SCORES & OUTDOORS: Substantial moose mortality in northern Maine blamed on ticks

Female winter tick

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Recent news reports have indicated a high rate of deaths among young moose in northern Maine. Lee Kantar, the moose biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), said the winter ticks are to blame. The ticks, also called moose ticks, are a worsening problem in the areas of the northern U.S. and southern Canada that moose call home. Infestations of ticks contributed

to a record high death rate for young moose tracked by wildlife managers in rural Maine.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife placed collars on 70 moose calves in remote parts of the state last winter and 60 of them had died by the beginning of May, Maine Public reported. The 86 percent mortality rate was the highest since the agency started the tracking survey.

Kantar confirmed the majority of overwinter mortality occurs in calves prior to their first birthday in May.

“We have been assessing cause specific mortality of adult cow and calf moose for 9 years with GPS collared animals,” Kantar said. “Winter tick is the primary driver/cause of mortality for calves. The winter tick is a unique species of tick that has a different life cycle than the common ticks known to most people (e.g., deer and dog ticks).”

He continued by saying unlike other ticks that have a multi-year life cycle that involves getting on and removing blood from three different hosts, winter ticks spend their entire life cycle (larva, nymph and adult) on one host (typically moose) and take blood meals off the moose at each stage.

“Adult female winter ticks, in order to produce eggs, take a minimum of one milliliter of blood from the moose,” Kantar explained. “The winter ticks get on the moose in the fall and stay on them until May where they drop off then the females lay eggs and die. A moose can harbor 30,000-90,000 ticks ” According to Kantar, “the amount of blood removed by these ticks causes blood loss, weight loss, restlessness, lethargy, hair loss, secondary bacterial infections and anemia. In cases like this spring, high infestation rates on moose can lead to death in young animals and depress female reproductive rates.”

Researchers have studied the dynamic of winter tick and moose for decades. “Typically losses like we saw this spring occur once over the course of many years,” Kantar continued. “However, in the northeast due to shifts in climate and past moose densities we have experienced multiple years of moderate-high juvenile losses. Moose are wild, free-ranging animals. There is no veterinary labelled, approved treatments for moose.” Moose range over 10-12 square miles. Maine is home to tens of thousands of moose.

“Solutions to ticks must address this large scale problem in a way that does not harm the environment and other wildlife,” Kantar said. “Therefore we are limited in options to treat moose and winter tick. Reducing the density of moose is believed to be one of the only possibilities to determine if winter tick numbers can be reduced. MDIFW is conducting further research on reducing moose numbers in one half of one Wildlife Management District over the next five years to measure moose population parameters (density, composition, mortality and reproduction) as well as winter tick numbers to determine impacts of the program.”

The reported numbers for this spring represent only one Wildlife Management District (WMD 4) and represents only GPS collared calves that had these GPS radio collars placed on them this past January.

“It is highly likely that this mortality rate is representative of the entire management unit, but caution must be used to assume that these numbers are consistent throughout the entire moose range in Maine,” Kantar explained.

“While reducing moose density is counterintuitive to people, the science behind the relationship of disease/parasites and animal density is deeply rooted and widely studied,” Kantar added. Kantar went on to say, with 90 percent of Mainers approving of moose hunting, biologically and otherwise population reduction at this level to determine feasibility is a prudent and important step in combating winter ticks. Longer summer/fall temperatures and weather and subsequently shorter winters allow winter ticks to have more days to get on moose in the fall. Each day the weather remains mild, ticks are getting on moose so the number of ticks continues to grow until weather shuts down the ticks looking for a host. This is why winter tick numbers can increase to the point on a moose that they become lethal. Combating the weather is out of our hands. Maine moose country is predominately private land – there are limitations in scope, scale, resources and practicality in how to best fight ticks.

Our website has additional information on this,” Kantar concluded.

According to the University of Maine Extension Service, winter ticks are most commonly encountered in fall and winter. Their preferred hosts are moose and other ungulates, including deer, elk, and caribou, and occasionally horses and cattle. Though they can be found anywhere on a host, they seem to prefer the ears, belly, anal region, and under the legs. Incidental hosts include dogs, beavers, black bears, and coyotes. Winter ticks rarely bite and feed on humans.

Although winter ticks are not a threat to human health, they can pose a significant threat to wildlife, moose in particular. Deer and other ungulates seem to easily remove the ticks during grooming. Moose, however, are not as successful at tick grooming and can become host to over 100,000 winter ticks. Heavy infestations on an individual can result in severe anemia, skin irritation, hair loss, and distraction from feeding. The total effect from heavy infestations can ultimately result in death of the individual.

Ticks hide in the leaf litter present in the wooded or brushy areas they tend to populate. When snow falls, it only serves to insulate the dormant ticks, which are protected by the layer of debris. Or, in the case of soft-shell ticks, they survive by staying underground in burrows or dens.

