Skeeters And Ticks And Jellyfish Lurk In The Wild Connecticut Outdoors

The Hartford Courant

Summer's almost here, which brings to mind swimming, picnics and cool drinks served with a cocktail umbrella.

But it's not all so joyous. The sunny months are also the season of danger: In the water (Jellyfish!), from below (Ticks! Poison ivy!) and from above (Hornets!).

The list goes on: Snakes, sunburn, wayward Jet Skis, dehydration, kidney stones. (Q: Kidney stones? A: They're caused by dehydration.) Not to scare you or anything, but it's a wonder any of us survive these perilous months.

Here, we present a few of summer's more harrowing elements, and some words of advice on making it to autumn alive.

This list is far from conclusive. Who knows what fiendish hazards summer will throw at you next. Maybe a moose. There were 120 moose spottings in Connecticut last fall, compared with just a few per year in the 1970s. At 6 feet tall and 1,400 pounds, an adult moose isn't something you want to encounter on the road.

It's bad enough that the state DEP has issued a warning to motorists. There were two non-fatal vehicle accidents involving moose last fall.

And then there's the completely unexpected. Last year, a man in Marlborough was bitten by a rattlesnake after he tried picking it up. ("I can take a lot of pain, but this, this — this hurts," he said at the time.)

Also last summer, an alligator was found in a pond in Trumbull. A few months before that, a larger alligator was picked out of a South Windsor riverbank.

So, good luck as you brave your way through this summer. Be careful out there.

MosquitoesState entomologist Theodore Andreadis paints a bleak picture ahead in terms of skeeters, and mosquito bites. That's largely because of all the rain we've had recently.

"We are clearly anticipating large numbers of biting mosquitoes early in the spring," he says. They will emerge as early as next week, he says, and will be abundant for most of June.

This first wave of mosquitoes is mostly just annoying. The ones carrying West Nile and Eastern equine encephalitis don't come until later. But they will indeed arrive, and all factors indicate that they'll be plentiful.

Mosquitoes carrying West Nile are mainly confined to urban and suburban areas, while the EEE-transmitting mosquitoes gravitate toward areas with marsh, swamp and other large bodies of still waters.

Andreadis says it's too early to say definitively, but signs point to a bad summer for EEE. Again, the rainfall is to blame.

So how do you protect yourself? Wear repellent. Long sleeves and pants are effective, but not always practical. Citronella candles work, but only if you use several. Bug zappers are worse than useless because they don't zap many mosquitoes, but they do zap bugs that kill mosquitoes.

TicksAt this point, there's no way to tell how bad the ticks will be this summer. But Kirby Stafford, a chief entomologist with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, points out that they're always bad. Regardless of the conditions, he says there are thousands of documented Lyme disease cases each year. Last year, there were more than 4,000, up slightly from 2008.

At first, you only have to worry about the American dog tick. They can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, but around here, that's extremely rare. Otherwise, they're just an annoyance. The deer ticks that transmit Lyme — the ones you really have to worry about — usually show up in late May. Because of the prematurely warm weather, though, a lot of things have been ahead of schedule this year.

So protect yourself: Wear long pants and sleeves when you're doing yardwork (three-fourths of documented cases were from tick bites near home), hiking or otherwise going off beaten paths. Repellent is recommended. Those with a concentrated level of DEET (30 percent to 40 percent) work well. Also, you can spray a chemical called permethrin on your clothes. (Stafford uses this when doing fieldwork.)

If you do get bit, you have 36 to 48 hours from the time of the bite to remove the tick without fear of contracting Lyme disease. It's best to use fine-tip tweezers for the removal.

JellyfishThey're the bane of beachgoers. Two summers ago, jellyfish "the size of salad plates" attacked swimmers in the New York City Triathlon. Some people blamed them for one racer's death (an autopsy later ruled it was natural causes).

Last year, jellyfish started showing up in Long Island Sound in May, says Mary Beth Decker of Yale. But that was an unusually early arrival; they tend to arrive in June and July.

Decker has studied jellyfish populations in the Chesapeake Bay (relatively little is known about those in Long Island Sound). There's nothing to conclusively say that jellyfish populations have grown globally, Decker says, but "our gut feeling" is that this could be the case in some regions.

The fishing of tuna, which eat jellyfish, has been pointed to as a possible cause. Global warming is another. Decker says the global warming theory makes sense because warmer water means longer periods of productivity for jellyfish.

So what to do: First, try to avoid jellyfish. If you need to pick one up, do so carefully. "I've learned how to very carefully pick them up, from the top of the bell to avoid their tentacles," Decker says.

As for getting stung, Decker says she simply rinses the sting with salt water. There are lots of home remedies , like apple cider vinegar or meat tenderizer. Don't bother.

"Studies show they're not as effective as people say," she says.

Bear in mind: Some say jellyfish make for good eating. Decker has tried it and isn't convinced. At best, she says, it tastes like tofu.

The Fisher CatA snarling ball of menace, or a welcome addition to Connecticut's wildlife? Depends on who you ask.

Despite its name, the fisher cat neither particularly likes fish nor is a cat. It's part of the weasel family. Its lush, thick coat was almost its undoing; fishers were nearly trapped out of existence in the 19th century but started making a comeback in the 1980s, thanks to reforestation. Its population in Connecticut has been increasingly steadily ever since.

The fisher cat is one of the more divisive creatures of the Nutmeg wild. Paul Rego, wildlife biologist for the DEP, attributes fear of the fisher cat to the fact that it's relatively new to the state and is the subject of misinformation.

With the fisher topping out at no more than 15 pounds, Rego points out that it won't attack you or your dog. If anything, it will run away or go up a tree. On the other hand, it might pick off your cat, but only at night. Even so, cats have more to fear from coyotes than fishers.

So should we fear coyotes? No, Rego says. They'll probably run away, too.

Yellowjackets / HornetsThings that fly and sting are scary, but be judicious in how you deal with them.

The first step to avoid getting stung is knowing where the dangers lurk. Yellowjackets set up their hives around the perimeters of yards — stone walls and in the ground, often near a cluster of trees. Before you rid your yard of them, remember that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Yellowjackets are an efficient killer of certain pests. Gale Ridge, an entomologist with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, notes that a single hive can eat up to 250 flies per hour.

But if you do want to get rid of them, do so at night. That's when they'll all be in the hive. Use a flashlight, but shine only the outer part of the beam on the hive — otherwise, the brightness will wake the hive, and that's a whole other world of trouble for you. When you find the entrance, shoot a stream of pest spray directly into it for about three seconds. And then leave, quickly.

A particularly tricky insect is the white-faced hornet. Despite the name, it's not a hornet but a yellowjacket. And despite being a yellowjacket, it's not yellow but black and white. But like hornets, they're aggressive and tend to set up aerial nests in trees, so getting rid of them could require a ladder.

Again, do it at night, and use a flashlight. Hornets are particularly sensitive to light, so the less you use the better (while maintaining visibility, of course). Once you spray insecticide into the hive, wet the nest's exterior with more insecticide. And again, leave quickly.

The not-so-great-outdoors: A special report, Monday at 6:35/7:35 a.m. Coming Monday in The Courant: Job tutors give advice to new college graduates on how to land that first job.

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