Category Archives: Vernal pools

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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Dating Season for Toads

I am glad I don’t suffer bufonophobia, a fear of toads, because a gang of American toads (Bufo americanus) live under my deck. They come out at night and sit, fat as golfballs, one of them the size of a baseball, in the moonlight. Their posturing reminds me of the T-birds and the Pink Ladies in “Grease” at the drive-in.

Careful not to step on them when I stand in the yard, I let my dog enjoy a few minutes of midnight sounds, smells and shadows, with caution. The toads barely budge if she sniffs their bumpy bodies. She doesn’t like toads, luckily. I’m nervous about taking a step, worried I might squish one, anticipating the inevitable movement—but a toad’s test of wills (or staying power) beats mine every time.

Some toads, including the American toad, have paratoid glands that can secrete a white poison to would-be predators (if bitten or handled, for instance). The poison is toxic inside a mouth—or if after a human handles a toad, touches the eye or mouth.  It can cause nausea, inflamed mouth or throat, irregular heart beat and in very severe cases—death. They can be a danger to pets for this reason. When you think about it, batrachophobes, who fear any reptiles or amphibians, have probably had an incident that caused a symptom, or knew of someone who did. I never believed one could get “warts” from a toad, but perhaps this myth originated from the handling of toads causing undesirable symptoms. National Geographic busted that myth for kids, here.

Toads are nocturnal. During the day the amphibians hide under the deck. I’ve wondered what they do all day—eat insects, sleep, burrow underground, intimidate baby garter snakes? The child in me imagines Toad and Frog riding around in their small motorcar. The ecologist in me wants to set up candid cameras under the deck and film the toads’ daytime activities.  This is their breeding time (March-July), when they emerge from their burrows to eat at night and mate. It is more likely that the underside of my short deck is dull by day and hoppin’ at night. Along patches of my seep, nicknamed “Fern Gully,” I’ve observed toadlets, baby toads, crawling along the muddy wooded floor. They are small, about an inch long in body, not counting legs. What’s amazing to me is that toad eggs can hatch in a matter of days (3-13 days) and the toadlets grow to adulthood in about a month. In Pennsylvania, there is an organization looking for volunteers to help with a program called “Toad Detour,” that seeks to help toadlets cross roads and get to safe habitats. Their website has some great photos and a recording of toad sounds. More about their work with toads is posted on the Philly Herping Blog.

My poem, “Romancing the Toad,” was published in a summer issue of the international literary magazine, Off the Coast. 

The American toad’s large range extends as south as Georgia, as west as Wisconsin and as north as Canada. There are other toads of concern throughout the U.S. For example, the endangered Arroyo toad in California depends on adiminishing wetland habitat. The Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance for Spring Amphibians kicked off its programs in Maine earlier in May, teaching people about the 9 species of frogs and toads in the state.

In other blogs, spadefoot toads have received some attention lately. Volunteers in different areas gather to help toads and frogs cross busy roads during their breeding season. A headstart program in Massachusetts visited the Cape Cod National Seashore this month to learn about vernal pools and amphibian habitat, includingspadefoot toads. According to Mass Audubon, the spadefoot is neither true toad or frog—it’s a primitive amphibian. A segment of a Hands-On Wetland Creation Workshop for Professionals, led in part by Tom Biebighauser, with the U.S. Forest Service, addressed the topic of spadefoots at the Long Pasture Sanctuary on Cape Cod. ASWM’s Executive Director, Jeanne Christie, attended.

Dragonflies – Baby Got Brackish

In many parts of the country, we’re starting to see mosquitoes, especially after heavy rains. Mosquitoes love brackish pools, but so do gators and crocodiles, which mate this time of year…and dragonflies. Over Memorial Day weekend, I delighted in watching an army of dragonflies zip around me at killer speeds. They eat mosquitoes. So it begs the question, do more mosquitoes mean more dragonflies? If so, that would be good news for people heading outside to enjoy the warm weather. So far I’ve only had to wear my DDT-free bug spray once on a walk along the pond.

