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.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The plight of the magical lightning bug

Fireflies in a forest.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

One night last week, after I did my usual bedtime reading, and my wife was playing the mind games on her tablet, I turned out the light and rolled over to get some sleep. Suddenly, my wife said, “there’s a lightning bug in here.” I looked up, and sure enough, there he was on the ceiling.

I didn’t want to crush it, because we are seeing fewer and fewer of them. So, I managed to corner it, pick it up with a piece of paper, and send it on its way, outdoors.

Now we rewind to a year ago when we were sitting by a campfire when we noticed a lightning bug. Notice I said “a,” like in one, uno, solo. It was the first lightning bug I had seen in a while. I remember when I was growing up, we used to go visit relatives in Canada, and sometimes go to a camp where we would see hundreds of lightning bugs flying around in a field. We used to capture them in a jar. You just don’t see that anymore.

Anyway, lightning bugs can make summers magical, but there is more to learn about these beauties.

First off, lightning bugs are actually fireflies. Fireflies are cute and elegant by day, but downright dazzling after darkness falls. But behind their charming facade, fireflies are fascinating little insects. Consider the following facts:

Firefly

They are beetles, not flies. Fireflies are nocturnal members of Lampyridae, a family of insects within the beetle order Coleoptera, or winged beetles. Yes, they are officially beetles.

They are alchemists, poetically speaking at least. While they don’t actually turn base metals into gold, they do create light as if by magic. When a chemical called luciferin (note the same Latin root as Lucifer) inside their abdomen/tail combines with oxygen, calcium and adenosine triphosphate, a chemical reaction occurs that creates their spectacular light.

Firefly light is incredibly efficient. The light produced by the firefly is the most efficient light ever made. Almost 100 percent of the energy in the chemical reaction is emitted as light; in comparison, an incandescent light bulb only emits 10 percent of its energy as light, the other 90 percent is lost as heat.

The main reason lightning bugs flash is to attract mates. Among most but not all species of North American lightning bugs, males fly about flashing while females perch on vegetation, usually near the ground. If the female sees a flasher and she’s ready to mate she responds by flashing right after the male’s last flash. A short flash dialogue takes place as the male flies closer and closer, and then, if all goes well, they mate.

They come in a rainbow of colors. Well maybe not the whole spectrum, but they do come in yellow, light red, green and orange.

They taste disgusting. Not that we were planning on snacking on fireflies anytime soon, but for predators that might like a light meal, beware the lightning bug. Firefly blood contains lucibufagins, which sounds like something out of a Harry Potter book but is actually a defensive steroid that tastes really awful. It is similar to that found in some poisonous toads. Predators associate the bad taste with a firefly’s light and learn not to eat bugs that glow.

However, their numbers are declining. If you’re seeing fewer fireflies each summer, you’re not alone. Evidence suggests that firefly populations may be on the decline, most likely due to a combination of light pollution, pesticide use and habitat destruction. For example, according to Smithsonian.com, if a field where fireflies live is paved over, the fireflies don’t migrate to another field, they just disappear forever.

What’s going on? Bees are on the decline; butterflies are suffering, could fireflies be facing tough times as well?

The scientific and citizen consensus is “yes.” Malaysia even holds an international symposium dedicated to conservation of the firefly. Scientists have for years been warning that the world’s estimated 2,000 species of fireflies are dwindling.

And is it any wonder? As the manmade environment continues its undying march into the natural world, where are these things supposed to live? Fireflies breed and exist in the woods and forests, along lakes and streams, in dense gardens and unruly meadows. Where are they supposed to do their firefly things when those places are paved over and built upon?

All of it doesn’t bode well.

“Fireflies are indicators of the health of the environment and are declining across the world as a result of degradation and loss of suitable habitat, pollution of river systems, increased use of pesticides in agro-ecosystems and increased light pollution in areas of human habitation,” notes the Selangor Declaration, a firefly advocating document. The decline of fireflies is a cause for concern and reflects the global trend of increasing biodiversity loss.”

