Category Archives: Kids & Family

Strange Wetlands: Preventing a Lesser Known Tick-Borne Illness, Anaplasmosis

My trusty dog, Sophie-Bea, a dachshund-pointer, and I frequently walk through wetlands. First, my land is rich in wetlands: a black ash seep, which I call “Fern Gully,” a vernal pool with wood frogs and sallies, and a perennial stream that flows into Raymond Pond. We like to walk along a pine-needled path from my woods down to the pond and back. Lately, a thick mustard yellow froth of pollen coats the surface of the pond. If I had let the dog wade in the water, she would have come out looking more like a yellow lab, albeit a weirdly shaped one. (She’s black and white.) At the edge of the pond, she sniffed the water and it turned her pointy black nose into a clownish canary blotch.  IMG_0295

This time of year, we’re more mindful of ticks. In addition to treating her with Frontline, I pat her down with a natural bug repellant called Skeeter Skedaddle™ – the kind that’s dog-friendly. I love how it smells. I wear it, too, and slathered it on that day, like any other day. I made the mistake of wearing sandals though and by the time I got home, I unstrapped the sandals to find a fat tick stuck to the top of my foot. It glowed red in its belly. I pulled it off and noticed two bite marks. After disposing of the tick, which is unwise to flush into the toilet I’ve learned, but to burn the tick with a match (carefully in the sink), I applied witch hazel and hydrogen peroxide onto the bites, along with a dab of antibacterial ointment. It doesn’t itch. It did worry me.

A year ago this month, I came down with a terrible flu-like illness called Anaplasmosis. It’s a tick-borne illness caused by a tick bite from a tick infected with the germ called Anaplasma phagocytophilum. Last summer, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention sent out an alert about Anaplasmosis. The alert explained that cases of Anaplasmosis are on the rise in Maine. Previously, it was rare for someone to contract this illness from a tick bite in the Pine Tree State. Even in summer 2012, hospitals misdiagnosed people with “the flu,” when in some cases, it was actually this Anaplasmosis. In my case, it was most likely Anaplasmosis, since I walk through the woods often and come into contact with areas known to inhabit ticks. I occasionally find ticks in my home.

Symptoms of Anaplasmosis include fever, headache, malaise, severe body aches, cough, joint pain, stiff neck and confusion.  In June 2012, I thought I’d eaten a bad avocado, or been exposed to the bad kind of an algae bloom while swimming in the lake. (I wrote about the algae bloom in my Adventures of Fen Fatale series.) At the time, I was working for ASWM and I started to feel sick on a Monday–sweaty, coming down with a fever, nausea. Images of globs of algae clung to me as I suffered through a fever of 102 degrees for two days. On Tuesday night, I called 911 and the EMTs came to my house, since I was convinced I was dying of some kind of poison,  tetanus or some other ill fate. It felt like my organs had seized up and everything hurt.  Chills all over. The body aches were so severe that I had to crawl down the stairs to let the EMTs into my house (rather than let them bust in the door). The EMTs found me delirious from the fever. Even after the fever came down on Wednesday, I couldn’t walk for a few days; my relatives came to take care of me, since I was bedridden. (This is highly unusual for me, since I have an almost superhuman immune system.) It was frightening, too.

See fact sheets, prevention info and notices to Maine residents from the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention here. 

Since then, I’ve done some research on how to prevent this from happening again. The reality is that Anaplasmosis is treated differently than that of Lyme Disease. When a person suspects that a tick bite has left that tell-tale sign, a bull’s eye shaped bite, that person has an option of getting an anti-biotic to prevent the onset of Lyme Disease. The same is not true for those who might have contracted Anaplasmosis. The main “prevention” is to reduce exposure to ticks by wearing appropriate clothing and checking clothes and skin for ticks. Apparently, in cases of people contracting Anaplasmosis, they often don’t remember getting a tick bite, and there is no tell-tale bull’s eye mark. For specific prevention and treatment information, visit http://www.cdc.gov/anaplasmosis/ . If you do get a tick bite, pay attention to symptoms if they occur. If you get a fever, and think you might have come into contact with a tick, contact your doctor or a health professional. Treatment is important. Anaplasmosis can be serious, or fatal, in babies, toddlers, elderly people and those with a compromised immune system. For others, it can mean a week of severe body aches, fever, malaise, etc. It certainly knocked the wind out of my sails.

