- By: Joseph McCarthy
- Illustrations by: Dean MacAdam
If you consider the wastes we humans dump into our coastal waters you can see why some clams might not want to filter feed for their daily needs. The anatomy of Megaptera clamsoni allows it much greater freedom of movement compared to any other bivalve molluskan. Major adaptations include two large adductor muscles and a relatively light, thin shell. We are familiar with adductor muscles — we call them scallops and pay up to ten dollars a pound to satisfy our tastes. The migratory clam’s adductors contract with great force and water is expelled out the neck (siphon) of the clam with tremendous speed. The Native Americans and early colonists were quite aware of this special clam’s migratory activity. They would set up high nets in the shallow waters of the beaches for the night and catch whole volleys of the clams as they whizzed along as high as eight to ten feet in the air. This particular part of the hunt lives with us still in the form of volleyball. The early hunting reduced the migratory clam population almost to extinction, and modern coastal pollution has done little to help the clams make a comeback. Still there are reminders of an earlier time: an occasional volleyball net here or there, and if you walk the beach in the late summer evening you might just hear the whispering jet of a migrating mollusk colliding with a tourist. Whissssssh! Thwack! Ouch!
“Damn Clam Go to Hell!”
You no longer have to wonder about or imagine some little creepy crawly as you stand in water or soft mushy ground. The answer is yes! There is something lurking, burrowed into the sand ready to sample your hide. Picture a slightly flattened sea urchin or an inflated sand dollar and you have an estimate of the Sea Biscuit. Three to five inches across, spiny, hidden in the sand with a set of teeth ready to chomp is the Sea Biscuit. Seen the movie Dune? Checked the mouth on those sandworms? Well meet the Sea Biscuit and you have a similar mouth and teeth searching out your toes on a smaller scale. The evening shallows are where humans and the Sea Biscuit tend to run into one another — literally! On warm summer evenings when people and Sea Biscuits meet in the salty shallows there is often a weird dance breaking out. You see groups of folks rapidly leaping, splashing, and jumping. From a distance it looks like fun. But when you get closer you hear curses and cries of pain and you realize there is something else going on. So if you are a night wader in our waters listening to the sound of gentle surf where the waves glow with the presence of dinoflagellates in late summer, you, too, can wiggle your toes in the evening waters and soft sand. You, too, can do the Sea Biscuit Bounce!
Our present-day experience with the infamous blackfly is the smaller version so common to Maine’s out-of-doors. But the blackfly species covered here is thought to be a creature of the past. This was a bloodsucker bar none. We are talking about an insect whose mouthparts, once examined, were an inspiration for the design of the chainsaw blade!
The Greater Blackfly, which biologists classified as Macroanus vampyrae, is the most notorious member in a very extensive family of blood-sucking flies. The only known specimen is mounted in a camp supply store just outside of Jackman. The monumental flies were about four inches long with a six to seven inch wingspread. Heavy hunting by early settlers contributed to the extinction of the Greater Blackfly by reducing the supply of eastern elk, which could withstand the attack of a few blood hungry insects due of its great body mass. The poor squirrels and chipmunks who became Greater Blackfly fodder, however, could be sucked dry with a single attack and expire. Occasional mummified remains collected in the surrounding forest mystified later settlers. Reproductive failure may have finally caught up with the fly. It has not been seen in decades. But there is recent news of finding chipmunks and gray squirrel bodies near Trout Brook campground in Baxter State Park. What’s unsettling about this report? It seems they were recently mummified. Now that sucks!
Most of us in Maine have indirectly met the Tree Squeak. Walking along in the woods with a spring breeze we are often surprised by an occasional loud squeak in the trees overhead. While many have heard the squeak, it is the axe man or shipwright who actually discovered the creature in the process of cutting and shaping timbers. Like its cousin the wood termite, the Squeak is an arthropod and spends its life in timber. Unlike its troublesome relative it does not completely riddle a piece of wood but manages to drill long, thin burrows widely spaced from one another. The creature does not weaken a timber with its work and was even considered useful. In the early 1800s, Squeaks were purposely let loose in timber piles where they would search out logs and begin to burrow. This “treated” lumber was then made into fine furniture; with the newly antiqued “wormhole” pattern, it commanded much higher prices on the market. The Squeak is a long narrow animal resembling the harmless garden millipede. Its body is a highly polished mahogany color with small formidable jaws to mince wood. The Squeak initiates its shrill sound by turning its body double inside its narrow tunnels. The tough dorsal side has small hard spines that drive against the wood, making the squeaking sound. Lucky Tree Squeaks can make such turns all day long and — like some humans we can point out — end up not knowing whether they are coming or going!
- By: Joseph McCarthy
- Illustrations by: Dean MacAdam