Fireflies are part of our heritage; they are an iconic creature and have played a role in many, many cultures. They are the epitome of summer evenings, for many of us they served as an introduction to the wonders of nature. If we lose the fireflies, we lose an important invisible thread that connects us to the magic of the natural world. And as a species, we can’t afford to lose that right now.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Complete the golfing adage: “You drive for show, but putt for….”

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Watching the world go by on a Saturday morning

hairy woodpecker

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

One of the things I enjoy doing at camp on a Saturday morning is grabbing a cup of coffee and sitting on my deck, focusing on the bird feeders. There is much activity around there, not just the birds, but the squirrels and chipmunks, and the occasional cat that comes around to harass the wildlife.

On a recent Saturday, I watched two hairy woodpeckers in particular – one male, one female.

I didn’t notice at first, but after a while it became evident the male, which was perched on a suet cake, would fill its mouth, fly down to the female that was sitting on a tree stump nearby, and transferring the food to her.

What a nice thing to do, I thought. The male providing for the female – I’m not being sexist here. Actually, upon closer observation, the female would then fly off into the woods, and return a short time later. This occurred over and over, again.

My deduction at that time was the female was, in turn, returning to the nest to feed the young. Adults regurgitate and insert food in the mouths of the very young. Food is transferred from adult to older offspring through open beaks with heads at an angle.

The hairy woodpecker, Euconotopicus villosus, is a medium-sized woodpecker that is found over a large area of North America. It is approximately 9-3/4 inches in length with 15-inch wingspan. With an estimated population in 2003 of over nine million individuals, the hairy woodpecker is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a species of least concern.

The hairy woodpecker was described and illustrated with a hand-coloured plate by the English naturalist Mark Catesby in his The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands which was published between 1729 and 1732. When in 1766 the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus updated his Systema Naturae for the twelfth edition, he included the downy woodpecker, coined the binomial name Picus villosus and cited Catesby’s book.

The specific epithet “villosus” is the Latin word for “hairy”. Linnaeus specified the type locality as North America, with specific mention of Raccoon, New Jersey.

Adults are mainly black on the upper parts and wings, with a white or pale back and white spotting on the wings; the throat and belly vary from white to sooty brown. There is a white bar above and one below the eye. They have a black tail with white outer feathers. Adult males have a red patch or two side-by-side patches on the back of the head; juvenile males have red or rarely orange-red on the crown.

They have a somewhat soldierly look, with their erect, straight-backed posture on tree trunks and their cleanly striped heads. Look for them at backyard suet or sunflower feeders, and listen for them whinnying from woodlots, parks, and forests.

More than 75 percent of the hairy woodpecker’s diet is made up of insects, particularly the larvae of wood-boring beetles and bark beetles, ants, and moth pupae in their cocoons. To a lesser extent they also eat bees, wasps, caterpillars, spiders, millipedes, and rarely cockroaches, crickets, and grasshoppers. A little more than 20 percent of their diet is made up of fruit and seeds. My wife usually gets suet cakes that contain fruit, seeds and nuts, thus attracting the hairy woodpeckers.

Hairy woodpeckers have helped control pest outbreaks.

The hairy woodpecker is virtually identical in plumage to the smaller downy woodpecker. The downy has a shorter bill relative to the size of its head, which is, other than size and voice, the best way to distinguish them in the field. These two species are not closely related, however, and are likely to be separated in different genera. Another way to tell the two species apart is the lack of spots on its white tail feathers (present in the downy). Their outward similarity is a spectacular example of convergent evolution. As to the reason for this convergence, only tentative hypotheses have been advanced; in any case, because of the considerable size difference, ecological competition between the two species is slight.

The hairy woodpecker inhabits mature deciduous forests in the Bahamas, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and the United States. It is a vagrant to Puerto Rico and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Mating pairs will excavate a hole in a tree, where they will lay, on average, four white eggs. Hairy woodpeckers are common in mature woodlands with medium to large trees.

These birds are mostly permanent residents. Birds in the extreme north may migrate further south; birds in mountainous areas may move to lower elevations.

These birds forage on trees, often turning over bark or excavating to uncover insects. They mainly eat insects, but also fruits, berries and nuts, as well as sometimes tree sap. They are a natural predator of the European corn borer, a moth that costs the U.S. agriculture industry more than $1 billion annually in crop losses and population control. They are also known to peck at wooden window frames and wood-sided homes that may house prey.

