SCORES & OUTDOORS: It’s caterpillar season in Maine

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Spring has arrived in Maine, and with it, the Maine Forest Service and others have been fielding caterpillar questions. Caterpillars are essential food for many other animals, including insects, birds, mammals, and even fish! However, sometimes caterpillars from our trees and shrubs become nuisances around our homes and workplaces, and outbreak populations can threaten tree health. The caterpillars of forest tent, eastern tent and browntail moths are beginning to make their presence known.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry urges you to take a responsible approach to living with the caterpillars in your developed landscape and avoid causing unnecessary harm to the environment and human health.

Remember that caterpillars play an important role in the environment; what you consider a pest may be someone else’s meal.
Consider no-action as a valid strategy. Sometimes, it is the most reasonable approach, but often, there are small steps you can take to reduce impacts.
If populations are unbearable or threaten a high-value ornamental tree’s health, correctly identify the caterpillar and begin with the least-toxic approach.

It is against the law to apply pesticides in ways that do not comply with label directions. Improper pesticide use can threaten human and environmental health.

The Maine Board of Pesticide Control does not recommend home-remedy pesticides. In some cases, they are illegal.

What follows are some less toxic approaches to managing tent caterpillars.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar

Tent caterpillar

This is a native caterpillar that feeds on fruit trees and shrubs (Rose family species such as cherries, apples, serviceberries, and hawthorns). It can strip ornamental and fruit trees but it is not a significant forest or human health threat in Maine. If you see them in a tree that you don’t want them to remain in throughout their caterpillar season you can:

Remove unhatched egg masses. This only will apply in cooler spots in the coldest areas of the state. We have already seen the start of eastern tent caterpillar hatch all the way to northern Aroostook County this year. Next winter, consider scouting these trees for egg masses so you can remove those prior to hatch.

Strip young colonies of caterpillars from branches within reach using gloved fingers.
Relocate developing nests to a woodland fruit tree like a black cherry or serviceberry. If you remove the twig it is on, sanitize pruning tools before use and between cuts. These caterpillars host some generalist predators and parasitoids that can help reduce other caterpillar populations.

Remove and destroy the nest. You can strip them off using your hands, or, with larger nests, put a forked twig or pole with a nail into the web, twist it, then pull the nest off. Done in the early morning or on a rainy day, you will remove most of the caterpillars that use the nest.

Forest Tent Caterpillar

Forest tent caterpillar

This is a native caterpillar that has boom and bust population cycles. Parts of Aroostook County have had several years of high populations of this insect, with caterpillars especially abundant on aspen species and also feeding on other hardwood trees and shrubs.

It is important to know that hardwood trees can tolerate a couple of years of severe defoliation before showing long-term health impacts, assuming other stresses, like drought, are not present. As a native species, this caterpillar provides important food for other species, including enemies of other insect pests.

On small, ornamental trees and shrubs, the egg masses can be removed by hand and destroyed. Note that hatch has started in northern Aroostook County and will take place over several days.

Young colonies of caterpillars can be removed from branch tips or squashed while they rest on the main stem, especially in the evening or on cool days.

In larger established landscapes experiencing their first year of defoliation, healthy trees will pull through. If this will be beyond the second year, you expect more than a third of the leaves to be consumed, you may want to consider insecticide treatment. We recommend working with a licensed pesticide applicator to treat established ornamental trees. They may use a foliar application of insecticide or a systemic treatment. If applied early enough in the life cycle, BtK, an active ingredient that has action specifically against caterpillars, can be used. It must be applied to the leaves of trees that young caterpillars are actively feeding on to be effective.

Be aware that the period of wandering caterpillars is short. Sometimes, just waiting them out is the most practical solution. If caterpillars are a nuisance around the home, they can be washed from hard surfaces like decks and siding with a strong stream of water or brushed off with a stiff-bristled broom. Where possible, follow that by removing them using a wet canister shop vac. A shop vac with a couple of inches of water in the canister can also be used to remove caterpillars from hard surfaces within reach. A couple of drops of soap added to the water will break surface tension and allow the water to suffocate the caterpillars. Be aware if you don’t clean them up, they may just climb right back where they were.

