter slumber, as are skunks, raccoons, and something I saw in the road on Sunday that I was not able to identify while driving back to Waterville along Rte. 201. Soon, we should begin to see opposum, woodchucks and other species that go into partial hibernation during the winter months.

Spring is all around us, and we anxiously await the warmer days and the time when this virus has become history and part of our memories.

Stay safe. Think about the coming of warmer weather, and the emminent all out war against black flies and ticks.

ICE OUT
DID YOU KNOW?

Ice out has been recorded on China Lake since 1874. In the 132 years between 1874 and 2005, ice went out in March on only four occasions – 1901, 1902, 1953, and 1981. In the 14 years since, March ice out has also occurred four times, 2006, 2010, 2012, and 2016. Should ice go out before next Wednesday, it will mark the fifth time in 15 years.

You could make a good case for climate change.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

How did former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra get his first name?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Bears are waking up; making it a sure sign that spring is here

American black bear. (photo by Michael Webber)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

It’s official. Today, on the first day of spring, reports are out that black bears are awakening from their winter hibernation.

The American black bear, Ursus americanus, is a medium-sized bear native to North America. It is the continent’s smallest and most widely distributed bear species. American black bears are omnivores, with their diets varying greatly depending on season and location. They typically live in largely forested areas, but do leave forests in search of food. Sometimes they become attracted to human communities because of the immediate availability of food. The American black bear is the world’s most common bear species.

American black bears were once not considered true “sleepers,” but because of discoveries about the metabolic changes that allow American black bears to remain dormant for months without eating, drinking, urinating or defecating, most biologists have redefined mammalian hibernation as “specialized, seasonal reduction in metabolism concurrent with scarce food and cold weather.” American black bears are now considered highly efficient hibernators.

The bears enter their dens in October and November.

Hibernating American black bears spend their time in hollowed-out dens in tree cavities, under logs or rocks, in banks, caves, or culverts and in shallow depressions. Although naturally-made dens are occasionally used, most dens are dug out by the bear itself. Females have been shown to be pickier in their choice of dens in comparison to males.

During their time in hibernation, an American black bear’s heart rate drops from 40–50 beats per minute to eight beats per minute.

It is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a least-concern species, due to its widespread distribution and a large population estimated to be twice that of all other bear species combined. Along with the brown bear, it is one of only two of the eight modern bear species not considered by the IUCN to be globally threatened with extinction.

Historically, American black bears occupied the majority of North America’s forested regions. Today, they are primarily limited to sparsely settled, forested areas. American black bears currently inhabit much of their original Canadian range. They have been extirpated from Prince Edward Island since 1937.

The current range of American black bears in the United States is constant throughout most of the northeast and within the Appalachian Mountains almost continuously from Maine to northern Georgia, the northern Midwest, the Rocky Mountain region, the West Coast and Alaska. The overall population of American black bears in the United States has been estimated to range between 339,000 and 465,000, though this excludes populations from Alaska, Idaho, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming, whose population sizes are unknown. In the state of California, there are an estimated 30,000 – 40,000 American black bears, making it the largest population of the species in the contiguous United States. State of Maine biologists have estimated Maine’s black bear population between 30,000 – 35,000. Maine has the largest population of black bears on the East Coast.

In the northeast part of the range (United States and Canada), prime habitat consists of a forest canopy of hardwoods such as beech, maple, birch and coniferous species. Corn crops and oak-hickory mast are also common sources of food in some sections of the Northeast; small, thick swampy areas provide excellent refuge cover largely in stands of white cedar.

American black bears have better eyesight and hearing than humans. Their keenest sense is their sense of smell, which is about seven times more sensitive than a domestic dog’s. American black bears are excellent and strong swimmers, swimming for pleasure and to feed (largely on fish). They regularly climb trees to feed, escape enemies and hibernate. American black bears living near human habitations tend to be more extensively nocturnal, while those living near brown bears tend to be more extensively diurnal. Their social behavior is somewhat similar to that of canids.

American black bears tend to be territorial and non-gregarious in nature. However, at abundant food sources (e.g. spawning salmon or garbage dumps), they may congregate and dominance hierarchies form, with the largest, most powerful males dominating the most fruitful feeding spots. They mark their territories by rubbing their bodies against trees and clawing at the bark. Annual ranges held by mature male American black bears tend to be very large, though there is some variation.