Courting birds stretch out their necks, point their bills high, and bob their heads from side to side, flicking their wings as they circle a tree trunk. They also sometimes chase each other in fast, looping flights through the trees.

The entrance to the nest is about 2 inches tall and 1.5 inches wide, leading to a cavity 8-12 inches deep. The inside widens at the bottom to make room for the eggs and the incubating bird. It’s typically bare except for a bed of wood chips at the bottom for the eggs and chicks to rest on.

The female probably selects the nesting site, but both sexes work alternately at the labor of excavating the cavity. This work requires one to three weeks, depending on how hard the wood is; a cavity in the soft wood of a poplar, which is a favorite with this species in some localities, might be excavated in a very short time. A new nest may often be recognized by the presence of fresh chips on the ground around the tree, as the birds are not very particular about removing them.

Both male and female incubate and brood the young. The male sits on the eggs and broods the young during the night and the female relieves him every morning after sunrise. They alternate these duties throughout the day. Incubation last about 11-12 days and the young leave the nest in about 28-30 days after hatching.

We continue to watch the hairy woodpeckers, and the downy, come and go at the feeders, but we haven’t seen the exchange of food recently. Maybe the fledglings are now old enough to go out on their own.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which Boston Red Sox player won back-to-back American League batting titles in 1999 and 2000?

Answer on can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Do moose and deer ever get their antlers caught in trees

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Last week, I received an email from a colleague, and follower of this column, asking the question, “Why don’t deer and moose get their antlers caught in trees?” Well, it isn’t uncommon to find deer with their antlers caught in trees. But it usually occurs following adverse conditions, especially from flooding or being frightened into a desperate retreat.

Well, actually, that was a question I always wondered myself. I always thought that maybe their antlers were like whiskers on a cat, using them as feelers to determine whether they can pass through an opening.

It turns out I probably wasn’t far off with my assessment.

I turned to my contacts at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for an answer. According to the state moose biologist Lee Kantar, “As the moose antlers grow, the moose ‘develop’ a sense of their width.” I can only deduce that the same holds true for deer.

Following the fall rut, male deer and moose will shed their antlers. In spring or early summer, March or April, the new antlers begin to form, growing out from a pedicel bone, a bony stalk situated on the frontal bone of the skull. The antlers begin to grow at a rapid pace. During growth, they are covered with a skin, called the velvet, a living tissue, which contains many blood vessels for the nourishment of the growing bone tissue.

“During antler growth,” said Kantar, “the antlers are highly vascularized and the moose can feel where those antlers are, touching other surfaces during the growth phase.”

When the antlers have reached the size and shape characteristic for the particular species, the blood circulation in the velvet is stopped, the velvet dies, and the buck or bull then rubs off the dead skin against branches,

In the case of moose, “During antler growth this velvet layer of hair that covers the antlers are the ‘feelers’ for the antlers,” the biologist continued.

“At the end of August into September the antlers essentially harden into bone and the velvet is rubbed and sloughed off as the bull thrashes and rubs against vegetation. By this time, the bull has essentially ‘learned’ the dimensions of his new antlers for his travels.”

Deer and moose have played a very important role in the history of our country, especially deer. The American Indians and European settlers depended on deer for food clothing, implements, ornaments, ceremonial items, tools and weapons. The hides provided shelter and protection from the weather.

Did you know the term “bucks” when referring to money comes from the American Indians. Deerskins were considered valuable for clothing and the skins were called “bucks.” They were traded for various other articles.

The Netsilik Inuit people made bows and arrows using antlers, reinforced with strands of animal tendons braided to form a cable-backed bow. Several American Indian tribes also used antlers to make bows, gluing tendons to the bow instead of tying them as cables. An antler bow, made in the early 19th century, is on display at Brooklyn Museum. Its manufacture is attributed to the Yankton Sioux.

Throughout history large deer antlers from a suitable species, like the red deer, were often cut down to its shaft and its lowest tine and used as a one-pointed pickax.

Antler headdresses were worn by shamans and other spiritual figures in various cultures, and for dances. Antlers are still worn in traditional dances.