In 2019, the Maine Center for Disease Control confirmed 1,629 cases of Lyme disease in Mainer.

The winter tick has a large geographic distribution in North America. They can be found coast to coast through much of Canada and the United States ranging from the Yukon Territory in the north to along the Mexican border in the south. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats, but are strongly associated with the presence of moose. Winter ticks are found in forested areas throughout the state of Maine, particularly in central and northern counties.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What is the diameter of a basketball hoop in inches?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Over 100 whales spotted during aerial survey

Northern Right Whale

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

There has been a lot of discussion and controversy lately about the plight of whales in the North Atlantic, in particular about the Right Whale, and their interaction with lobstermen.

Maine’s lobstermen have fought national conservation groups over federal gear rules and fishery closures intended to protect endangered whales.

During a special research flight on April 25, the New England Aquarium aerial survey team sighted more than 100 whales of several species, including 27 critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Aquarium researchers, Associate Scientist Orla O’Brien and Research Assistant Katherine McKenna, flew a five-hour flight on April 25 focused on how survey altitude affects researchers’ ability to detect whales. The New England Aquarium primarily flies aerial surveys over the waters south of Nantucket that are designated for offshore wind development, but this week’s flight in Massachusetts Bay was a strategic effort to better understand how to merge survey data collected before, during, and after wind energy construction. Surveys that occur during and after wind turbine construction will need to be flown at a higher altitude to account for the turbine height, which is about 800 feet. This special survey was flown over Massachusetts Bay and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary because these areas typically contain many whales, giving researchers the best opportunity to collect the data they need to address questions about changes in flight altitude.

“On this special flight, we flew each track line at a lower and higher altitude. Comparing these data, and data from previous flights, ensures that we can correctly identify and interpret any changes in the number of animals seen before, during, and after construction,” said Dr. Jessica Redfern, Senior Scientist and Chair of the Aquarium’s Spatial Ecology, Mapping, and Assessment (EcoMap) program.

While aboard the five-hour flight, researchers O’Brien and McKenna spotted multiple marine mammal species, including critically endangered right whales, and an abundance of humpback whales, fin whales, sei whales, and dolphins. They also noted some right whales close to the entrance of Boston Harbor. Passengers aboard New England Aquarium Whale Watches in partnership with Boston Harbor City Cruises have been seeing right whales recently.

“We were really pleased to see so many whales and collect valuable data needed for our project. Massachusetts Bay and Stellwagen Bank are hotspots for whales, and we were grateful to our research colleagues for helping us collect valuable information on this flight,” O’Brien said.

While wind turbine construction in southern New England has not yet begun, the surveys help monitor changes in animal populations, identify various animal species, and recognize trends using standardized data that has been collected over many years. Determining where right whales occur and how they are using these habitats provides crucial information that can be used to better protect the species. Aqua­rium scientists are also monitoring the occurrence of sharks, tunas, and billfishes in the offshore wind lease areas.

North Atlantic right whales are a critically endangered species, with an estimated population of less than 350 individuals. The whales travel hundreds of miles while searching for tiny crustaceans, which they feed on in large volumes. Warming waters in the northern Atlantic Ocean have led to shifts in right whale habitat use, with the animals adjusting where they feed off the northeast U.S. and Canada. Southern New England waters have become an increasingly important habitat for the species in the past 12 years.

The New England Aquarium is the main source for this article.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who has hit the most career home runs for the Boston Red Sox?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Toxic worm has been sighted in Maine

Hammerhead worm

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Joro spider that is working its way up the east coast of the U.S., and could arrive in Maine within the next 10 years.

Well, hang on to your hats, because here we go again with a native Asian invader to the state of Maine. The hammerhead worm — a toxic, predatory invasive worm capable of unlimited self-cloning — has arrived in Maine.

The first sightings were reported last fall from southern and central parts of Maine of the hammerhead worm, a flatworm that can range from 8- to 15-inches long and is distinguished by the unique hammer or shovel-shaped head.

“We have a couple of reports of them already,” said Gary Fish, state horticulturist with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. “I don’t think anyone in Maine is up to speed on them,” he said in a news article published in the Bangor Daily News by Liz Baker.

The discovery is bad news for Maine’s gardeners since hammerheads prey on earthworms, which contribute to the health of Maine soil by turning organic materials into useful compost. Earthworm activity also helps aerate the soil, which increases soil nutrients and moisture intake.

The hammerhead worm can prove additionally troublesome because it has no known predators.

The hammerhead worm is native to Asia and has been reported as far south as Florida, as far west as California and now as far north as Maine, according to the University of Florida.

The biology of the hammerhead reads like a horror movie. It does not have respiratory or circulatory systems or a skeleton, and it may or may not have eyes. What it does have is a single opening on its head that serves as both its mouth and its anus. (Sounds like something that is tailor made for an episode of Svengoolie.)

Baker spotted one slithering up her foundation in Lewiston last fall.