Predation on adult deer is rare, but it has been recorded. They may even hunt prey up to the size of adult female moose, which are considerably larger than themselves, by ambushing them. There is at least one record of a male American black bear killing two bull elk over the course of six days by chasing them into deep snow banks, which impeded their movements. Like brown bears, American black bears try to use surprise to ambush their prey and target the weak, injured, sickly or dying animals in the herds. Once a deer fawn is captured, it is frequently torn apart alive while feeding. American black bears often drag their prey to cover, preferring to feed in seclusion.

The average lifespan in the wild is 18 years, though it is quite possible for wild specimens to survive for more than 23 years. The record age of a wild specimen was 39 years, while that in captivity was 44 years.

With the exception of the rare confrontation with an adult brown bear or a gray wolf pack, adult American black bears are not usually subject to natural predation. Known predators of bear cubs have included bobcats, coyotes, cougars, gray wolves, brown bears and other bears of their own species. Many of these will stealthily snatch small cubs right from under the sleeping mother. Once out of hibernation, mother bears may be able to fight off most potential predators. Even cougars will be displaced by an angry mother bear if they are discovered stalking the cubs. Flooding of dens after birth may also occasionally kill newborn cubs. However, in current times, American black bear fatalities are overwhelmingly attributable to human activities. Seasonally, tens of thousands of American black bears are hunted legally across North America, with many more being illegally poached or trapped. Auto collisions also may claim many American black bear lives annually.

American black bears feature prominently in the stories of some of America’s indigenous peoples. One tale tells of how the black bear was a creation of the Great Spirit, while the grizzly bear was created by the Evil Spirit. In Kwakiutl mythology, American black and brown bears became enemies when Grizzly Bear Woman killed Black Bear Woman for being lazy. Black Bear Woman’s children, in turn, killed Grizzly Bear Woman’s children. The Navajo believed the Big Black Bear was chief among the bears of the four directions surrounding Sun’s house and would pray to it in order to be granted its protection during raids.

Although an adult bear is quite capable of killing a human, American black bears typically avoid confronting humans whenever possible. Unlike grizzly bears, which became a subject of fearsome legend among the European settlers of North America, American black bears were rarely considered overly dangerous, even though they lived in areas where the pioneers had settled. American black bears rarely attack when confronted by humans and usually limit themselves to making mock charges, emitting blowing noises and swatting the ground with their forepaws. The number of American black bear attacks on humans is higher than those of the brown bear in North America, though this is largely because the American black bear considerably outnumbers the brown bear, rather than greater aggressiveness.

Compared to brown bear attacks, aggressive encounters with American black bears rarely lead to serious injury. However, the majority of American black bear attacks tend to be motivated by hunger rather than territoriality and thus victims have a higher probability of surviving by fighting back rather than submitting. Unlike female brown bears, female American black bears do not display the same level of protectiveness toward their cubs and seldom attack humans when they are in the cubs’ vicinity. However, occasionally, attacks by protective mothers do occur.

Historically, American black bears were hunted by both Native Americans and European settlers. Some Native American tribes, in admiration for the American black bear’s intelligence, would decorate the heads of bears they killed with trinkets and place them on blankets. Tobacco smoke would be wafted into the disembodied head’s nostrils by the hunter that dealt the killing blow, who would compliment the animal for its courage.

Theodore Roosevelt himself likened the flesh of young American black bears to that of pork. As American black bears can have trichinellosis, cooking temperatures need to be high in order to kill the parasites.

American black bear fat was once valued as a cosmetic article that promoted hair growth and gloss. However, animal rights activism over the last decade has slowed the harvest of these animals; therefore the lard from American black bears has not been used in recent years for the purpose of cosmetics.

The American black bear is the mascot of the University of Maine and Baylor University.

OK, we’ve learned quite a bit about the American Black Bear. Although it is my belief there is nothing in the Maine woods than can kill you, I would definitely not tempt a black bear. As with any other wild animal, the best rule of thumb is to avoid them as much as possible.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

“Rooster” was the nickname of which fiery shortstop who played for the Red Sox from 1974 until 1980?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: A sure sign of spring when red-winged blackbirds appear

Male red-winged blackbird

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

What a beautiful sight!

On my way to work last week I spotted a small flock of red-winged blackbirds. A sure sign of spring. They are probably the first migrating birds to arrive back from their southern winter homes.

The red-winged blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus, is found in most of North America and much of Central America. It breeds from Alaska and Newfoundland south to Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico, and Guatemala. It may winter as far north as Pennsylvania and British Columbia, but northern populations are generally migratory, moving south to Mexico and the southern United States.