Gathering shed antlers or “sheds” attracts dedicated practitioners who refer to it colloquially as shed hunting, or bone picking. In the United States, the middle of December to the middle of February is considered shed hunting season, when deer, elk, and moose begin to shed.

In the United States in 2017 sheds fetched around $10 per pound, with larger specimens in good condition attracting higher prices. The most desirable antlers have been found soon after being shed. The value is reduced if they have been damaged by weathering or being gnawed by small animals. A matched pair from the same animal is a very desirable find but often antlers are shed separately and may be separated by several miles. Some enthusiasts for shed hunting use trained dogs to assist them. Most hunters will follow ‘game trails’ (trails where deer frequently run) to find these sheds or they will build a shed trap to collect the loose antlers in the late winter/early spring.

Lewis and Clark might never have been able to finish their journey from St. Louis to Oregon if the hunters they took with them had not furnished them with deer meat along the way. For the four months they wintered in Oregon, they had little to eat other than deer meat.

Have you ever seen a set of deformed moose antlers on a mount, and wondered why? Well, if a bull moose is castrated, either by accident or chemical means, he will quickly shed his current set of antlers and then immediately begin to grow a new set of misshapen and deformed antlers that he will wear the rest of his life without ever shedding again.

I know I wandered off the initial subject, but I found all this information fascinating. I hope you did, too.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the last NFL team to win back-to-back Super Bowls.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Why are they called June bugs when they generally appear in May

Green June beetle (left), June Bug (right)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Well, the first June bug of the year made its appearance at camp on Saturday, May 29, at 10:30 p.m. We were, after all, still in May. To date, however, I have only seen three. I remember one summer, around 2002, we were literally swarmed one night while sitting around a camp fire. We left outside lights on, and in the morning, I counted 53 dead June bugs on our deck. We have not seen nearly that many since.

Generally, June bugs, Phyllophaga, do make their appearance in mid- to late-May. So why are they called June bugs? It all depends on what you want to call them. They are also known as May beetles and June beetles. But, the name is derived from the fact that adult June bugs emerge from the soil at the end of spring or the beginning of summer.

Females bury their eggs just below the soil surface in the fall, they pupate and emerge in the spring. They hatch within three to four weeks and feed on grass and plant roots from several months to as long as three years. In spring, these grubs, as they are called, grow into pupae. Within three weeks, these mature into adult June bugs.

Grubs, when full grown, live in the soil and feed on plant roots, especially those of grasses and cereals, and are occasional pests in pastures, nurseries, gardens and golf courses. An obvious indication of infestation is the presence of birds, especially crows, peeling back the grass to get to the grubs. A way to test for the presence of these beetles is drenching an area of lawn with water, that will cause larvae to emerge at the surface.

Some small mammals, including skunks and moles, feed on the grubs.

The grubs have been known to attack vegetables and other garden plants, such as lettuce, raspberries, strawberries, potatoes and young ornamental trees. Maintaining a healthy lawn is a good step in deterring the grubs from establishing themselves.

Injury to the roots and rootstock causes small saplings and tender tap-rooted plants like lettuce to wilt suddenly or to show stunted growth and a tendency to shed leaves prematurely. Plants growing in rows are usually attacked in succession as the grubs move along from one plant to the next. Chafer grubs feed below ground for three – four years before changing into adult beetles.

June bugs are harmless. They do not bite, sting or spread disease. However, I did see one of my friends move faster than I have ever seen her move before, while sitting around a camp fire last weekend, when one landed on her. To be honest, it’s the natural reaction by most people, including yours truly.

Again, they are harmless, but because they are attracted to light they can make an evening sitting on your porch or deck a little unpleasant. Even if there is no light outdoors, they can be attracted to lights inside your home. I know at camp, when we’re spending time indoors after dark, they come “knocking” on our windows. The sound of June bugs buzzing and bumping against window screens in early summer is a very common occurrence over many parts of the U.S. Adult June bugs are extremely clumsy, especially in the air.

Scientists are still undecided on the precise explanation for this behavior. Several thoughts have been advanced, but no single theory has come about that can account for why so many different nocturnal insect species gravitate to sources of light. June bugs usually are a half-inch to an inch and a quarter in length. They can fly and you will find them swarming around street lights at night.

