Bugs are nothing to spittle at

As I sat at the edge of my small pond at twilight this week, I noticed numerous spittle bug dwellings. These strange, tiny creatures make those frothy, white masses on grass and other vegetation at this time. Although very small in Maine, spittle bugs in other parts of the world can be very large. I once sat under a tree in South America where you needed an umbrella to keep from getting wet from the liquid dropping down. Here in Maine, spittle bugs are very small, and you’ll probably never see one unless you open up one of the frothy creations. You also can look up “spittle bug life history photos” on your computer and see them in various stages of their lives. There also are nice photos on Louise Enright’s blog.

Spittle bugs live over almost all the continental United States, and in some areas, certain ones can be pests, especially on conifers. They can be found on most any type of plant. The nymphs of the spittle bug live in these frothy homes. The nymphs are green and very small and several may live together. The spittle helps to keep them from drying out. Another name for them is froghopper.

Almost overnight, new flowers appear in bloom. The color yellow dominates in fields and alongside roads on this island. Buttercups are so common you may not even notice their yellow flowers, but they really make bright spots in our scenery. Dandelions too, may not be loved by all, but they’re a beautiful color and actually quite good to eat at the right stage. I find it hard to understand why dandelions in all their glory are dug up and then replaced with an overall green lawn. Last year when I was traveling on the highways of Newfoundland, I loved seeing the sides of the highway glowing with the abundant blossoms of dandelions and coltsfoot. Up there, the blooming, warmer seasons are so short that these two flowers are found in bloom at the same time. Here on this island, coltsfoot is long gone when dandelions come into bloom.

Even the tiny cinquefoil is bright yellow along roadsides and paths.

The flowers of the common cinquefoil bloom at the end of long, sprawling stems. Its yellow blossoms slightly resemble buttercups, but the cinquefoil does not have shining petals. The leaves of this plant have five wedge-shaped leaflets with toothed margins. Some people refer to this cinquefoil as a “yellow strawberry.” It does remind you of wild strawberry.

During the middles ages, cinquefoils were considered medicinal. The root was used to make a gargle and mouthwash. Over 100 kinds of cinquefoils exist, and they grow mostly in cool locations. As the name implies, they always have five petals.

A parula warbler has been attacking a window at a friend’s house here on the island. This activity often comes at nesting time for numerous birds, for the male sees his reflection in the glass and is trying to chase off a rival. They may keep fighting the reflection for long periods of time. You can help the bird by destroying the reflection. Coat the outside of the window with soap or spray one of the products available to give you privacy but still allow the passage of light. You also might hang strands of fine rope or macramé on the outside. The activity only lasts a week or so. As long as the bird can see himself, he will try to chase “it” away. Birds are very territorial.

The parula warbler is a beautiful little bird that comes to this island to nest each year. It is here only from June until September. The nest of this bird is made out of those usnea lichen clumps hanging all over from our local trees like a Maine version of Spanish moss. The parula warbler shapes one of these interesting lichen clumps, weaves it together at the bottom and uses it for its hanging and hard-to-see nest. It is an exquisite little structure and a very good nest. A friend in Southwest Harbor had such a nest hanging in her yard in a small apple tree and was able to enjoy the bird and its family year after year. Parula warblers tend to use the same nest each year if they can. They make any minor repairs that are necessary.

Parulas can hang upside down, as the familiar chickadees do when searching for insects in some leaf cluster. They winter far to the south.

Don’t miss the blooming of wild iris these days. In wet locations all over the island, you can see these lovely plants. They definitely look like an iris and are a lovely blue/violet color. Unlike the cultivated iris you may have in your gardens, wild iris or blue flag likes a very wet environment.

June is the month for wild creatures to be busy with families. They may have a family of young ones to feed or may be waiting for eggs to hatch or babies to be born. Insect life is abundant now, as it should be, for insects provide food for feathered and four-footed wildlife families. Days and nights for all wildlife consist of finding food to eat and trying to avoid being eaten themselves.


Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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