Cocoons on siding and other surfaces may be removed by a stiff-bristled broom. Test this approach in a small area first to see if the surface can withstand the treatment.

Browntail Moth

browntail moth caterpillar

This non-native species is also in an epidemic population stage in parts of Maine. Because the hairs on the caterpillar have human health impacts, if you choose to remove caterpillars, be sure to do so only after taking precautions to prevent exposure. Our website has detailed management tips for browntail moth. You can also subscribe to our browntail moth updates for more details on this insect.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Renewed deer tick alert

Deer tick, left, and engorged, right.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

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

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

On top of that, with most of us trying to get outdoors this time of year (opening camps is a real concern), and with the recent mild winter we experienced, the deer ticks are already active and will be out in force this summer.

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 diseased. About half of deer ticks are infected (usually white-footed mice can be other culprits).

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

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

Deer ticks crawl. They usually grab onto people or animals that brush up against plants near ground level, and then they crawl upwards to find a quiet place for their blood meal ­– the inner thigh and in the hair line behind the neck are a couple of “favorite” spots. Although many sources will state that ticks don’t land on you from an overhanging tree branch, many people have insisted it has happened to them.

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

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

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

For the deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, deer are the preferred host, but they can also be found 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. They will be active even after a moderate to severe frost, as daytime temperatures can warm them enough to keep them actively searching for a host. In the spring, they are one of the first invertebrates to become active.

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

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

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

Murderer’s Row.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Need a thermometer? Try the snowy tree cricket

Snowy tree cricket

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The species can be found throughout the United States except the southeastern part of the country. In Maine, they are predominantly in York and Cumberland counties. It is located in shrubs, vines, fruit trees, broad-leaved trees, and oaks. The cricket can rarely be found in grass. Adults of the species can be found from mid-July to mid-November. The cricket can sometimes be so high in oak trees that its chirp is the only way to identify it.

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

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

Not quite the whole show

Well, I caved in. At first showing no interest in the solar eclipse that occurred on April 8, a colleague came into the office with some extra pairs of viewing glasses. My curiosity took over.

I sat outside for approximately 25 minutes, and from my vantage point in China, I witnessed what I would classify as a 98.5 percent eclipse. In that 25 minutes, it never came to totality.

Oh well, there’s always 2044.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

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

Two. 1970 and 1972, winning the Stanley Cup both times.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The squash (pumpkin) bug; you don’t want this fella in your cucurbits

Squash bug

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Have you ever heard of a pumpkin bug? Well, neither had I until someone asked about them.

The pumpkin bug, or squash bug, are also called stink bugs, but are not the traditional stink bug. Although some pumpkin bugs are called stink bugs, not all stink bugs are pumpkin bugs. If you ever spot a sizable green stink bug, there’s a good chance that it’s a pumpkin bug. They are similar in appearance to stink bugs because they both have a foul odor when squashed. However, stink bugs are wider and rounder.

The squash bug, Anasa tristis, is common throughout the United States. It primarily attacks squash and pumpkins but can also attack other cucurbits, such as cucumbers.

They are the bane of a gardener. They are difficult to kill and can cause a lot of havoc.

The adult bugs are somewhat flat, large insects, measuring 5/8 inch long and 1/3 inch wide. They are usually dark gray to dark brown. The edges of the abdomens protrude beyond their wings and typically have alternating orangish and brown stripes. They are able to fly, however they often simply walk around on plants.

These bugs overwinter as adults in sheltered places, such as under plant debris, around buildings, or under rocks. When adults emerge in the spring, they fly to growing cucurbit plants to feed and mate. Females lay eggs individually in small clusters of about 20 commonly on the undersides of the leaves, especially between the veins where they form a V. The females usually begin to appear in gardens in early June, and continue to lay eggs through mid-summer.

These bugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts they use to suck the sap out of leaves. This process produces yellow spots that eventually turn brown, and disrupts the flow of water and nutrients, which can cause wilting. Young plants are more susceptible to extensive damage. Larger, more vigorous plants are more tolerant of feeding damage, although they can also be injured or killed if they are severely attacked.