In the BDN article, Baker said, “I was fascinated. Totally creepy and strange but I love learning about different species [and] I had never seen anything like it.”

The truly amazing trait of hammerhead worms is that they are basically immortal. Like other flatworms, they reproduce asexually by what is known as “fragmentation.” For example, they leave the tip of their tail stuck to something, and it will develop on its own into a new worm.

That also means if you cut a hammerhead into pieces, in 10 days or so you are going to have multiple new hammerheads — all capable of fragmentation.

They are also the first land invertebrates found to produce the same toxin that is found in pufferfish. In the fish, the toxin is lethal to humans with one pufferfish containing enough to kill 30 adult humans. Little is known about the hammerhead toxin’s effects on humans, but it is believed a person would have to eat a large quantity of them to be lethal. Yuck! Are you kidding me? Who’d want to eat a worm? However, it is a good idea to wash your hands after handling hammerhead worms.

So, what do you do if you spot hammerhead worms, and don’t want to see an entire colony form in your yard?

Because hammerhead worms consume beneficial worms, secrete poisonous toxins, and transmit harmful nematode parasites, they should be removed and dispatched whenever found.

If you spot a hammerhead worm, take a photo. Should you kill hammerhead worms? Yes, but first take a photo and send it to your local cooperative extension service, your state’s department of natural resourc­es. These groups study and track invasive species like this worm, gathering numbers and locations of sightings.

Collect hammerhead worms in a sealable container. If you find a hammerhead worm in your garden, capture it in a sealable plastic bag or some other sealable container. Don’t touch it with your hands; use a stick, gloves, or paper towel to place it into the container. If you do touch it, be sure to wash and disinfect your hands. Placing the worms in a container ensures they won’t be able to get away and makes it easier to apply a solution to kill them.

Apply salt and/or grain vinegar concentrate to the hammerhead worms in the bag, seal the bag, and place it in the freezer for 48 hours to ensure the worm has dissolved. Soapy water, neem oil, citrus oil, boric acid, or pesticides may also work.

Do not cut the worm into pieces. Each section can regenerate into a fully developed worm within a few weeks.

Discard the dissolved worms and sanitize the container.

After a hammerhead worm has been sealed in a plastic bag, treated with salt (or a combination of salt and vinegar), and placed in the freezer for 48 hours, the Texas Invasive Species Institute recommends discarding the still-sealed baggie in the trash.

Alternatively, you can use a glass jar with a lid or any kind of plastic sealable container. Most sources advise tossing the sealed container into the trash, but if you prefer to reuse it, it should be cleaned and disinfected with alcohol or another strong disinfectant.

If you have found one hammerhead worm, there are probably more, so remain vigilant. Examine your garden, particularly in the early morning after a rain when they’re likely to be easily found on the surface.

It’s important to keep an eye out for these invasive, toxic worms. The slimy predators threaten earthworms, which are vital to our ecosystem because they help decompose organic matter and incorporate soil amendments. Knowing how to identify and correctly kill and dispose of these nuisance worms will help keep your garden and your pets safe and healthy.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who holds the Boston Red Sox team record for most hits in a single season?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS – Moment of truth: did the mice get in your camper?

Common house mouse

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

This is the time of year that is the moment of truth. To those of you who own campers, and it has been closed up all winter, either in a field, or in storage, you almost dread the first time you open it up in the spring. The question: Did mice get in over the winter? If so, how much damage did they do?

Well, we have friends who all have different theories on how to repel these little creatures, and discourage them from entering your “summer home.”

Some of us rely on old-fashioned, time tested methods – moth balls, dryer sheets, and peppermint. Others have their own concoctions they swear by, and still others strongly believe in the “new and better” mouse trap. You know, the one where you pass a wire through the top of a five-gallon bucket, place an aluminum can through the wire, smear it with peanut butter, fill the bucket with antifreeze and build a ramp for the critter. They walk up the ramp, jump on the can – the can rotates and the mouse falls to its death in the antifreeze, to be preserved for you in the spring.

These pests typically try to find their way in when the weather takes a cold turn. Once they’ve made their way inside, it’s immediately time to start figuring out how to get rid of them. Understanding what these critters like and don’t like can help you better understand how to keep them away.

Are you rolling out the ‘Welcome’ mat for mice? Learn how to put up a ‘No Vacancy’ sign they can’t ignore!

The mouse is a small species that’s found all over the world. This highly adaptive species can survive in the wild, but they thrive when living near people where food, water, and shelter are easy to find. They are one of the most common pests to infest homes and buildings.

Jumping 18 inches in the air, climbing stairs and rough surfaces, and swimming are effortless tasks for these critters.

These pests have poor eyesight. They can’t see colors and they cannot see very far away. However, mice have a very good sense of smell that makes up for their weak eyes. They use scent markers to communicate with other mice and rely on scents to detect predators or other potential dangers. A mouse’s sense of smell is so powerful, it can identify the age and sex of another mouse up to 10 miles away!

