Category Archives: animal behavior

How to Cope with the Albuquerque Mosquito Plague of 2022

I’m sick of seeing closeups of mosquitoes in the act of biting someone’s arm. Here’s a winsome cave cricket instead.

It’s a bit late in the season to start giving advice about mosquitoes, but I’m hoping that this information I’ve spent a lot of time gathering will be of some use to people around here.

Around the beginning of August, here in Albuquerque lots of us began to find big, itchy, even painful red welts on our legs and arms. For me, they spread into patches of red rashy dots two or more inches across, especially on my ankles. This was not a normal experience.

We wondered about mosquito bites, but we were not seeing or hearing any mosquitoes, and this was happening in broad daylight, not at dusk. Eventually it dawned on me that we must have a new and different species of mosquito invading the area. Readers living in other parts of the world may be laughing at my ignorance, but I had never even heard of day-flying mosquitoes in New Mexico. Or at all, really.

By this time, the matter was getting some press attention. It turned out that yes, we now have Aedes aegypti living with us, not just our classic old-school Culex species that mainly fly at night. Oh joy, the yellow fever mosquito! Smaller, faster, quieter, stealthier about evading our attention and thus our swats, perfectly adapted to attacking humans, its main prey. And super aggressive, often biting multiple times on the same body part. They do have one happier trait: they’re not a major vector for West Nile virus like the Culex family.

Here’s how screwed we are: 
https://sourcenm.com/2022/09/12/a-new-mosquito-is-stalking-new-mexico-is-the-state-ready/

These buggers have been around since 2018, but they didn’t become the scourge they are now until this year’s exceptionally wet monsoon season. I remember saying in 2021 that I hadn’t seen a single mosquito. That was true— I never saw them— but I now realize that the two bouts of what I thought were severe, unexplained hives were actually caused by marauding Aedes. I don’t know where I ran into them. We weren’t getting hit at home, and kept blissfully and obliviously hanging out under our newly-built patio roof.

This year, there seemed to be nowhere to hide. What to do?

I read everything I could find about bug repellents, a subject I hadn’t had to think about much since my youth back east. The essential oil spray I already had was doing nothing, though some people seem to have success with some oils against some mosquitoes. DEET works well, but will eat plastics and synthetic clothing, making it fairly impractical. It also smells and feels unpleasant. Picaridin is sold as a safer alternative for kids (though DEET is considered safe too) and doesn’t have these drawbacks. Oil of lemon eucalyptus (which is not the same as lemon eucalyptus essential oil) was said to be as effective as DEET, according to the FDA, and the smell isn’t bad.

I spritzed, probably not thoroughly enough, and still got some bites. Long pants and sleeves worked but were too hot and were not foolproof, since the critters can sometimes bite through clothes.

I ordered a concentrated garlic product to spray around the yard, which was supposed to kill mosquitoes it hit and deter others, without killing other bugs wholesale.  Little or nothing happened.  The small sprayer I had may not have been adequate.

To deal with the bites I hadn’t been able to avoid, I found the Bug Bite Thing, a small suction device that is meant to pull insect saliva or venom out of the skin.  It has to be used soon after the bite is inflicted, but it does meaningfully reduce the itching.  It doesn’t completely stop a welt from forming or keep itching from showing up later, but it helps.  It’s supposed to work on bee or wasp stings as well; fortunately I haven’t had a chance to test it on those.

I got to thinking about adding mosquito netting to our patio, but that sounded difficult, limited, and probably expensive. It hit me that one could make clothing out of mosquito netting, and then, that someone must have done that already. Yes, they have indeed. There are many brands, but here is one that’s made in the US and decent quality: 
https://www.bugbaffler.com/collections/insect-protection

I ordered a shirt and pants right away, and they arrived very quickly. They don’t make for the most fashionable outfit, but they make it possible to have a nice breakfast on the patio without becoming breakfast oneself. They aren’t as hot as regular clothing and there’s no toxicity or nasty smell. They also keep other insects out, and can even be used by beekeepers.

We already had netting covering our rain barrels, but we added oil on the surface of the water as well. This is a major means of control, as it keeps any larvae that hatch in the water from breathing. It’s possible that some females had gotten past our netting in the beginning. Aedes aegypti are considered weak flyers and tend to stay near the area where they hatched, and we had no other water in our yard, so the barrels were suspect. We don’t know what sources of standing water our close neighbors may have, but it doesn’t take much.

Hearing that city government was suggesting that we call them about spraying to kill mosquitoes, I checked their website. There wasn’t a word about the new skeeter situation. I figured that the traditional evening spraying of pesticides would be inappropriate for Aedes, since they’re active when bees and other innocent bystanders are around, but called to find out whether there might be some kind of help I was unaware of.