Read these related blog posts:

Mosquitoes, ticks and bees are summer hazards, as are sunshine and poison ivy – Washington Post Blog – June 17, 2013

Drs. Oz and Roisen: Tick, tick, tick  – June 2013

Tick-borne disease is on the rise in Maine and Anaplasmosis in particular – May 2013

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Wetlands as Classrooms

My 16-year old brother is President of his high school class.  He thinks it’s fairly common when his science class goes on a field trip or takes place outside. His high school has a Water Quality Monitoring Team, a Climate Action Club and an environmental outing club.

Middle and high schools around the country have similar clubs and others have adopted a local wetland for class projects.  This time of year, there’s a surge of news stories about school programs that make use of local wetlands for class projects with students K-12 throughout the U.S. Even while facing budgetary constraints, schools are showing an interest in teaching kids about the environment. The National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-School program offers ways for schools to “green” their curriculum. But what does a “wetland classroom” look like? It would make sense that they would vary because wetlands are diverse.  For example, here’s a “school wetland” in North Carolina, not far from the Great Dismal Swamp: http://library.thinkquest.org/J003192F/our.htm

Wetlands and streams are valuable teaching tools for teachers in elementary, middle and high schools. The concept of “wetlands as classrooms” has broadened to include student-led wetland restoration projects, which have received some press coverage over the past few years.  For example, the Hardy Middle School in Washington, D.C. is creating a wetlands classroom, and a new environmental outdoor classroom has been created in New York. At the Maumelle Middle School in Arkansas, 7th graders are learning about how wetlands “saved the school” during floods and how to test the water chemistry.

In addition to school-based programs, there are a number of wetland organizations that provide a “wetland classroom” experience to school children. For example the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, operated by the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks in Maryland, offers activities led by staff naturalists for kids (K-12) as well as college students. Students learn about species diversity, classification, impacts of wetlands on water quality, plant and animal adaptations, ecology, stream morphology and climate change.

In other communities, a wetlands reserve such as the Heckrodt Wetland Reserve in Wisconsin has programs geared for educating kids. See also Exploration, education by the estuary: http://theworldlink.com/sports/outdoors/article_24975834-e621-11e0-a951-001cc4c002e0.html

In addition, science teachers at some schools have incorporated the ‘wetlands as classrooms’ concept into their curriculum.  In particular, one organization created a program called Project WET (Water Education for Teachers). Right now, teachers are excited because Project WET 2.0 curriculum software has recently been released.

Project WET is a nonprofit water education program and publisher. It “promotes awareness, appreciation, knowledge and stewardship of water resources through the dissemination of classroom-ready teaching aids and the establishment of internationally sponsored Project WET programs.” The program has an international reach and has been applied in schools throughout the U.S. Watch a video about Project WET here. Learn about what teachers are doing for Project WET in Arizona or Project WET in Georgia.  If you’re on Facebook, check out Maine Project WET’s page. The program is active inWisconsinMichigan, —well, all 50 states and the District of Columbia. For more about Project WET in the U.S., visit: http://projectwet.org/where-we-are/usa-project-wet/

There has also been some recent press about the 7th grade class in Illinois for their wetland-based class project. Mrs. Fran Wachter’s seventh grade class at Creal Springs School won the national middle school grand prize in Disney’s Planet Challenge, an environmental and science competition for 3rd-8th grade classrooms. The competition expanded this year to include middle school grades 6-8.  To read full article, click here. To view their winning video, Wetland Warriors: Restoring Health to Our Wetlands, click here.

