Sea urchins are often found in seaweed after the turn of the tide. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Houseflies killed by cold, fungus

Fall brings houseflies into our homes, often in large numbers. I have my swatter handy at all times. A large sunny window in a friend’s house often has hundreds of them – not really a pretty sight! They are trying to escape the cold and will die eventually if left alone. They move slowly at this time of year. If you find a fly that seems to be nothing but an empty skeleton, it is because the fly has been attacked by a fungus. There will be a small amount of white powdery substance under the fly to show that the fungus is at work.

As you drive about now after dark, be very aware of all the deer out and about in the woods and along our roads. Be extra cautious driving after dark. On a daytime walk, I came across a deer yard where deer rest. These large mammals didn’t seem to notice my presence in the nearby vegetation, and I kept very still. It was interesting for me to see them at rest. One was relaxing on the ground, another one was standing like a statue surveying the scene. Others were grooming themselves. All were at ease and doing what deer do in their downtime.

When water cools in the fall, local trout go to shallow, gravelly places in small creeks in order to spawn. First the males go, and then they are followed by the females. The females make a nest in the gravel, and there they lay their eggs, anywhere from several hundred to several thousand. The fertilized eggs develop during the winter months and hatch in the spring. Trout live in most of our cool, well-oxygenated lakes and streams. Brook trout live in Seal Cove Pond and Lower Hadlock Pond. Togue, or lake trout, live in the deeper parts of Jordan Pond and Eagle Lake. Brown trout were introduced from Europe some time ago and are now found in streams all over the island.

A walk along the shore at every season can be particularly rewarding, for with each turn of the tide, something different may be added to the tide pools and on the shore. Looking closely at the seaweed tossed up along the shore is very rewarding. I always like finding sea urchins, for they are very interesting. Sea urchins are quite unusual, for they have a mouth structure that is called “Aristotle’s lantern.” At the center of this lantern are five teeth that have come together like a bird’s beak. With these strong teeth, the urchin scrapes algae off the rocks. As the teeth wear down, they continue to grow.

Sea urchins provide great food for some birds, mammals and people. The green sea urchin is more prevalent in New England, but from Cape Cod to Florida, the purple sea urchin is the one to be found. Some of my friends and I, through the years, have turned the empty shells into ornaments for Christmas decorations. My special box of ornaments has several saved from previous years.

The sea is filled with creatures most people do not even know exist. The strange sea squirt looks like a little jelly bean, but the tiny larvae that comes from this bean resembles a tiny tadpole. As the egg develops, it settles down on some object and attaches itself. The tadpole-like tail disappears, leaving just the body to become the adult sea squirt living on rocks, seaweed, wood or even sand.

The very best time to be at the beach is right after a storm. Giant waves and all the action going on bring all sorts of natural treasures to the edge of the sea for you to find. One year, hundreds of sea cucumbers were washed ashore. These invertebrate animals have brown, leathery bodies with five bands of tube feet. They also have 10 retractile tentacles and branching tentacles that they use to capture plankton. As this strange creature feeds, it fans its tentacles out in the water and pushes one tentacle and then another into its mouth to sweep off all the plankton it has captured.

The sea cucumber can change its shape to look like a fat worm, a cucumber or a super hot dog. Chinese chefs use sea cucumbers to prepare epicurean stews and soups. I think the most curious thing about them is their way of escaping their enemies. When frightened, they eject the whole of their intestinal organs as a diversion for their predators. Afterwards, they will grow new innards again in a few weeks. They also can turn themselves inside out if the water they’re living in becomes stale.

Red, green and a dash of yellow are the colors now dominating the scene, with a few leaves clinging to the trees, dried fruit on many native shrubs, and with tamaracks just about to turn bare for the winter. Grays, blacks and browns will dominate the winter landscape until snow comes. Then, our wintering cardinals and blue jays will be a sight to see against a white background.

There are about 200 species of holly now recognized, but only about 15 occur in the east. Our winterberry holly has red-orange berries that stay on the plant all winter long. If you see a warbler these days, it is probably the yellow-rumped warbler. Watch for horned grebes along Ocean Drive.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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