Now, let’s do some “did you know.”

  • Exposure to light for longer intervals will kill June bugs. That is why you will find them dead in the morning under porch lights and windows.
  • Don’t leave a window open during May-June period. They will enter your house and die, leaving you with a mess to clean up. If they do enter, remember, they don’t bite and are harmless, just annoying.
  • There are over 200 different species of June bugs in the United States.
  • A natural enemy of the June bug is the pyrgota fly larva, which feeds on the beetles, eventually killing them.
  • The June bug larvae, called white grubs, are considered excellent fish bait, and are staples in the diets of native people in South America, Australia, and Asia.
  • Have a pet lizard or toad? The beetles make excellent, tasty food for them.

There is another popular June beetle that’s active during the day. It is the Green June Beetle, and are found in our region of the Northeast, extending from Maine to Georgia and as far west as Kansas. These are not very good for the garden either. The head, legs and under-body is shiny green, while its wings are dull metallic green, with slight gold contrast to its sides.

Numerous songs have been written about June bugs, to include: “Junebug”, by The B-52s; “Junebug”, from the album Good Morning Spider by Sparklehorse; “Junebug”, by Robert Francis; “June Bug”, by Melvins; “Junebug”, by Stan Van Samang; and “Junebug”, by Kate Ryan.

So day and night, during early summer, these beetles can be destructive to vegetation, and just plain annoying to humans.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Prior to 2011, when was the last time the Boston Bruins won a Stanley Cup?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Turtles looking to lay eggs; please be vigilant in the roadways

Common snapping turtle

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

On my way back to camp after having run some errands in town, I was driving the Bog Road, in Vassalboro, coming in from Rte. 201. Upon cresting a hill, I notice something in the road: it was a snapping turtle. I have seen many over the last couple of weeks as they are looking for a place to build a nest. We even had one cross the access road at camp one day.

Anyway, as I approached this particular turtle, it was obviously in a perilous position. I began to slow down to stop and assist the critter across the road when I noticed another vehicle approaching behind me. I began to pull over to let him by when I noticed he pulled over the side of the road, got out of his Jeep, and proceeded to pick up the turtle and place it on the other side of the road. A good Samaritan act.

A few days later, on the Cross Hill Road, in Vassalboro, I observed a woman doing the same thing. Kind of gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside to see people go out of their way to protect this species.

The common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina, is a species of large freshwater turtle. Its natural range extends from southeastern Canada, southwest to the edge of the Rocky Mountains, as far east as Nova Scotia and Florida.

The common snapping turtle is noted for its combative disposition when out of the water with its powerful beak-like jaws, and highly mobile head and neck. In water, it is likely to flee and hide underwater in sediment.

Females, and presumably also males, in more northern populations mature later (at 15 – 20 years) and at a larger size than in more southern populations (about 12 years). Lifespan in the wild is poorly known, but long-term mark-recapture data from Algonquin Park, in Ontario, Canada, suggest a maximum age over 100 years.Head

Males are larger than females, with almost all weighing in excess of 22 pounds. Any specimen above the aforementioned weights is exceptional, but the heaviest wild specimen caught reportedly weighed 75 pounds.

Common snapping turtles have few predators when older, but eggs are subject to predation by crows, American mink, skunks, foxes, and raccoons. As hatchlings and juveniles, most of the same predators will attack them as well as herons (mostly great blue herons), hawks, owls, fishers, American bullfrogs, large fish, and snakes. Other natural predators which have reportedly preyed on adults include coyotes, and American black bears. Large, old male snapping turtles have very few natural threats due to their formidable size and defenses, and tend to have a very low annual mortality rate.

These turtles travel extensively over land to reach new habitats or to lay eggs. Pollution, habitat destruction, food scarcity, overcrowding, and other factors drive snappers to move; it is quite common to find them traveling far from the nearest water source. Experiment­al data supports the idea that snapping turtles can sense the Earth’s magnetic field, which could also be used for such movements (together with a variety of other possible orientation cues).