These bugs inject a toxin into the plant and suck the sap right out of it with their sharp mouthparts. This causes yellow spots that eventually turn brown. The leaves will wilt because the damage prevents the flow of nutrients to the leaves, and then they will dry up and turn black.

The most important times to control squash bugs are when the plants are young seedlings and when they are flowering. Early detection is important because adult squash bugs are difficult to kill.

Remove or knock off and kill nymphs and adults by dropping them into a bucket of soapy water. This can be challenging because the bugs hide under leaves and move quickly when disturbed.

Crush the eggs that are attached to the undersides and stems of leaves.

Trap the bugs by laying out boards or pieces of newspaper. The bugs will congregate under the boards at night, and then can be collected and destroyed in the morning.

Check your plants daily. If there are no more than a few vines infected, keep collecting and destroying the bugs and crushing the egg clusters that you find.

Insecticides are not generally needed to control these bugs. They can be used if cucurbits are found wilting early in the season. Carbaryl/Sevin, is most effective if applied when eggs are hatching. Consult your local garden center for controls that are locally approved. When using an insecticide, make sure to read the instructions well.

Planting time is approaching. Make sure your garden is free of these little pests. There is no worse feeling than seeing your plants being destroyed and you have no idea what is causing it. Check under the leaves.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which MLB pitcher owns the distinction of having won the most games, and having lost the most games during his career?

Cy Young’s career record was 511-316.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Incoming! Excitement builds for the return of ice giants

An iceberg floats past a village in Newfoundland. (photo by Terrance Klassen)

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.

In 2019, 1,500 icebergs were sighted.

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.

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 in Greenland 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.

Where to Watch

Iceberg Alley stretches from the coast of Labrador to the southeast coast of the island of Newfoundland. Some of the more popular places from shore, or from tour boats, are (from north to south): St. Lewis, Battle Harbour, Red Bay, Point Amour, St. Anthony, La Scie, Twillingate, Fogo Island, Change Islands, Bonavista, St. John’s / Cape Spear, and Bay Bulls / Witless Bay. All of these locations are accessible by road. The first four, which are on the coast of southern Labrador, can be accessed by car ferry from the island of Newfoundland year round. The further north, the longer the iceberg season.

Time of Year

The icebergs come through Iceberg Alley from spring to early summer. As you move north, the season stretches a bit longer. April and May are the months when bergs are most plentiful, but they may be locked up in sea ice, so it is suggested late May and early June for best viewing.

Are you planning a vacation to Newfoundland, yet?

So, you thought he was wrong

I’ve heard it, and even half expected it. Back on February 2, my weather prognosticating groundhog, Woodrow Charles, predicted six more weeks of winter. Everyone snickered when March came in like a lamb, and the weather just continued to improve as the month went on, to the point that by the first day of spring, there was not a snowflake to be found anywhere. My crocuses and tulips are up, my rhubarb had broken ground, even my lilac tree showed some buds. My friend the groundhog had been wrong. And then came March 23. Six weeks following February 2, a major snow occurrence, and March is going out like a lion.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

This New England Patriots QB holds the team record for most passing yards in a season. Who is he?

Drew Bledsoe 4,555 in 1994.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The red-winged blackbird a sure sign of spring

Red-winged blackbird

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

The old reliable spring indicator appeared in my backyard over the weekend, twice. The robin made its presence known.

However, it was what happened Monday that certified that old folklore. I know spring officially arrived this past Tuesday, March 19. That is a day or two earlier than usual, but it seems everything is early this year.

Going back to what confirmed spring is here was the sighting of the red-winged blackbird. Of all the migratory bird, it is generally the first species to make its way back north.

The red-winged blackbird is a bird found in most of North America and much of Central America. It breeds from Alaska and Newfoundland south to Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico, and Guatemala, with isolated populations in western El Salvador, northwestern Honduras, and northwestern Costa Rica. It may winter as far north as Pennsylvania and British Columbia, but northern populations are generally migratory, moving south to Mexico and the Southern United States.