The pleasant man at the Environmental Health Department, Nick Pederson, confirmed my suspicions about pesticide spraying being a bad strategy for combating Aedes species. The spray has to hit them when they’re flying, he told me, so it would have to be applied during the day and would indeed kill other insects. He said his department was trying to get a Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) product to spray over neighborhoods in hopes of it wafting into water where the bugs can breed, but they had been hampered by the supply chain problems that seem to be everywhere these days. Otherwise he had very little to offer, except for the hope that people would spread the word about getting rid of every bit of standing water in their yards.

He confirmed what I had read about insect repellents, and added the detail that oil of lemon eucalyptus works well, but you have to use a lot of it and apply it often.

A patient who has also been hit badly sent me information about mosquito traps, which I was not aware of. They can be used for official monitoring and research as well as to reduce populations around homes. If we have another bad season next year, I’m thinking in terms of getting one to add to our arsenal, but apparently they’re limited in how much they can do to stop bites, and they may even lure in more females which will then attack any available humans. 
Here’s an excellent article on traps: https://www.consumerreports.org/health/insect-repellent/mosquito-traps-lures-bug-zappers-a6094812568/

The spike in the mosquito population this year has been life-changing, in a restrictive and nerve-racking and health-damaging way. Yet a number of other insects have gone AWOL. I haven’t personally seen or heard a single cicada, and the grasshoppers that usually pop up everywhere we step at this time of year are mostly absent. There have been a few crickets, but only a few, and no significant cricking to drive us crazy. We didn’t have the usual spring onslaught of big brown miller moths; that’s not too strange, as the population level varies a lot, but I don’t think I saw any.

I would be very worried about all that, except that multiple species of bees, hornets, butterflies, small moths, and ants seem to be doing better than ever. And gnats, so many gnats! I wonder what to make of it all. Climate change must be a factor, but there hasn’t been a dramatic enough rise in temperature from last year to this to explain such a sudden shift in populations. We did have a dry spring and a much wetter summer than average, but was that enough to make the difference? And are people in other neighborhoods seeing the same species in their yards as I? I’ve heard that cicadas have been singing in other parts of town, but everyone seems to be noting an absence of grasshoppers.

If anyone reading this has insights into entomology in central New Mexico, I would love to hear from you. Our state is big on bugs, including some really big bugs, but there are some mysterious absences. I’m particularly curious about what happened to the elm beetles and cave crickets that were our constant companions in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. I bet I haven’t seen an elm beetle in 20 years, but they used to be legion, and the same trees are still present to host them. It’s possible that measures intended to get rid of them were successful and that’s why they’re gone. Not that I miss them, but something is fishy about this.

I do sort of miss cave crickets, which are cute as insects go, and do no harm to us. They used to frequently become snacks for our cats— who delicately avoided the long legs and left them strewn about— but local felines alive now may never have encountered one. I hope none of this means catastrophe is on the way, that is, worse catastrophe than we were already expecting.

Reports from around the world say that insect populations are declining precipitously and that this threatens all life on Earth. In our yard, with gnats and flies buzzing around one’s head and pollinators energetically zipping between flowers, it’s hard to imagine, but it’s true in so many places. In this context, the increasing success of mosquitoes is a maddening irony. Yet another new normal, one more thing to keep us off balance and uneasy in this alternate-reality world we now inhabit.

We do have more birds in our yard than I’ve ever seen before, so something must be going right. Maybe some of those insect-eating bird species who have lost supplies of their favorite foods will adapt to eat mosquitoes. Maybe the blood-sucking midges (yesss!) that prey on mosquitoes will provide some cosmic balance and damp down their numbers. Maybe local humans will be bothered enough to work consistently at control measures. If any of those things happen, they will take time. Meanwhile, I’m going to look funny in my mesh bug suit.

Photo source: The greenj   https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ceuthophiluscricket.jpg

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Katie Does Grief Counseling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most people, and maybe animals too, feel better if they know their deceased loved ones are OK.  In this sweet story, given to me by someone who has lived with many fine dogs, a beloved pet takes it upon herself to deliver the news of her death:

Katie Scarlett

My partner and I found a German Shepherd/Blue Heeler puppy on Central Avenue. The puppy was trying to lick water from a puddle and tossing her head back with each lick. I ran to pick her up and saw that a very tight flea collar had grown into her neck. We rushed her to the vet and had it removed.

We named her Katie Scarlett because of her strong will to survive. Katie was severely dehydrated and malnourished. We thought she was about 3 months old, but the vet said she was closer to 6 months old and severely deprived of care.

Katie became the sweetest, most gentle dog we had ever known. She was so careful with our grandkids, cats and other dogs. She was fiercely protective of our home and our family.

When her fur finally grew back, Katie was a beautiful brindle girl. We affectionately called her our “Jamoca almond swirl girl.” She slept on the foot of our bed for 15 years. We took her to work with us, camping, hiking, and swimming in the lakes, ponds and rivers.

