Bugs and Big Heads

Earlier in the summer season midges, gnats, no-seeums, and mosquitoes and black flies all too familiar when you are outside. Conditions in August are usually better. Midges are like mosquitoes without the beak and they do not bite. Sometimes at the edge of a pond you see them swarming in large numbers as they look for a mate. The adults only live for a day or two and they do not feed nor bite.

Mosquitoes do bite as we all have experienced. I found it interesting to learn that female mosquitoes buzz in the key of C. Knowing this I avoid playing songs in that key when outside, and outdoor concerts should be aware of this information. When female mosquitoes buzz they are about to bite. Although the tiny no see-ums, midges, mosquitoes and other flying creatures are annoying they do provide plenty of wildlife food.

This is a good time to watch for and see guillemots just off shore. Adult birds are black now, with white wing patches and red feet. When one yawns or stretches its mouth you see that the lining color of the mouth matches the color of their feet! Some people know these birds as ‘sea pigeons’.

You often see these small ‘pigeon-like’ birds sitting on the water in the harbors or as you ride the ferries to Islesford and Cranberry Island. A friend of mine had an interesting experience once as he was speeding along out of Bass Harbor one day and passed guillemots on the water. Most flew up and off out of his way but one bird crossed his path and as the bird went over the small boat it almost collided with his head! That would not have been pleasant for either bird or man!

Guillemots nest on the outer ledges of this island and the outer islands nearby in some suitable crevice in the rocks above high water. Here they are seasonably safe from attack from all enemies except man. Sometimes the eggs are placed on bare ground which can’t be too pleasant for the down young.

Strangely the guillemot completely changes its appearance when winter approaches. The bird gradually turns to mostly white in August and into October. Some of the younger birds have a mottled appearance all winter but you can easily think you have discovered a new bird for your bird-watching diary!!! The spring molt happens as early as the first of February, sometimes. During these molting changes identification of the birds can be confusing. Know them then by their habitat and behavior.

In a recent issue of the Islander there was a beautiful photo of the Ocean Sunfish seen on a whale watching cruise on local water. I have only seen it a few times in my long life but each time was very exciting. This fish is no relative to any sunfish you have caught earlier in your life in a small pond. It is sometimes is called a Headfish for the head does dominate its entire body. The Ocean Sunfish usually prefers warmer waters than the Gulf of Maine. They can weigh 600 pound or more.

The scientific name for this strange fish is Mola mola. This is a word for ‘millstone’, which the fish vaguely resembles with its grey, round body and rough texture. Germans often call them ‘swimming heads’. The Sunfish name is now known worldwide as the most popular sailboat.

Although very large themselves the Ocean Sunfish feeds on tiny zoo plankton, small fish and part of jellyfish. They spend about half of their day basking in the sun near the surface and that is usually when boaters get to see them. Consider it a GOOD DAY when you see a Mola mola.

One of my e-mails this week had photographs of some interesting caterpillars friends had found on their plants. Caterpillars can be difficult to identify but there are excellent books available now to help you, and of course lots of photos and information on line. The photo I received of a very fuzzy, hairy caterpillar was clearly a Tussock Moth, Orgyia leucostigma.

These caterpillars can give you an itch and a painful rash if you pick them up. It is always better, in my opinion, NOT to pick up caterpillars with your bare hands. Look at them, take pictures but don’t handle with bare hands. The dull colored moth it turns into is quite plain. Birds like to eat them and they search for them in protected areas under bark, tree cavities and the like.

The other caterpillar picture was of the monarch butterfly, one of the milkweed butterflies. A naturalist friend shared this information with me about those in his yard near Graham Lake “… it is so much fun to watch these caterpillars and realize that in a few months they will be in Central Mexico, if they are not eaten. The ones in my milkweed now are the 3rd generation this summer. I’ve read that there are four generations in the US and that the first three complete their entire life cycle without migrating while the last migrate and spend the winter months in one valley in Mexico. Nature is indeed amazing!!!”

Send any questions, observations or photos to [email protected] or call 244-3742

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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