A recent New York Times article provided news about endangered species (A Coast-to-Coast Guide to Endangered Species) including the bog turtle, ringed boghaunter and the orange-striped dragonfly, which were described as some of the rarest wetland-dwelling species in the U.S. For an amazing montage of rare photos taken at the Texan Cibilo Nature Center of the orange-striped dragonfly in courtship, see: http://www.martinreid.com/
Odonata%20website/odonate37b.html

Dragonflies are generally known as freshwater insects. But recent research has demonstrated that dragonflies are no strangers to brackish environments. What is brackish water? Brackish pools, sometimes called brackish marshes, are saltier (more saline) than freshwater but not as salty as seawater. Typically brackish water occurs where the sea meets freshwater—estuaries, mangroves and saltmarshes. Many species of fish depend on these waters for their migration from the sea to rivers and streams, such as eels and salmon. In addition there are also brackish lakes, e.g. Lake Monroe in Florida and Lake Charles in Louisiana. For a photo of a dragonfly’s exoskeleton at Lake Charles, seehttp://www.flickr.com/photos/atweed/4651677110/

A relatively recent issue of Canadian Field Naturalistfeatured an article by Paul Catling on “Dragonflies Emerging from Brackish Pools of Saltmarshes in Quebec” (CAN), citing his research that showed dragonflies used salt marshes much more often than had been previously understood. For an example of a brackish pool in a saltmarsh, see http://www.sciencephoto.com/media/
175707/view
 The importance of brackish pools as habitat for young dragonflies, called nymphs, has long been observed by naturalists, as noted by Raymond Osburn (The American Naturalist,1906 http://www.jstor.org/pss/2455367) Catling’s research has shown, a century later, that dragonflies do in fact utilize saltmarshes, which contain an abundance of estuarine and marine life.  Either dragonflies have evolved to move into saltmarshes or earlier observations by naturalists have left that distinction out of literature.

One contemporary naturalist photographed a Tawny Pennant (Brachymesia herbida) in a saltmarsh in the Bosa Chica tract of a National Wildlife Refuge in Brownsville, TXhttp://www.duke.edu/~jsr6/Brachyherb.jpg Here’s a dragonfly in a saltmarsh of Daufin Island, AL http://www.flickr.com/photos/littoraria/3639808921/ But a simple Google Images search will reveal that it is rare to find photos of adult dragonflies in saltmarshes. This may be due in part to the challenges of wildlife photography, especially with respect to capturing a fast-moving target, such as a dragonfly, on film. The best advice from our own Compleat Wetlander’s nature photographer, Jeanne Christie: “Wait for the wildlife to come toyou.”

Bonus activity for kids: How to draw a dragonfly. http://www.how-to-draw-cartoons-online.com/dragonfly-drawings.html

Updated April 2013: Dragonflies Drive Dedicated Fans to Refuges
http://www.fws.gov/news/blog/index.cfm/2013/4/2/Dragonflies-Drive-Dedicated-Fans-to-Refuges

Harbingers of Spring

Around my house, the snow is melting and the birds are chirping. Layers of ice peel back from the pond and I can see open water…it makes my heart sing. Everywhere I look, there are harbingers of an early spring, which we haven’t had here in Maine for a long time. Many people look for signs of spring near water or wetlands because returning waterfowl are a good indicator. Purple crocuses popping up through the soil has always been my favorite tell-tale sign. I haven’t heard any peeps yet coming from the nearest vernal pool but…

It makes me wonder if this warm spring weather will affect the activities of wood frogs and salamanders in vernal pools. This time of year, notices of vernal pool training workshops for volunteers make their way into my inbox. ASWM has posted a list of vernal pool activities happening around the country (that I have found so far) here:http://aswm.org/wetland-science/-vernal-pools Feel free to email us or leave a comment if you know of a vernal pool training workshop or monitoring event happening.

Below are some other stories about signs of spring this year.

Six Signs of Spring in the Chesapeake Regionhttp://www.chesapeakebay.net/news_sixsigns
ofspring.aspx?menuitem=49212

Early signs of spring
http://blogs.mdc.mo.gov/blog/?p=2871

In Vermont, Watch for harbingers of springhttp://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20100306/LIVING03/3060303/Vermont-birding-Watch-for-harbingers-of-spring

Neat blog about Spring Peepers –http://beaknfeather.wordpress.com/2010/01/27/harbingers-of-spring-peepy-toads/

Our Bay: Ospreys are a sign of springhttp://www.hometownannapolis.com/news/env/2010/02/27-13/Our-Bay-Ospreys-are-a-sign-of-spring.html

Green Thumbs Up: a blog on signs of spring in wetlands-http://www.wickedlocal.com/marshfield/fun/gardening/x776893386/Green-thumbs-up-It-s-time-to-think-spring