The mouse’s small size and impressive skills make them a challenging pest, but their ability to reproduce is overwhelming. They can reproduce before they are two months old and typically have anywhere from 3 – 14 babies per litter. A female can have 5 – 10 litters each year, so do the math. It doesn’t take long for one pest to turn into a large mouse problem.

So now, let’s see what science has to say about it.

Mice have a very keen sense of smell that is much stronger than what humans experience. You can use this trait to repel mice and use scents that mice hate like cinnamon, vinegar, dryer sheets, clove oil, peppermint, tea bags, moth balls, mint toothpaste, ammonia, cloves, clove oil, and cayenne pepper.

If you have ever seen or kept a mouse, you may have noticed they seem to spend an awful lot of their time sniffing at their surroundings. Be it on their hind legs whilst twitching their whiskers, or just roaming around in their cages, their nose is always active. Sniffing is the way mice find food, communicate with one another, and are alerted to a predator’s presence.

Out of all the rodents, mice have one of the best senses of smell. Only second to rats. Mice, in fact, rodents in general, have a sense of smell that is highly developed with an incredible one percent of their DNA being dedicated to olfactory receptors.

The world of smell is also very different for mice than it is for humans, with scents from food, prey, and predators constantly bombarding them with information.

With the influx of scents coming in, you would think that it may be hard for a mouse to make sense of them all and separate what is of use such as food and predator scents from background smells.

However, this is not the case.

During experiments where mice were scent trained to pick out a certain smell from others, they could do so 85 percent of the time. This was even when a large number of background smells were included, although the more background scent included, the less reliable the mice became.

When looking for food, for example, mice use a combination of smell and touch. Their noses lead them to the source of food and their whiskers or paws brushing against it locate it exactly.

Eyesight does not really play a part in food location at all. A mouse’s vision is not particularly good.

With such a highly developed sense of smell, it really is no wonder that our homes and businesses are so attractive to unwanted mice. Any unswept crumbs or dropped food, etc., must be incredibly tempting to them.

Mice, however, do not like the smell of mint, so planting this herb around the exterior of your house can help to keep unwanted visiting mice at bay.

Surprisingly, mice do not rely totally on their noses for their sense of smell. They also have another odor detecting organ called the vomeronasal organ, or VNO, which is located in the nasal cavity. The VNO is mainly used to sense pheromones (Any of various chemical substances secreted externally which convey information to, and produce specific responses in other individuals of the same species) which a mouse can do from up to ten miles away.

Mice also have excellent hearing and will hear you coming long before you see them. In addition, they have the incredible ability to know if something is toxic, unhealthy, or inedible by its taste.

My wife and I subscribe to the moth balls, peppermint and dryer sheets. In our 42 years of camping, we have had mice in our camper on one occasion, the year we didn’t go by our past experience, and succumbed to someone else’s propaganda.

Peanut butter? You may as well send out engraved invitations – and black ties are not required.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Since 1967, one Boston sports team has made the playoffs 46 times (out of a possible 55 years), more than any other team in the four professional major sports. Which team is it?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Iceberg parade becomes tourist attraction

An iceberg passing by a Newfoundland village. (photo courtesy of PBS.com)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

A strange phenomenon occurs every spring in the north Atlantic. Large icebergs come floating down the south shore near Ferryland, Newfoundland, Canada. People journey to the site – some traveling thousands of miles – to see this spectacle.

For the locals, it’s no big deal. But for others, seeing them for the first time, it’s a breath taking sight.

Slowly, an entire flotilla of massive chunks of ice several stories high gradually make their way south from Greenland.

Most years, hundreds of icebergs break off from glaciers and their one- to three-year nomadic journey begins. If the winds are favorable enough, they reach “iceberg alley,” an area of the Atlantic that roughly stretches from the coastal waters off Labrador, in Canada, south along Newfoundland.

Although last year proved a big disappointment, with only one iceberg making it across the 48th N parallel during iceberg season – generally April through July. Not anything like 2019, which saw more than 1,500.

Meteorological and oceanographic conditions – wind direction, ocean currents and air and sea temperatures – play a role and impact the flow of the icebergs, determining how big a show Mother Nature will put on each year, according to the U.S. Coast Guard International Ice Patrol, which monitors the area off Labrador and Newfoundland for icebergs.

Some observers believe that stronger Labrador winds this spring may draw a larger number of the icebergs south.

This year, there is more ice in the harbors, more seals and even polar bear sightings in certain areas. The same currents carry icebergs so this is a positive sign. Sightings in the past couple weeks confirm that some icebergs are getting closer to shore than last year.

The icebergs have become a major attraction, giving rise to some iceberg tourism and delivering lucky spectators with a front-row seat to an unusual parade.

Tour boats actually venture out for a closer look at any number of the many icebergs. However, they never get too close in case the icebergs continue to break up.