Claims have been made that it is the most abundant living land bird in North America, as bird-counting censuses of wintering red-winged blackbirds sometimes show that loose flocks can number in excess of a million birds per flock and the full number of breeding pairs across North and Central America may exceed 250 million in peak years.

Regarding its numbers, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the red-winged blackbird of least concern.

The red-winged blackbird is sexually dimorphic; the male is all black with a red shoulder and yellow wing bar, while the female is a nondescript dark brown. Seeds and insects make up the bulk of the red-winged blackbird’s diet.

The red-winged blackbird is a sister species to the red-shouldered blackbird that is endemic to Cuba. These two species are together sister to the tricolored blackbird that is found on the Pacific coast region of the California and upper Baja California in Mexico.

Depending on the authority, between 20 and 24 subspecies are recognized which are mostly quite similar in appearance.

The red-winged blackbird breeds in marshes, brushy swamps, hayfields; forages also in cultivated land and along edges of water. Breeds most commonly in freshwater marsh, but also in wooded or brushy swamps, rank weedy fields, hayfields, upper edges of salt marsh. Often forages in other open habitats, such as fields and mudflats; outside the breeding season, flocks gather in farm fields, pastures, and feedlots.

One of the most abundant birds across North America, and one of the most boldly colored, the red-winged blackbird is a familiar sight atop cattails, along soggy roadsides, and on telephone wires. Glossy-black males have scarlet-and-yellow shoulder patches they can puff up or hide depending on how confident they feel. Females are a subdued, streaky brown, almost like a large, dark sparrow. Their early and tumbling song are happy indications of the return of spring.

Red-winged blackbirds may come to your yard for mixed grains and seeds, particularly during migration. Spread grain or seed on the ground as well, since this is where Red-winged Blackbirds prefer to feed.

The red-winged blackbird is a highly polygynous species, meaning males have many female mates – up to 15 in some cases. In some populations 90 percent of territorial males have more than one female nesting on their territories. But all is not as it seems: one-quarter to one-half of nestlings turn out to have been sired by someone other than the territorial male.

Male red-winged blackbirds fiercely defend their territories during the breeding season, spending more than a quarter of daylight hours in territory defense. He chases other males out of the territory and attacks nest predators, sometimes going after much larger animals, including horses and people.

Red-winged blackbirds roost in flocks in all months of the year. In summer small numbers roost in the wetlands where the birds breed. Winter flocks can be congregations of several million birds, including other blackbird species and starlings. Each morning the roosts spread out, traveling as far as 50 miles to feed, then re-forming at night.

The oldest recorded red-winged blackbird was 15 years, 9 months old. It was banded in New Jersey in 1967, and found alive, but injured in Michigan in 1983. It was able to be released after recovering from its injuries.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What Boston Celtics player holds the distinction for hitting the most 3-point baskets in one season?

Antoine Walker, 222, in 2001-2002 (surprisingly Larry Bird wasn’t even in the top 10).

SCORES & OUTDOORS: What to do about the spotted lanternfly once it arrives in Maine

Left, the spotted lanternfly. Right, tree of heaven.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Just the other day, my wife showed me a Facebook post warning us about the Spotted Lanternfly, and a clear message to kill it upon sight. So, my curiousity being what it is, I had to find out, first, what it is, and second, how to eliminate it if that is what we’re supposed to do.

The Spotted Lanternfly is an invasive species native to Asia. In 2014 it was found in Pennsylvania, and has since spread to multiple counties and states which are now quarantined.

Kill it! Squash it, smash it…just get rid of it. In the fall, these bugs will lay egg masses with 30-50 eggs each. These are called bad bugs for a reason, don’t let them take over your county next.

The spotted lanternfly causes serious damage including oozing sap, wilting, leaf curling and dieback in trees, vines, crops and many other types of plants. In addition to plant damage, when spotted lanternflies feed, they excrete a sugary substance, called honeydew, that encourages the growth of black sooty mold. This mold is harmless to people however it causes damage to plants. In counties infested and quarantined for spotted lanternfly, residents report hundreds of these bad bugs that affect their quality of life and ability to enjoy the outdoors during the spring and summer months. Spotted lanternflies will cover trees, swarm in the air, and their honeydew can coat decks and play equipment.