Throughout the year, I get updates from Tom Biebighauser, U.S. Forest Service, who maintains a photo album of wetland restoration projects and some of these projects have involved students from schools in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. Tom also works with the Center for Wetlands and Stream Restoration in Kentucky; the Center provides training for educators. They have a list of wetland classrooms and school-created wetlands along with other training resources on their website.

In other instances, students have opportunities to help with a larger wetland restoration project run by a state park or other organization, like the one in California last May:Pitching in: Students part of wetlands restoration project.

Environment Concern also maintains a list of school-based wetland projects, mostly in the Mid-Atlantic region, with brief “success stories” for each school:http://www.wetland.org/education_success0708.htm

Mid-Atlantic Environmental Education – Schools in the News

Need ideas for an environmental project to get students interested in ecology, energy conservation and saving the Earth? The EPA Region 3 Environmental Education Program‘s ‘Schools in the News’ website offers press articles of successful environmental projects undertaken by students in mid-Atlantic region schools that are making news. Visit http://www.epa.gov/region03/ee/school_news.htm to learn more.

If you have news or links to information  about “wetlands as classrooms,” please let us know so we can feature other schools and similar programs on our I am an Educatorwebpage.

Sleuthing Out the Truth About Snapping Turtles (Part 1)

As a kid spending summers on Little Sebago Lake in southern Maine, I was used to seeing snapping turtles. My brother, Tad, and I liked to hang out under the dock,—and we stared down the snapping turtles. Their trapezoidal heads poked up out of the water, nostrils flaring. When the snappers, or mud turtles, weren’t swimming in the lake, they hid in the marshy grove beside our camp. Neither my brother nor I were ever bitten by a snapper, but the possibility was there, under the dock—a thrill that propelled us a little faster through the water some days. Until this summer, I had not seen a snapping turtle at the lake since the early 1990s. One snapping turtle is back in our cove this summer, making a home near Fish Rock. We recognized its dark brown shell and distinctive-shaped head and hooked beak-like snout, used for capturing prey and self-defense, as it periodically inspected the surface, hiding beneath a mat of weedy reeds.  Since the arrival of the snapper, the ducks and their babies have not made their usual pass through our cove.

So far, the snapper is alone, which makes sense since snapping turtles are not social creatures.  She or he has made a home along a reef beside a peninsula that points to the Sand Bar, a favorite destination of boaters in the three-basin lake. Little Sebago is on the state’s top ten list for “most threatened by development,” and there has been a milfoil problem due to increased boat traffic after the town’s approval for a public boat launch. A number of local nonprofit organizations, such as Lakes Environmental Association and the Little Sebago Lake Association, have led projects to improve water quality and educational efforts about algae and wildlife habitat in the lakes region of southern Maine.

But common snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are not unique to Maine; in fact, Maine falls within the northeast part of their range, including Nova Scotia. Snappers are found in the Gulf of Mexico—in Florida (along with a different species, the Florida snapping turtle) and the Texas coast, all along the Atlantic/east coast, and as far west as the Rocky Mountains. These turtles have been paddling in and out of North American wetlands for 80 million years. Adult snapping turtles prefer marshes, swamps, muddy still water, shallow lakes and ponds, while the hatchlings and juveniles live in small streams. Juveniles have small toothy ridges on their carapace called keels. When snapping turtles are young, they are easy prey for predators, including herons, bullfrogs, snakes, alligators and fish like bass or pike. Once a snapper is an adult, nothing messes with it, besides a human. The mobility of the turtle’s neck, which never fully retreats into its shell, allows it to reach out and snap—surprisingly fast.