Speaking of boats, could it be possible that one of these giant icebergs was responsible for the sinking of the RMS Titanic? The sea disaster happened on April 14, 1912, in the north Atlantic when the British luxury passenger cruise liner collided with an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland. The timing would be right.

These gigantic icebergs can reach up to 300-feet above sea level. That, plus most of the icebergs are not visible, with 90 percent of an iceberg’s size beneath the surface. Some take on odd shapes as they melt, even looking like ice castles by the time they pass along the Canadian shore.

As many enjoy the icebergs and all of what they have to offer, some are concerned, hoping that future generations will be able to marvel at these giants of nature as many do today.

They should be enjoyed while they last, with the current climate changes, there’s no guarantee we’ll see this spectacle in years go come.

Are you planning a vacation to Newfoundland, yet?

AccuWeather is the primary source of this article.

FLYING SQUIRREL UPDATE

Last week, I received a letter from a reader concerned about flying squirrels and their “health.” She noted that she had captured several flying squirrels above a suspended ceiling in the home they purchased. After baiting and capturing them, she found a farmer who allowed her to release them in an old, large barn in Sidney.

This last time, he said “no” because he researched and found that flying squirrels are territorial and will attack and kill other flying squirrels in the area.

Well, this is what I was able to find about flying squirrels and relocating them. It is best to relocate in an area near where they were found, more familiar territory.

Competing males chase until they catch the other. This is followed by violent fighting among males. In these chases, they are not always about the size or the strength of the squirrel, but also the maturity. It has been noted that on many occasions, it’s the older male squirrels that win the fight to claim dominance.

So, probably the best way to handle flying squirrels once they have entered your home is to place a one-way door or another type of exclusion device over the hole. The flying squirrels will be able to leave but not get back inside. Over the course of a few days, they will leave in search of food and remain outside with no way to get back in.

That’s probably the best way to take care of that situation.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Have any Boston Red Sox pitchers’ numbers been retired?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Maine health officials respond to Avian flu

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Recently, I received information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Labora­tories confirming the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in samples taken from small flocks of non-commercial backyard birds (non-poultry); Lincoln County (March 17); Knox and York counties (March 19); Cumberland County (March 22); and Washington County (March 26).

DACF Animal Health placed the properties under quarantine, and humane depopulation efforts have been completed.

Additional safety measures were implemented, including monitoring properties with domestic flocks within a six-mile radius and notifying bird owners of the importance of proactive safety measures to help prevent disease.

The risk for HPAI remains high, and backyard flock and commercial operators are advised to keep birds indoors to prevent the spread of this disease.

The current outbreak of HPAI is spreading across the country primarily due to the migration of wild birds. There is little evidence to suggest HPAI is being spread from farm to farm (lateral transmission). The virus is very prevalent in the environment in wild birds so flock owners need to practice strong biosecurity. More information on steps they can take to enhance biosecurity is available here: http://healthybirds. aphis. usda.gov.

Birds should be kept inside as long as the disease transmission risk is high. Please reference the Maine DACF Animal Health website for up-to-date information.

Because HPAI is being spread by migrating wild birds, it is difficult to predict what will happen over the next couple months. The trends observed with past North American HPAI outbreaks are that there is often a reprieve in the summer months. Summer is when the virus present on the landscape (outdoors) is degraded by sunlight and heat. Migratory waterfowl (ducks, geese, and shorebirds) moving south in the fall months are likely to shed AI virus again. It is critically important that poultry owners work now to provide indoor shelter for their birds through the fall and provide outdoor access only in covered poultry runs, allowing protection from predators and preventing contact with wild waterfowl and their droppings.

When purchasing new birds it’s always recommended to only purchase birds from a reputable source that follows effective biosecurity protocols and closely monitors poultry health.

Some of the signs to look for are sudden death without clinical signs; Lack of energy and appetite; Decreased egg production or soft-shelled or misshapen eggs; Swelling of the head, comb, eyelid, wattles, and hocks; Purple discoloration of wattles, comb, and legs; Nasal discharge, coughing, and sneezing; Incoordination; or Diarrhea. Learn more.

The best approach to protect the flock is to practice good biosecurity – this means keeping your birds separate from sources of disease, such as infected wild birds and their environment.

Report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to State/Federal officials, either through your state veterinarian or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593.

Can people contract AI? No cases of this particular strain of the avian influenza virus have been detected in humans in the United States. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recent detections of this strain of influenza in birds in Maine and several other states present a low risk to the public.

Poultry and eggs are safe to eat when handled and cooked properly. Eggs from a known infected flock are safely disposed of.

There is compensation available. Refer to the USDA APHIS website to learn what is covered and how the process works.

USDA has many resources available for commercial poultry producers and backyard bird owners through its Defend the Flock campaign. Information about this campaign and links to toolkits containing biosecurity checklists, videos, and more, are available.