This species mates from April through November, with their peak laying season in June and July. The female can hold sperm for several seasons, using it as necessary. Females travel over land to find sandy soil in which to lay their eggs, often some distance from the water. After digging a hole, the female typically deposits 25 to 80 eggs each year, guiding them into the nest with her hind feet and covering them with sand for incubation and protection.

Incubation time is temperature-dependent, ranging from 9 to 18 weeks. In cooler climates, hatchlings overwinter in the nest. The common snapping turtle is remarkably cold-tolerant; radiotelemetry studies have shown some individuals do not hibernate, but remain active under the ice during the winter.

In the northern part of their range, hibernating snapping turtles do not breathe more than six months since ice covers their hibernating site. These turtles can get oxygen by pushing their head out of the mud and allowing gas exchange to take place through the membranes of their mouth and throat. If they cannot get enough oxygen through this method they start to utilize anaerobic pathways, burning sugars and fats without the use of oxygen.

Although designated as “least concern” on the International Union Conservation of Nature (IUCN) redlist, the species has been designated in the Canadian part of its range as “Special Concern”. However, the population has declined sufficiently due to pressure from collection for the pet trade and habitat degradation that Canada and several U.S. states have enacted or are proposing stricter conservation measures.

It is legal to harvest turtles in Maine for personal, but not commercial, use. While their population has declined in some areas due to pollution or loss of habitat, the snapping turtle is not considered a threatened or endangered species.

In their environment, they are at the top of the food chain, causing them to feel less fear or aggression in some cases. When they encounter a species unfamiliar to them such as humans, in rare instances, they will become curious and survey the situation and even more rarely may bump their nose on a leg of the person standing in the water. Although snapping turtles have fierce dispositions, when they are encountered in the water or a swimmer approaches, they will slip quietly away from any disturbance or may seek shelter under mud or grass nearby.

The common snapping turtle is a traditional ingredient in turtle soup; consumption in large quantities, however, can become a health concern due to potential concentration of toxic environmental pollutants in the turtle’s flesh.

The common snapping turtle can bite its handler even if picked up by the sides of its shell. The claws are about as sharp as those of dogs. Despite this, a snapping turtle cannot use its claws for either attacking (its legs have no speed or strength in “swiping” motions) or eating (no opposable thumbs), but only as aids for digging and gripping.

It is a common misconception that common snapping turtles may be safely picked up by the tail with no harm to the animal; in fact, this has a high chance of injuring the turtle, especially the tail itself and the vertebral column. Lifting the turtle with the hands is difficult and dangerous. Snappers can stretch their necks back across their own carapace and to their hind feet on either side to bite.

It may be tempting to rescue a snapping turtle found on a road by getting it to bite a stick and then dragging it out of immediate danger. This action can, however, severely scrape the legs and underside of the turtle and lead to deadly infections in the wounds. The safest way to pick up a common snapping turtle is by grasping the carapace above the back legs. There is a large gap above the back legs that allows for easy grasping of the carapace and keeps hands safe from both the beak and claws of the turtle. It can also be picked up with a shovel, from the back, making sure the shovel is square across the bottom of the shell. The easiest way, though, is with a blanket or tarp, picking up the corners with the turtle in the middle.

While it is widely rumored that common snapping turtles can bite off human fingers or toes, and their powerful jaws are more than capable of doing so, no proven cases have ever been presented for this species, as they use their overall size and strength to deter would-be predators. Common snapping turtles are “quite docile” animals underwater that prefer to avoid confrontations rather than provoke them.

Here’s an interesting little riddle: If a turtle is out of its shell, is it naked or homeless? Just something to think about.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who holds the Boston Red Sox record for having played the most games with 3,308?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Where have all the Whippoorwills gone?

Whippoorwill

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

While sitting on the deck at camp one lazy afternoon recently, one of our friends asked, “Why don’t we hear Whip-poor-wills anymore?”

Interesting question.

Besides the fact that whip-poor-wills are strictly nocturnal – that meaning they are active at night when I’m sleeping (something that seems to be happening earlier all the time) – whip-poor-wills are elusive.

Often heard but seldom observed, the whip-poor-will chants its name on summer nights in the eastern woods. Sometimes, the song seems to go on endlessly.