Because they are poor swimmers, snappers do not like deep water, and can drown if they can’t reach the surface, or get to land easily. They need a combination of wetland habitat types to thrive, but can be found in both urban and rural areas. Oddly enough, they can gowithout water for a couple of weeks and even swim in the ocean while they are migrating from a stream or river to a pond or marsh. Large males are territorial and choose a fixed spot for their home but females tend to move around, possibly going back and forth between “homes” along the shoreline of lakes, ponds and marshes or swamps. For some amazing photos of snapping turtles in Virginia wetlands, visit:http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/
common_snapping_turtle.htm

When wetland habitat dries up and there is less water, a snapping turtle will be forced to move to another location to live. Sometimes this involves crossing roads, which explains why we sometimes see a crushed turtle on the side of the road, and wonder, “why did the turtle cross the road?

Despite their intimidating reputation, snappers are omnivorous, eating mostly aquatic vegetation. If ducklings are readily available, a snapping turtle might take one, but it’s incidental. Snappers may eat frogs and other amphibians, small mammals (like a mouse), mollusks and other invertebrates, and rarely—small birds. Snapping turtles may be poor swimmers but they are clever.  When a wetland is matted with algae, snapping turtles use the cover to hide beneath and grab shorebirds by the feet. The turtles’ effect on game fish and shorebirds populations is minimal. For more information about their interactions with waterfowl, visit:http://www.tortoisetrust.org/articles/
snappers.htm

Next week, I will uncover the Legends of Snapping Turtles.

Further reading on blogs about common snapping turtles:

“Detroit Wildlife: Common Snapping Turtle” by Laura Sternberg, July 2011
http://detroit.about.com/b/2011/07/12/detroit-wildlife-common-snapping-turtle.htm

“Snapping Turtle Expresses Displeasure at Being Plucked from Pond” by Mark Frauenfelder, July 2011 http://www.boingboing.net/2011/07/12/man-grabs-angry-snap.html

“The Secret Life of Snapping Turtles” by John Marshall, January 2009
http://www.grit.com/Animals/The-Secret-Life-of-Snapping-Turtles.aspx

“The Snapping Turtle” by Ted Levin, Vermont Public Radio, October 2008:http://www.vpr.net/episode/44552/

To read Part 2: Legends of the Snapping Turtle, click here.

Once upon a Vernal Pool

Late at night, I listen to the peepers in the vernal pool down in my woods. During a vernal pool monitoring project run by the University of Maine at Orono in 2009, I learned that most wood frogs leave a vernal pool at the northeastern point of the pool and head for uplands, where they spend the summer. But a few less successful frogs go in the wrong direction. I wondered what happens to those frogs. It seemed like a riddle that prompted answering…

Yet another challenge recently there has been a lot of discussion about proposed legislative changes to protection for significant vernal pools in Maine. Many experts testified at an April 25th hearing in Augusta on the importance of vernal pool protections. They achieved their goal and the committee voted to keep the state’s vernal pool protection laws, which have been in place since 2006. For a fact sheet on Vernal Pool Regulation in Maine, see http://www.nae.usace.army.mil/reg/VernalPoolRegulationMaineFAQ.pdf For more information about the University of Maine’s Vernal Pool Project, visit:http://www.umaine.edu/vernalpools/

The vernal pool in my woods inspired this poem about a wayward wood frog named Wren.

Once upon a Vernal Pool

Once upon a midnight clearing
April rains had ceased to fall
A lonely loon far off called dearly
Wood frogs, from a vernal pool,
Carefully crawled.

Most had spawned, left the pool
Heading northeast to uplands
Except for Wren, the little fool,
A wood frog who lived for wetlands.

Little Wren, so full of cheer,
Chirped into the late May nights
When all of her friends disappeared,
She hopped to it, setting her sights

On a stream she crossed in floods
That Big Night. Fast water trailed
Down through the thick woods
And Wren climbed aboard a stick
With trembling leaves, she sailed.

To read full poem, click here.