DACF’s Animal Health team is also working closely with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC). Though this strain of avian influenza has not been detected in humans in the United States, Maine CDC is monitoring the health and wellbeing of animal health staff and flock owners who were exposed out of an abundance of caution. Signs and symptoms of bird flu infections in people can include fever (temperature of 100°F or greater) or feeling feverish, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, fatigue, headaches, eye redness (or conjunctivitis), and difficulty breathing.

Other possible symptoms are diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. As with seasonal flu, some people are at high risk of getting very sick from bird flu infections, including pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems, and people 65 and older. The U.S. CDC provides information on avian flu transmission. The Maine CDC’s Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory is prepared to process samples and quickly provide results for anyone potentially exposed to the virus.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What was the nickname of the Boston professional American League baseball team between 1901 and 1907?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Flying squirrels do exist in Maine

Photo courtesy of timbergrove.org

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

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

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

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

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

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

The major food sources for the squirrels are mushrooms of various species, although they also eat lichens, nuts, tree sap, insects, carrion, bird eggs and nestlings, and buds and flowers. The squirrels are able to locate truffles. (If you follow the Peanuts comic strips, presently Linus has Snoopy sniffing for truffles – he needs a flying squirrel.) Although they also seem to use cues such as the presence of coarse woody debris, indicating a decaying log, and spatial memory of locations where truffles were found in the past.

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

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

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

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

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

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

With the Boston Marathon approaching in a couple of weeks, what is the distance of a marathon race?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS – Osprey vs. eagle: ruling the skies

Osprey and bald eagle do battle. (photo by Gary Kennedy)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Recently, a regular contributor to The Town Line, Gary Kennedy, of Chelsea, and his wife Julie witnessed a battle between an osprey and a bald eagle, probably over territorial rites – or food.

I could relate to the story as my wife and I witnessed the same a few years ago while fishing on Webber Pond. In both instances, the bald eagle won the day. So, do bald eagles and ospreys get along?

Opportunistic bald eagles and ospreys share much of the same habitat, so ospreys are frequently the victims of nest raids by the eagles. Proud, powerful and the national symbol of the United States, bald eagles are birds of prey that are extremely territorial during nesting season but highly social at other times.

They use their talons to fish; or, instead of catching their own, they’ll go after an osprey or another fish-eating bird, forcing it to drop its prey, which the eagle grabs in midair.

Opportunists, they’ll also scavenge carrion or catch and eat amphibians, invertebrates, small mammals, reptiles and other birds’ fledglings.

Once an eagle gets you in its sights, it can be a vigorous foe—as that osprey recently learned.

Ospreys require nest sites in open surroundings for easy approach, with wide, sturdy bases and safety from ground predators, such as raccoons.

In Kennedy’s video, you see a bald eagle and an osprey do combat. As part of their plan of attack, at dusk, with both osprey parents away, the bald eagle will sweep in from over the water toward the nest containing three chicks. One of the osprey parents will engage the eagle, ready to defend the nest, but it can’t match the speed and strength of the eagle, which manages to nab one of the chicks with its huge talons before taking off.

It’s not uncommon for osprey to lose their entire brood to eagle attacks.

Adept at soaring and diving but not as maneuverable as other hawks, ospreys fly with stiff wingbeats in a steady, rowing motion. They do, however, vigorously chase birds that encroach on their nests.

But ospreys, too, launch their share of attacks ­– and some of them are on eagles. They have been observed attacking a Canada gooose who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Is it a coincidence that bald eagles will frequently build their nests near osprey nests. Not really. It’s just the bald eagle is smart enough to know that if it nests near ospreys, that it will have ample opportunity to steal fish from the ospreys throughout summer?

However, there are many differences between ospreys and bald eagles.

Size: Osprey have an average 59- to 70-inch wingspan and weigh three to four pounds. They have long, narrow wings with a marked kink that makes them look like an M-shape from below.

The bald eagle is one of the largest birds in North America, with an average 80-inch wingspan and weighing 6.5 to almost 14 pounds.

Diet: Osprey eat a diet of about 99 percent fish, usually 4 – 12 inches long. The type of fish varies depending on where in the world the osprey lives.

Bald eagles love fish as well, and sometimes rather than doing their own hunting they will harass osprey, making them drop their fish or even steal their fish right out of their talons.

Bald eagles also eat birds, reptiles, amphibians, rabbits and muskrat, both live or as carrion. They sometimes gorge on food and digest it over several days, and they can also survive fasting for many days or even weeks.

Beak: An osprey’s beak is black, short and has a sharp hook that helps it tear into fish to eat.

Bald eagles have a yellow beak which is also hooked for tearing into flesh.

Special abilities: Osprey can dive about three feet into the water to catch fish, and they can dive both head and feet first. They also have the ability to take off straight from the water instead of having to swim to shore.

Sometimes bald eagles hunt cooperatively, with one individual flushing prey toward another.