The whip-poor-wills, Antrostomus vociferus, have been made famous in folk songs, poems and literature for their endless chanting on summer nights.

Randy Travis features that fact in his song, Deeper than the Holler, with the stanza that goes:

My love is deeper than the holler, stronger than the river
Higher than the pine trees growin’ tall upon the hill
My love is purer than the snowflakes that fall in late December
And honest as a Robin on a springtime window sill
And longer than the song of a whippoorwill.

During the night, they will lay low and fly upwards to catch moths and other aerial insects.

At dusk and dawn, and on moonlit nights, they scurry out of their perches to sweep up insects in their large mouths.

During the day, they roost on the forest floor, or on a horizontal log or branch, and are very difficult to spot. Their brindled plumage blends perfectly with the gray-brown leaf litter of the open forests where they breed and roost.

Look for them in open understories. They can be found in both purely deciduous and mixed deciduous-conifer forests, often in areas with sandy soil.

Eastern whip-poor-wills migrate to Mexico and Central America for the winter, apparently traveling mostly over land to get there. In spring they arrive in breeding grounds between late March and mid-May. Since they are less vocal in autumn, less is known about their southward migration routes and timing, but they seem to leave between early September and late November.

The Eastern whip-poor-wills are medium-sized birds with a large, rounded head and a stout chest that tapers to a long tail and wings, giving them a distinctly front-heavy look. Like all nightjars, they are patterned with a complicated mottling of gray and brown, which camouflages them nearly perfectly with leaf litter and tree bark.

Nesting activities may be timed so adults are feeding young primarily on nights when the moon is more than half full, making it easier for them while foraging. Males sing at night to defend their territory and to attract a mate. They do not build nests in the traditional way. The nest site is on the ground in shady woods but often near the edge of a clearing, on open soil covered with dead leaves. They do not build a nest, but instead the eggs lay on the flat ground.

The entire state of Maine is part of the whip-poor-wills range.

But, getting back to the original question: Eastern whip-poor-wills are still fairly common birds, but their numbers declined by almost 3 percent per year between 1966 and 2015, resulting in a cumulative decline of 75 percent during that time, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. In some areas, parts of their range seem to have become unoccupied. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 2 million with 95 percent living part of the year in the U.S.

The decline in parts of their range is blamed mostly on open forests being converted to pasture urbanizing and agriculture. Although it’s not fully understood, the decline may also be caused by a general reduction in numbers of large moths and beetles.

The Eastern whip-poor-will is on the 2016 State of North America’s Birds’ Watch List, which includes bird species that are most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats. Also, because whip-poor-wills often fly over roads or sit on roadways while foraging, they are also vulnerable to collisions with cars.

Restoration could occur when abandoned farmlands revert to forest.

So, on those quiet, moonlit nights around a campfire, listen off in the distance, and you just might here the call of the whip-poor-will.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name these five Major League baseball players: The Bambino, Teddy Ballgame, Hammerin’ Hank, Charlie Hussle, The Say Hey Kid.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: An unusual story about a woman and a frog

Left, gray treefrog on Betsy’s railing, and right, the gray treefrog nestled under the burl. (contributed photos)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Last week, a reader dropped by my office to tell me a nature story that is, to say the least, unusual.

Betsy, a China resident, told me about an oak tree on her property that is a considerable distance from their home. In the branches of this particular tree were multiple burls. One day, one of the burls fell from the tree during a period of high winds.

She picked up the burl and placed it on the railing of their porch, to be used as a “conversation piece,” she thought. That was about to change.

Betsy’s burl. (contributed photo)

Within a week or two, a gray treefrog took up residence under the burl … and stayed for the summer. She said she also noticed a smaller gray treefrog under the burl. Now, female gray treefrogs are larger than the male, so that could have been its mate.

The summer faded into fall and the gray treefrog was still there. As winter approached, the treefrog went away, and Betsy’s husband took the burl and placed it in the storage shed for the winter, in an attempt to protect it.

The gray treefrog, Dryophytes versicolor, is a species of small arboreal tree frog native to much of the eastern United States and southeastern Canada.