The “Other” Wetland Heroes

Last year I paid homage to the fictional characters, Mark Trail and Swampthing, as unsung wetland heroes. But what of others? Let’s not forget Ranger Rick. As a kid, I looked forward to receiving my monthly issue of Ranger Rick magazine in the mail. I inhaled the stories. I treasured the magazines like they were living things. My mother kept one issue with a coiled-up snake on the cover in a basket of secrets so I would not snoop. When passing the basket, I gave it a wide berth as if the magazine snake might come alive and spring. I learned a lot about nature and wildlife from reading Ranger Rick.

Today the raccoon dressed as a park ranger, “Ranger Rick,” continues to teach kids about wildlife and the natural world. For instance, here Ranger Rick educates kids about wetlands and the Gulf oil spill: http://www.nwf.org/Kids/Ranger-Rick/People-and-Places/Ranger-Rick-on-the-Big-Oil-Spill.aspx Ranger Rick also teaches kids about the importance of wetlands: http://www.nwf.org/Kids/Ranger-Rick/People-and-Places/Whats-a-Wetland.aspx Kids today might suggest another environmental hero close to their hearts (and DVD players): Shrek, the swamp-dwelling ogre, fights development pressures from the royal kingdom and restores balance in his wetland home. http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0002004/ A different generation might think of a certain Muppet, who lived in a swamp and sang, “It’s not easy being green…”Of all the comic book heroes, it is safe to say thatCaptain Planet is a well-recognized environmental hero. His main role is to protect the planet and all its natural splendor, wetlands included. EPA’s Wetlands Program worked with the creators of theCaptain Planet cartoon series, especially an episode called “Jail House Flock,” which taught kids about the importance of wetlands.http://www.turner.com/planet/mission.html Watch the episode depicting the eco-emergency about migratory birds and destruction of wetlands here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ur-Kss-yTxwEco-geeks to the rescue!

Often comics and cartoons take an extreme slant in portraying heroes and villains to communicate an environmental message. In the Swampthing comics, a recurring anti-hero called Floronic Man, aka Jason Woodrue, feels that humans are destroying the Everglades. Unlike Swampy, who’s fairly conscientious in his noble attempts to save the wetlands, Floronic Man plots for the plants to take over to the point of killing developers with a chainsaw.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floronic_Man Man-Thing was another large misunderstood, empathic human-plant mutant character living in the Florida Everglades. This Marvel Comic character was criticized for being too similar in origin to Swampthing,even though Man-Thing came from a 1960s comic series called “Tales of Suspense,” which means that he preceded Swampy,who first appeared in 1971. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man-Thing For Strange Wetlands’ Ode to Swampthing, see:http://aswm.org/wordpress/
strange-wetlands-ode-to-swampthing/

Science fiction sub-genres span a wide spectrum of stories that carry an obvious environmental message, from post-apocalyptic, including an obscure comic series called “The Puma Blues,” (1986-1989) featuring wildlife and nature with prose poetryhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Puma_Blues to fantasy realms of authors like Ilona Andrews (her recent book is called Bayou Moon http://www.ilona-andrews.com/) and Kim Stanley Robinson, who has been called an environmental hero for his series of books(Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) about the terraforming and settling of Mars, after global climate change has caused wide-spread flooding on Earth.http://sciencefictionbiology.blogspot.com/2008/09/kim-stanley-robinson-hero-of.htmlThere are too many science-fiction authors to name here. If you have one you’d like to recommend, please leave a comment.

Wetland-dwelling protagonists are also abundant in fiction and creative nonfiction. Novels like A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter, The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean and some of Carl Hiaasen’s stories that take place in the Everglades are linked on ASWM’s Book Service On-Amazon, under the categories for fiction and nonfiction here:http://www.aswm.org/propub/bookservice/fiction.htm If after visiting the book list, you have a suggested title to add, please leave a comment.