In addition to damaging trees and affecting quality of life, the spotted lanternfly is a huge threat to agriculture industry. The economic impact could total in the hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs for those in the grapes, apple, hops, and hardwood industries.

The spotted lanternfly adult is approximately 1 inch long and 1/2 inch wide at rest. The forewing is grey with black spots and the wings tips are reticulated black blocks outlined in grey. The hind wings have contrasting patches of red and black with a white band. The legs and head are black; the abdomen is yellow with broad black bands. Immature stages are black with white spots, and develop red patches as they grow.

While there is no active infestation of the spotted lanternfly in Maine, spotted lanternfly eggs were discovered in the Pine Tree State in 2020. Spotted lanternfly has also been seen in neighboring New Hampshire.

If you think you see any of the life stages of the spotted lanternfly, please report it to Photos and/or specimens are required for identification and confirmation.

The Spotted Lanternfly, Lycorma delicatula, is a large planthopper native to China. It was first discovered in the United States in 2014 in southeastern Pennsylvania. SLF feeds on a wide range of host plants, including apple, grape, hops and many ornamental trees. Efforts to eradicate and quarantine spotted lanternfly have slowed its spread, but it has succesfully been able to establish in many additional states.

The Spotted Lanternfly prefers to feed on the invasive tree, Ailanthus altissima or tree-of-heaven. The geographical distribution of this tree in Maine is not fully known. Because of the strong association between spotted lanternfly and tree-of-heaven, the state is asking people to report sightings of tree-of-heaven also. Tree-of-heaven looks much like sumac.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Have any Boston Red Sox pitchers’ numbers been retired?

One, Pedro Martinez (45).

SCORES & OUTDOORS: How do birds keep warm during the frigid weather?

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Last week I was watching a cardinal at my wife’s bird feeder and wondered how those little critters keep warm. So, let’s talk about how those little feathered friends keep warm during those times.

Birds are warm-blooded animals that have a much higher temperature than humans, usually in the range of 105 degrees, as compared to our 98.6 degrees. Body temperatures can vary during daylight hours but it can challenge the birds during the night to maintain such a high body heat.

Smaller birds run more of a risk of body heat loss since they have a proportionately larger surface area on their bodies to lose heat but a smaller core volume to generate it.

Birds have different ways to maintain body heat during cold weather. Their feathers provide remarkable insulation, and many species will actually grow extra feathers as part of a late fall molt to give them thicker protection in the winter. Oil also coats their feathers to provide, not only insulation, but waterproofing.

Their legs and feet are covered with scales to minimize heat loss. By constricting blood flow to their extremities, they can also reduce body heat loss even further.

Then, there is the old standby: adding body fat reserves to serve as insulation and extra energy for generating body heat. They will gorge themselves in the fall when food sources are abundant.

Another way to produce insulation from the cold is to fluff their feathers. That enables air pockets to be created, keeping them toasty warm. Also, it is not unusual to see birds standing on one leg or crouched to cover both legs with their feathers to shield them from the cold. They also tuck their beaks into their shoulder feathers for protection, and to breathe air warmed from their body heat.

On sunny days, they will perch with their backs to the sun to maximize the exposure area of their body. They raise their wings to allow the skin and feathers to absorb as much of the sun’s heat as possible, even spreading or drooping their wings while sunning.

If you see a bird shivering, don’t worry. They do this to raise their metabolic rate and generate more body heat as a short term solution in extreme cold.

Many small birds will gather in large flocks at night and crowd together in an attempt to share their collective body heat. Even individually, they will roost in places that may contain residual heat from the day’s sunlight.

But, there is something called torpor that birds will use to conserve energy during the cold nights. Torpor is a state of reduced metabolism when the body temperature is lowered, therefore requiring fewer calories to maintain the proper heat. Birds can lower their body temperature from 22 to 50 degrees. Torpor, however, can be dangerous as reduced temperature also leads to slower reactions and greater vulnerability to predators.