It is sometimes referred to as the eastern gray treefrog, northern gray treefrog, common gray treefrog, or tetraploid gray treefrog to distinguish it from its more southern, genetically disparate relative, Cope’s gray treefrog.

As the scientific name implies, gray treefrogs are variable in color owing to their ability to camouflage themselves from gray to green or brown, depending on the surface where they are sitting. The degree of mottling varies. They can change from nearly black to nearly white. They change color at a slower rate than a chameleon. One aspect that is unique to this frog appearance is that its legs feature a dark bandish pattern which then contrast sharply with the black-marked bright yellow or orange under the sides of its legs and arms.

Dead gray treefrogs and ones in unnatural surroundings are predominantly gray. The female does not call and has a white throat; however, the male does call and can show a black/gray/brown throat during the breeding season. As earlier mentioned, the female is usually larger than the male. It is important to know when trying to identify this frog that the appearance at a younger age is similar to others of the same species, but as the frog increases in age the appearance varies. They are relatively small compared to other North American frog species, typically attaining no more than 1.5 to 2 inches. Their skin has a lumpy texture to it, giving them a warty appearance.

This species is virtually indistinguishable from Cope’s gray treefrog, the only readily noticeable difference being that Cope’s Gray treefrog has a shorter, faster call.

Both of these similar species have bright-yellow patches on their hind legs, which distinguishes them from other treefrogs.

Gray treefrogs inhabit a wide range, and can be found in most of the eastern half of the United States, as far west as central Texas and Oklahoma. They also range into Canada in the provinces of Québec, Ontario, and Manitoba, with an isolated population in New Brunswick.

The gray treefrog is capable of surviving freezing of its internal body fluids to temperatures as low as 17°F.

The gray treefrog is most common in forested areas, as it is highly arboreal. Its calls are often heard in rural residential areas of the East Coast and the Midwest. It prefers to breed in semi-permanent woodland ponds without fish, but it also lays eggs in swamps, vernal pools, man-made fountains and water gardens, and even in rainwater-filled swimming pool covers.

These frogs rarely ever descend from high treetops except for breeding – that’s what made this particular gray treefrog unique, it lived on the porch railing all summer. Also, Betsy could get within a foot of the treefrog, and it didn’t seem to faze it at all. They are strictly nocturnal. Male gray treefrogs rarely have large choruses, as they are mostly solitary animals, but might vocalize competitively at the height of breeding periods. Gray treefrogs may congregate around windows and porch lights to eat insects that are attracted to the light. During the day they often rest on horizontal tree branches or leaves out in the open, even in the sun. Evidently they are less prone to overheating and desiccation than other amphibians and rely on their superb camouflage to hide them from predators.

In captivity, their needs are similar to that of the American green treefrog.

The frogs are popular pets because of their small size, appearance, and the undemanding conditions needed to take care of them. Unlike many amphibians, they do not require artificial heating. They need a large (at least ten-gallon) terrarium and do best with a substrate that will hold some humidity, such as commercial shredded bark or coconut husk bedding, or untreated topsoil on the floor of their terrarium. Tree frogs are arboreal, so the height on the tank is more important than the length. A variety of things for climbing, such as plants or branches, should be in the habitat. A shallow water dish should be included. Captive frogs should not be handled any more than necessary; when necessary, clean gloves should be worn.

And now, for the rest of the story.

This spring, Betsy remembered about the burl in the storage shed, and had her husband retrieve it. It was put back in the same place it was the previous summer, just in case the treefrog would come back. Within a week, the gray treefrog had returned and taken up its same spot as last summer.

The vigil will continue.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What is the national sport of Canada?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Deer tick population explodes in central Maine area

Deer tick before and after engorging.

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 pest, 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.

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).

a dog tick.

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 abbreviated 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 repellant; check yourself for ticks, if you find a tick, remove it immediately; shower soon after being outdoors – last Saturday, after working around at camp, I found four ticks on the floor in the shower; 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 of the deer tick, but they can also be found in 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. Considering the mild winter we just experienced, they are active in record numbers. 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:

Before Mookie Betts in 2017, who was the last Red Sox player to lead the team in home runs and stolen bases in the same season?

Answer can be found here.