It is believed that it is the most abundant living land bird in North America, as bird-counting of wintering red-winged blackbirds sometimes show that loose flocks can number in excess of a million birds per flock and the full number of breeding pairs across North and Central America may exceed 250 million in peak years. It also ranks among the best-studied wild bird species in the world. The male is all black with a red shoulder and yellow wing bar, while the female is a nondescript dark brown. Seeds and insects make up the bulk of the red-winged blackbird’s diet.

The common name for the red-winged blackbird is taken from the mainly black adult male’s distinctive red shoulder patches, which are visible when the bird is flying or displaying. At rest, the male also shows a pale yellow wingbar. The female is blackish-brown and paler below. The female is smaller than the male.

The range of the red-winged blackbird stretches from southern Alaska to the Yucatan peninsula, in Mexico, in the south, and from the western coast of North America to the east coast of the continent. Red-winged blackbirds in the northern reaches of the range are migratory, spending winters in the southern United States and Central America. Migration begins in September or October, occasionally as early as August.

The red-winged blackbird inhabits open grassy areas. It generally prefers wetlands, and inhabits both freshwater and saltwater marshes, particularly where cattail is present. It is also found in dry upland areas, where it inhabits meadows, prairies, and old fields.

The red-winged blackbird has many predators. Virtually all of North America’s raptors take adult or young red-winged blackbirds, even barn owls, which usually only take small mammals, and northern saw-whet owls, which are scarcely larger than a male red-winged. Locally, they are one of the preferred prey species of short-tailed hawks. Crows, ravens, magpies and herons are occasional predators of blackbird nests. Additional predators of blackbirds of all ages and their eggs include raccoons, mink, foxes and snakes, especially the rat snake. Marsh wrens destroy the eggs, at least sometimes drinking from them, and peck the nestlings to death.

The red-winged blackbird aggressively defends its territory from other animals. It will attack much larger birds. Males have been known to swoop at humans who encroach upon their nesting territory during breeding season.

The maximum longevity of the red-winged blackbird in the wild is 15.8 years.

The red-winged blackbird is omnivorous. It feeds primarily on plant materials, including seeds from weeds and waste grain such as corn and rice, but about a quarter of its diet consists of insects and other small animals, and considerably more so during breeding season. It prefers insects, such as dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies, moths, and flies, but also consumes snails, frogs, eggs, carrion, worms, spiders and mollusks. The red-winged blackbird forages for insects by picking them from plants, or by catching them in flight. In season, it eats blueberries, blackberries, and other fruit. These birds can be lured to backyard bird feeders by bread and seed mixtures and suet. In late summer and in autumn, the red-winged blackbird will feed in open fields, mixed with grackles, cowbirds, and starlings in flocks which can number in the thousands.

Red-winged blackbirds are polygynous, with territorial males defending up to 10 females. However, females frequently copulate with males other than their social mate and often lay clutches of mixed paternity. Pairs raise two or three clutches per season, in a new nest for each clutch.

Predation of eggs and nestlings is quite common. Nest predators include snakes, mink, raccoons, and other birds, even as small as marsh wrens. The red-winged blackbird is occasionally a victim of brood parasites, particularly brown-headed cowbirds. Since nest predation is common, several adaptations have evolved in this species. Group nesting is one such trait which reduces the risk of individual predation by increasing the number of alert parents. Nesting over water reduces the likelihood of predation, as do alarm calls. Nests, in particular, offer a strategic advantage over predators in that they are often well concealed in thick, waterside reeds and positioned at a height of three to six feet. Males often act as sentinels, employing a variety of calls to denote the kind and severity of danger. Mobbing, especially by males, is also used to scare off unwanted predators, although mobbing often targets large animals and man-made devices by mistake.

In winter, the species forage away from marshes, taking seeds and grain from open fields and agricultural areas. It is sometimes considered an agricultural pest. Farmers have been known to use pesticides—such as parathion—in illegal attempts to control their populations. In the United States, such efforts are illegal because no pesticide can be used on non-target organisms, or for any use not explicitly listed on the pesticide’s label. However, the USDA has deliberately poisoned this species: in 2009, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reported poisoning over 950,000 red-winged blackbirds in Texas and Louisiana. This poisoning has been implicated as a potential cause of the decline of the rusty blackbird, a once abundant species that has declined 99 percent since the 1960s and has been recently listed as Threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Love ‘em, or hate ‘em, when the red-winged blackbird makes its appearance in the north, it’s a pretty good sign that spring is not far into the future.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the only Red Sox pitcher to have won the American League Most Valuable Player Award.

Answer can be found here.