Even with all of these Mother Nature-built in safeguards, mortality rate among birds can run high during extreme winters. You can help.

During winter, keep your feeders cleared of snow and filled with good food, offer liquid water, and provide shelter. You can build brush piles or protective boxes if you have no natural shelters. I think one of the reasons we have as many birds during winter as we have is because birds are attracted to coniferous trees. My wife and I have three rather large pine trees in our backyard, providing them with plenty of protection from the weather.

Mother Nature, again, provides for its creatures, large or small.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which current NFL team was originally called the Titans?

The New York Jets.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Ermine population stable; one of world’s top 100 most invasive species

The different coats of the winter and summer ermine.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Last week, I received a phone call from a reader in Palermo who told me that for only the third time in the last 17 years, he spotted an American ermine crossing his back yard.

The American ermine or American stoat, Mustela richardsonii, is a species of mustelid native to most of North America.

It was long considered conspecific with the stoat, but a 2021 study found it to be a distinct species. The finding has been accepted by the American Society of Mammalogists.

Both ermines and mink belong to the same subfamily, which contains weasels, badgers, ferrets, polecats and wolverines. These two creatures share many features, but differ in several ways.

Ermines resemble the long-tailed weasel in general both appearance and coloration, but is smaller, has a shorter tail, and has white fur on the inner side of the hind legs.

The species is found throughout most of North America aside from most of Alaska (although it is found on some islands in southeastern Alaska), eastern Yukon, most of Arctic Canada, and Greenland. It reaches the northern extent of its range in Baffin Island and a portion of eastern mainland Nunavut and ranges from here to cover almost all of western North America south to northern New Mexico, and eastern North America south to northern Virginia. It is absent from most of the Southeastern United States and the Great Plains.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the ermine population as stable and of least concern.

In North America, where the ecological niche for rat- and rabbit-sized prey is taken by the larger long-tailed weasel, the American ermine preys on mice, voles, shrews, young cottontails, chipmunks, deer mice, jumping mice, and house mice. Usually the ermine kills by biting at the base of the skull. Small birds, frogs, small fish, and earthworms are other types of prey for ermines.

Ermines live and find cover from predators in hollow spaces from logs, burrows and man made structures. Ermines sometimes den within their prey’s nest and use their skin and fur as a lining for their den.

Ermines are mostly nocturnal, but may forage by day.

The ermine is listed as one of the top 100 most invasive species in the world. It was introduced to several areas to reduce rabbit populations and rapidly became a threat to ecosystems because of its vicious nature and ability to sustain itself on a variety of prey.

At one time, the ermine was sought for its attractive fur. During the winter months, the ermine’s fur turns white, making it a valuable and prized material for fur clothing. In medieval Europe, ermine fur was highly sought after for its rarity and beauty, and it was often reserved for use by royalty and other members of the nobility.

They breed in dense parts of the forest. The season for breeding is late springtime to the summer from July to August. The males mature in a year while the females only take three to four weeks to mature. The females carry a litter of four to seven babies for 255 days then gives birth.

Some of the larger wild predators of ermines are minks, martens, fishers, bobcats, coyotes, and large owls and hawks. Occasionally, a domesticated cat or dog may kill an ermine. Their small agile bodies help them evade these predators, while also allow them to compete with their predators for food in more barren months.

In spite of its bad smell and small size, however, the ermine is very self-confident, even rude – it often sits up and stares directly into the eyes of humans. Ermines do not dig its own den when they give birth, instead, they will take over old lemming burrows, food caches or graves.

According to my research, it appears that it is legal to have an ermine as a pet in Maine. However, I would advise to check with the state before owning one.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which NFL team allegedly changed its geographical name in an attempt to attract a larger fan base?

In 1971, the Boston Patriots changed their name to the New England Patriots, when they moved to Foxborough.

SCORES & OUTDOORS – Weather lore: March in like a lion or lamb?

