Quoddy Nature Notes – Food



                There is much activity in the natural world going on in the Quoddy region this time of year.  Late spring welcomes the end of the starving winter, and most animals are not only concerned with replenishing their fat reserves but establishing new generations.  It’s interesting that sometimes these work hand in hand between species.  For example, a couple of weeks ago we had a big hatch of Carpenter ants Camponotus pennsylvanicus.  The weather conditions were right and many colonies all across the state (I even noticed them in New Hampshire) released the winged kings and queens to mate and set up new colonies.  Many of these landed on my driveway and once in a while I would take a break from my spring chores and I got a chance to watch them.  Conventional wisdom is that the queens fly about until they find a place suitable for a new colony, then discard their wings.  However, this doesn’t seem to be true.  Soon after landing, queens apparently find their wings annoying, and squirm about and eventually scrape off their wings with their legs.  Freed from the pesty wings, the oversized queens run around with determination looking for a good place to set up shop, and I get good target practice picking them off with my BB gun and pretend I’m protecting my homesite.

Carpenter ant Queen

Carpenter ant queen. She has only one wing left to discard

The local ants clean up after me and drag the carcasses to their nests.  Bluejays and Juncos also utilize this bonanza of nutrients, but his year I haven’t seen any toads.  I usually had a couple of toads living in burrows in the tomato/pepper patch, and I used to catch the ants and feed them, and it was interesting the way they would feed.  Frogs and toads can flick their tongues out at insects, but they are more apt to pounce on the target snack.  Maybe they get less dirt that way.

My garter snakes don’t eat ants, at least when I’m watching them, and I have coaxed them to try, but they prefer worms.  This year was the first time I have ever fed a worm to a garter snake while I was holding the snake.  He was a little irritated at the process, but the attraction of a few juicy worms overcame his tendency to pout.  I haven’t figured out how to take a picture of this.

Deer Mouse

Deer mouse. Pretty difficult to tell a deer mouse from a White footed mouse, but we’re not supposed to have White footed mice here. He did seem to enjoy the sunflower seeds

I have read that shrews eat ants, but shrews are too secretive for easy watching.  Deer mice are also supposed to eat ants, but I have only seen them eat seeds and grass.  A few days before this writing I was planting my tomatoes and peppers in a raised bed on the south side of my barn and I noticed a Deer mouse in the grass nearby.  He was foraging in the lower thatch and although he looked pretty subdued, he avoided my cautious attempt to catch him, and scampered away to a small pile of rocks.  I got some sunflower seeds and coaxed him out, and he seemed to enjoy the new menu, and I left him there and did other chores, and wondered about a Deer mouse out in the open at midday.  The number of rodents in my barn, besides Red squirrels, seems to have decidedly decreased, and I wonder if it is a lack of food or some disease.  A friend in Lubec made a similar comment, but he saw an Ermine in his barn.  My mouse seemed more alert after gorging on sunflower seeds, and probably was happy that I hadn’t seen an Ermine in the barn for several years.

Because of their reduced traveling capability with respect to birds, mammals generally have a tougher time coping with food shortages than birds.  This is true if the birds are not specialized in nesting areas and food type.  Unfortunately, there are birds in the Quoddy region, like Terns and Atlantic Puffins, that are pretty specialized in nesting areas and food type, and concerns have been raised in that regard.  Terns have not nested on Machias Seal Island for several years, and some scientists blame the food supply, and recently there were ominous reports of starving Puffins in the Gulf of Maine.  Let’s hope that this is just a minor and temporary perturbation.