Nest: Osprey nests are built of sticks and lined with bark, sod, grasses, corn stalks and other softer materials. Most nesting platforms are about 5 feet wide and a foot deep. However, it has been seen that osprey who nest in the same place year after year have ended up with nests 10-13 feet deep and 3-6 feet in diameter.

Osprey also like to nest in open areas, usually built on snags, treetops, cliffs or human-built platforms, cell phone towers or light towers.

Bald eagles nest in trees, usually conifers, and create huge nests — five to six feet wide and two to four feet deep – out of sticks lined with grass, moss or corn stalks. Nests can take up to three months to build. Bald eagles typically build near the trunk of a tree, high but not at the crown like osprey. Some eagles also nest on the ground when necessary, using kelp or driftwood for construction near coastal shorelines.

Ospreys and bald eagles, although they usually share territory, and in the case of the eagle, the osprey’s catch of the day, are quite different in their own right.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Has anyone pitched a no-hitter in the World Series?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Giant spiders expected to drop from sky across the East Coast this spring

Large Joro spider.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

OK, ladies and gentlemen, get ready for this. The ticks are out early, the brown tail moth caterpillar is ready to wreak havoc on us for another year, and, of course, there is the black fly season. And now… A creepy, large yellow and black spider with a bulbous, bright yellow body is crawling along a tree branch, and, are you ready for this?, will be literally falling from the sky.

An invasive species of spider the size of a child’s hand is expected to “colonize” the entire East Coast by parachuting down from the sky, researchers at the University of Georgia announced last week. and no, this is not an early April Fools’ joke!

Large Joro spiders — millions of them — are expected to begin “ballooning” up and down the East Coast as early as May. Researchers have determined the spiders can tolerate cold weather, but are harmless to humans as their fangs are too small to break human skin. Although the spider is not aggressive, they will bite to protect themselves. The bite is considered quite painful, but not life-threatening.

All spiders are venomous, but some are dangerously venomous, like the black widow and brown recluse here in the United States, but the Joros are not.

The Joro spider is native to Japan but began infiltrating the U.S. in 2013, concentrating in the southeast and specifically Georgia, according to National Public Radio. (What is it with new nuisances coming from the Far East?) They fanned out across the state using their webs as tiny, terrifying parachutes to travel with the wind. They were first spotted in Hoschton, Georgia, in 2013. Since then, they have been spotted in numerous locations in northeast Georgia and also in Greenville, South Carolina. It is believed the species will become naturalized.

Andy Davis, author of the study and a researcher at Georgia’s Odum School of Ecology, says it isn’t certain how far north the spiders will travel, but they may make it as far north as Washington D.C. or even Delaware. (Whew! For a minute there I thought we were going to be Ground Zero.)

“It looks like the Joro could probably survive throughout most of the Eastern Seaboard here, which is pretty sobering,” says Davis.

They are bright yellow, black, blue, and red and can grow up to three inches.

They likely traveled across the globe on shipping containers, similar to when the Bubonic plague entered the United States. They are expected to colonize much of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States due to their relative imperviousness to the cold.

Their life cycle begins in early spring, but they get big in June and are often seen in July and August.

They’re named for Jorōgumo, a creature of Japanese folklore that can change her appearance into that of a beautiful woman. She seeks men to seduce, whom she then binds in her silk and devours.

As of 2021, their impact on their new ecosystem is unknown. They have been observed catching the brown marmorated stink bug, another invasive species that native spiders have not been known to eat, and it has also been hoped they may consume mosquitoes and flies (Wouldn’t that be great? But, be careful what you wish for).

Some hope the impact of the species will be positive due to their harmless nature and consumption of primarily invasive or nuisance insects, however, because of the relative lack of information about their ecology and the usual negative effects of most non-native species, it remains unknown whether Joro spiders may ultimately have a positive or negative effect on the ecosystem

Researchers say there’s nothing we can do. There isn’t much to stop them from getting established up and down the east coast through the ballooning dispersal method. Experts said it will likely take much longer than just this spring or summer for the spiders to get established throughout the eastern United States. Instead, it’s thought they will slowly colonize the east coast over the course of the next decade or so.

They’re coming and they’re harmless. Still, I say let’s build a wall to stop them from moving north, and keep them south of Delaware.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who was the winning pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in the clinching game in the 2018 World Series?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Denizens of the deep: older than dinosaurs

Pacific Giant Octopus

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

I saw an article recently in one of the local newspaper that fossils of an octopus were found in Montana, probably dated back before dinosaurs, some 330 million years. Let’s take a look at these denizens of the deep, at a creature we really don’t know that much about. We know what they look like, and some of what they do, but for what else would they be useful .

An octopus is a soft-bodied, eight-limbed mollusk. The soft body can radically alter its shape, enabling octopuses to squeeze through small gaps. They trail their eight appendages behind them as they swim. Octopuses have a complex nervous system and excellent sight, and are among the most intelligent and behaviorally diverse of all invertebrates.