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

As we look forward to saying “goodbye” to February and welcome March with open arms, a thought comes to mind of an old weather lore, “In like a lion, out like a lamb.” In this case, it could be vice versa, considering the mild weather we have had as we usher in the third month of the year. So, it’s more like, “In like a lamb, out like a lion.”

Much like regular folklore, weather lore is passed down through speech and writing from normal people without the use of external measuring instruments. The origin of weather lore can be dated back to primieval men and their usage of star studying in navigation. However, more recently during the late Middle Ages, the works of two Greek philosopher-poets, Theophrastus of Eresus on Lesbos and Aratus of Macedonia, are known greater for shaping the prediction of weather. Theophrastus and Aratus collated their works in two main collections for weather lore: On Weather Signs and On Winds. These were used for helping farmers with harvest, merchants for trade and determining the weather the next day.

Weather lore is the body of informal folklore related to the prediction of the weather and its greater meaning.

Astrology and weather lore have been closely interlinked for many years – with each planet often being associated with a weather state. For example, Mars is red and must therefore be hot and dry. Prevalent in ancient Roman thought, astrologists used weather lore to teach commoners of the star and cloud formations and how they can be used to see the future.

Before the invention of temperature measuring devices, such as the mercury thermometer, it was difficult to gather predictive, numerical data. Therefore, communities used their surroundings to predict and explain the weather in upcoming days.

Weather folklore, therefore, refers to this mid-latitude region of daily variability.

Other common proverbs are:

When clouds look like black smoke
A wise man will put on his cloak

(Thick, moisture-laden storm clouds absorb sunlight. It gives them an appearance that somewhat resembles black smoke.)

Red sky at night:

A red sunset probably means dry weather the next day.

Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight.
Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning.

(In a common variation, “shepherd” is replaced by “sailor”.)

A red sky – in the morning or evening – is a result of high pressure air in the atmosphere trapping particles of dust or soot. Air molecules scatter the shorter blue wavelengths of sunlight, but particles of dust, soot and other aerosols scatter the longer red wave length of sunlight in a process called Rayleigh scattering. At sunrise and sunset, the sun is lower in the sky causing the sunlight to travel through more of the atmosphere so scattering more light. This effect is further enhanced when there are at least some high level clouds to reflect this light back to the ground.

When weather systems predominantly move from west to east, a red sky at night indicates that the high pressure air (and better weather) is westwards. In the morning the light is eastwards, and so a red sky then indicates the high pressure (and better weather) has already passed, and an area of low pressure is following behind. That is a scientific fact.

So, what does that have to do with March coming in like a lion or a lamb? Whether you believe in the myth or not is up to you but it sure is fun to think about.

Does a phrase that originated in England and Wales centuries ago even have relevance in a state in our northern part of the country?

Sandi Duncan, managing editor of that old standby, the Farmers’ Almanac, once said the lion/lamb saying is probably more wishful thinking than fact.

They do a lot of articles on weather sayings, but sometimes they are awfully true because they’ve been handed down by people who observe the weather, according to Duncan, from her office, in Lewiston.

“The ‘in like a lion’ one is based on the idea if it comes in bad it will go out nicely. People really do hope March is at the end of winter.”

The phrase is based on the beginning of the month being in winter and the end being close to spring.

But a weather phrase like ‘red sky at night, sailors’ delight’ is much more accurate. With that, there is scientific backing, but not with the lion saying.

In the last 16 years, March has come in with a roar eight times and gone out with a “baah” 10 times.

But March has also roared once at both ends of the month while braying four times at the beginning and end of the month during those years.

If you’re worried about amounts of snow and spring floods, March is the type of month where snow can come at any time. It doesn’t really matter how the month goes out or comes in, but what happens in between. Always remember, two thirds of the month is still winter.

March is a very variable month. It can be winter-like and cold with snow, while other times it can be mild and lots of snow melt like last year.

Alas, the interpretation is up to you.

There is one thing for certain. Only 27 days ‘til spring.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who is the highest scoring defenseman in NHL history (goals and assists)?

Ray Bourque, (Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche: 410 goals, 1,169 assists, for 1,579 points.