CSI Wetlands: The Case of Illegal Dumping

If you’re like me, you liked playing the classic board game, Clue, on rainy nights at camp with whoever was willing to play. (I always won.) My brother, Tad, and I also had the old 1960s game, Lie Detector, and we played that for hours. Then we’d write clues and hide them for each other around the yard and in the woods, went on our own scavenger hunts, digging up treasures we’d buried for one another. (I buried his matchbox cars.) When the first CSI TV show aired, I was fascinated. I studied anthropology in college and loved the mysteries involved with uncovering “evidence” with forensics. I read mysteries. I even went so far as to obtain a copy of the CSI board game—but this time, my brother beat me while I was deeply puzzled by the elaborate clues. THIS is better: Geoforensics. What is that? According to the geologist Robert Hayes, CPG, “forensic geology is the scientific application of earth sciences to legal matters. Practically, this means that a forensic geologist identifies, analyzes, and compares earth materials, such as soil, rocks, minerals, and fossils found on or in a receptor (e.g., a suspect, a vehicle or other medium of transfer, such as water) to possible source areas (e.g., a crime scene, an alibi location, and/or a point of disposal/release).” http://www.geoforensics.com/geoforensics/art-1101a.html  Really neat stuff!

For kids and students wanting to learn about geoforensics, check out:http://www.biologyjunction.com/
crime_scene_investigation.htm

Event: CSI: Lake Erie Tours Link History and Science, Ohio Sea Grant
http://www.ohioseagrant.osu.edu/
news/?article=165

Geoforensics links –
http://www.geoforensics.com/
geoforensics/home.html

http://web.mst.edu/~rogersda/forensic_geology/Geoforensics%20notes.htm

What is a Fairy House?

A fairy house, or gnome home, is a small structure built in the woods, usually found at the base of a tree, or in lower branches, alongside a mossy tree stump, or driftwood on a beach. Building materials include natural and found things from the woods, but sometimes people add common household items, such as a button, a bottle cork, a piece of string. It is a 100+ year tradition in Maine, especially along the coast and on the islands. But fairy houses can be found throughout the country, and in other countries. In Maine the tradition dates back to the early 1900s, when many island communities had working farms. Traveling schoolteachers from Massachusetts brought folk tales involving fairies that inspired islanders—children and adults alike—to build gnome homes to attract fairies in order to watch over the livestock and children during Maine winters. A fairy house traditionally included a tiny altar with a small offering, such as a coin, to pay the fairies to help the farmers; if there was a particularly harsh winter, and children or livestock died, the more superstitious islanders blamed the fairies.

Over the decades, fairy houses—whether to allow them, for instance, has been a controversy on some Maine islands, including Monhegan. (Wall Street Journal covered this story in 1999, along with several Maine newspapers). I have found fairy houses on over 60 of Maine’s islands, and have built them over the years in many “secret” locations throughout Maine. Every mother I met on the islands I visited believed that her children originated the fairy house idea but this is actually a centuries old tradition in some parts of the world. I have also witnessed as competitive parents stabilized their kids’ gnome homes with hot glue guns, duct tape and staples. In this case, the structure was really built in a workshop at home, then transplanted to the base of a tree. Generally, fairy houses are not permanent structures; they last until the end of summer or fall, then disintegrate during a typical rainstorm. In places where there are anti-fairy house forces, such as groups of people called, “Stompers,” sometimes the gnome home lasts only until it is discovered, which is why it is important to build anonymously, minimally and somewhere hidden. In other communities, fairy houses are enjoyed and even maintained by people—or gnomes—who can say for sure—and can last decades.

This week I helped teach local fourth-graders how to build “eco-friendly” fairy houses in Black Brook Preserve here in Windham, Maine. I’ve developed worksheets and taught elementary school kids how to think about fairy houses, or gnome homes, in an eco-friendly way. In fact, I became a sort of expert in the topic after completing a year-long project at College of the Atlantic. I visited over 25 Maine islands and researched the fairy house tradition on the Maine coast, and then wrote my college senior thesis on the ecological, political and historical aspects of the long-held tradition.