Octopuses inhabit various regions of the ocean, including coral reefs, pelagic waters, and the seabed; some live in the intertidal zone and others at abyssal depths. Most species grow quickly, mature early, and are short-lived. In most species, the male uses a specially adapted arm to deliver a bundle of sperm directly into the female’s mantle cavity, after which he becomes senescent and dies, while the female deposits fertilized eggs in a den and cares for them until they hatch, after which she also dies. Strategies to defend themselves against predators include the expulsion of ink, the use of camouflage and threat displays, the ability to jet quickly through the water and hide, and even deceit. All octopuses are venomous, but only the blue-ringed octopuses are known to be deadly to humans.

The giant Pacific octopus is often cited as the largest known octopus species. Adults usually weigh around 33 pounds, with an arm span of up to 14 feet.

The skin consists of a thin outer epidermis with mucous cells and sensory cells, and a connective tissue dermis consisting largely of collagen fibers and various cells allowing color change. Most of the body is made of soft tissue allowing it to lengthen, contract, and contort itself. The octopus can squeeze through tiny gaps. Lacking skeletal support, the arms work as muscular hydrostats and contain longitudinal, transverse and circular muscles around a central axial nerve. They can extend and contract, twist to left or right, bend at any place in any direction or be held rigid.

The ink sac of an octopus is located under the digestive gland. A gland attached to the sac produces the ink, and the sac stores it. The sac is close enough to the funnel for the octopus to shoot out the ink with a water jet. Before it leaves the funnel, the ink passes through glands which mix it with mucus, creating a thick, dark blob which allows the animal to escape from a predator.[61] The main pigment in the ink is melanin, which gives it its black color. Cirrate octopuses usually lack the ink sac.

The reproduction of octopuses has been studied in only a few species. One such species is the giant Pacific octopus, in which courtship is accompanied, especially in the male, by changes in skin texture and color. About 40 days after mating, the female giant Pacific octopus attaches strings of small fertilized eggs (10,000 to 70,000 in total) to rocks in a crevice or under an overhang. Here she guards and cares for them for about five months (160 days) until they hatch. In colder waters, such as those off Alaska, it may take up to ten months for the eggs to completely develop.

Octopuses have a relatively short lifespan; some species live for as little as six months. The Giant Pacific Octopus, one of the two largest species of octopus, may live for as much as five years. Octopus lifespan is limited by reproduction. For most octopuses the last stage of their life is called senescence. It is the breakdown of cellular function without repair or replacement. For males, this typically begins after mating. Senescence may last from weeks to a few months, at most. For females, it begins when they lay a clutch of eggs. Females will spend all their time aerating and protecting their eggs until they are ready to hatch. During senescence, an octopus does not feed and quickly weakens. Lesions begin to form and the octopus literally degenerates. Unable to defend themselves, octopuses often fall prey to predators. The larger Pacific striped octopus (LPSO) is an exception, as it can reproduce multiple times over a life of around two years.

Most species are solitary when not mating, though a few are known to occur in high densities and with frequent interactions, signaling, mate defending and eviction of individuals from dens. This is likely the result of abundant food supplies combined with limited den sites.

Nearly all octopuses are predatory; bottom-dwelling octopuses eat mainly crustaceans, worms, and other molluscs such as whelks and clams; open-ocean octopuses eat mainly prawns, fish and other cephalopods.

The octopuses evolved from the Muensterelloidea (fossil pictured) in the Jurassic period.

They evolved in the Cambrian some 530 million years ago. The earliest octopus likely lived near the sea floor in shallow marine environments. Since octopuses consist mostly of soft tissue, fossils are relatively rare. As soft-bodied cephalopods, they lack the external shell of most molluscs.

Octopuses appear in mythology as sea monsters like the Kraken, of Norway, and the Akkorokamui, of the Ainu, and probably the Gorgon, of ancient Greece. A battle with an octopus appears in Victor Hugo’s book Toilers of the Sea, inspiring other works such as Ian Fleming’s (creator of James Bond) Octopussy. Octopuses appear in Japanese erotic art, shunga. They are eaten and considered a delicacy by humans in many parts of the world, especially the Mediterranean and the Asian seas.

I once tasted calamari while in Vietnam, mostly as jerky – it was a little salty.

Historically, the first plural to commonly appear in English language sources, in the early 19th century, is the Latinate form “octopi”, followed by the English form “octopuses” in the latter half of the same century. The Hellenic plural is roughly contemporary in usage, although it is also the rarest. Oxford American Dictionary (3rd Edition, 2010) lists “octopuses” as the only acceptable pluralization, and indicates that “octopodes” is still occasionally used, but that “octopi” is incorrect.

Well, I hope we now know a little more about these creatures.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

How many Boston Red Sox players have been named World Series MVP?

Answer can be found here.