As Katie aged, her hips began to cause her discomfort. We found alternative treatments so she could live life to the fullest pain free.

At the end of her 15th year, mobility once again became an issue. My partner knew that Katie was beginning her transition to the other side. Katie had always loved to sleep late, but she began to rise early and stare out the windows at the sky. It appeared she was seeing things not available to us.

My partner needed to go away for a few weeks and she was fearful that Katie might pass while she was gone. She spent time with Katie letting her know how deeply she would always be loved and how cherished she would always be. She told Katie if she had to leave, it would be okay. She assured Katie that we would miss her terribly but we would be okay and we would all be together again someday.

A week after my partner left on her trip, Katie left her tired earthly body behind. I was devastated and did not want to ruin my partner’s trip by sharing the sad news. I saw no need to tell bad news in a hurry.

Katie handled that for me. Late that evening, my partner called in tears. She told me Katie had come to her room and laid on the foot of her bed. As she reached to touch her, Katie flew away.

We do not die. We will all be together again. This life is but one of many. Katie was one of the very best blessings I ever received. I will be so happy to be with her again.

— Judy Talley

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More Healing Mandalas from CJ, and Her New Book on the Wolves!

Mandala055I am beyond delighted to tell you that CJ Rogers’ first book, Raised By Wolves: A Pack Odyssey has been published and is now available.  It tells the story of her first four years of living with and learning from the wolves.  She has a great deal more still to say about the couple of decades between then and now, and further books are in the works.

http://www.amazon.com/Raised-Wolves-Odyssey-CJ-Rogers-ebook/dp/B01BUI0TTM/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1458078390&sr=1-1&keywords=cj+rogers+wolves

You may remember that CJ is known as the Jane Goodall of wolves.  She knows them more intimately than perhaps any other human on the planet.  If you have any interest in wolves themselves, the development of early human societies and our relationship with canines, or the natural world in general, you will find a lot to think about here.

When I introduced you to CJ’s fascinating artwork a while back, for some reason I was unable to access the website that houses many of her mandalas, and all I had to show you was a few poor-quality photos.  Here is a look at the huge bounty of designs she’s done, including some new ones:

http://www.cjmandalas.com/

CJ was describing to me how life-saving this process of drawing mandalas has been for her during times of the most extreme pain and illness.  She has highly recommended that I try it, but my little attempts have not resulted in anything much so far.  Maybe you’ll have more success yourself?

CJ doesn’t have web access in the area of rural New Mexico where she lives, but please feel free to contact her through the website, and the message will be passed on to her.

 

 

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Healing Mandalas by CJ Rogers

toward I-40 from CJ's

Dr CJ Rogers lives in far western New Mexico, with a pack of wolves whom she cares for and studies.  She is known as “The Jane Goodall of Wolves.”  To get to her research station, you go waytheheck out from I-40, along a road that looks like this picture.

You can find out a bit about CJ’s* work and see photos of the wolves at http://raisedbywolvesinc.com/index.html.

The reason CJ and the animals are waytheheck out there is that when they lived closer to so-called civilization, people shot at the animals, and some were killed.  Even though they were quite safely kept behind a high chain-link fence and could not possibly have harmed anyone.  Some people seem to have the idea that any and all wolves should die, no matter where they are or what they’re doing.

That was a long time ago, but the trauma still reverberates.  In more recent years, some of the wolves have naturally reached the end of their lives and passed on.  Each one was a beloved, important, and individually known and understood member of the community, and each was greatly mourned.  The wolves have their own ways of dealing with grief.  CJ, who worked as a Jungian psychotherapist before the wolves came to her, painted mandalas to work through her thoughts and feelings.

These mandalas were done through an intuitive process with the symbols arising spontaneously, not planned ahead.  They have been put up on the Web in the past, but somehow became lost there, so I am taking this opportunity to put them in front of more eyes.  I wish I had had the equipment available, while visiting out there, to take clearer photos.  I also wish you could see the real thing close up, because they include dimensional gel ink and have texture as well as color.

Often mandala-making is recommended as a means of spiritual and psychological development or working out problems, finding out what’s in one’s head.  I’ve taken a class or two that involved it, but I couldn’t do anything remotely like this.  Recently, CJ recommended that I try making a mandala again.  I demurred, but then a patient brought me some adult coloring pages, with of course a mandala on top.  OK.  I pulled out the colored pencil collection and got started.

I hope you will enjoy these images whether you are inspired to try your own or not.  Feel free to zoom to see the rich detail.

CJ mandala 1

CJ mandala 2 cropped

CJ mandala 3

CJ mandala 4 cropped

CJ mandala 5 cropped

CJ mandala 6 cropped

Please note: Raised By Wolves is always in need of donations, but the address given for donations on the website is no longer correct.  If you would like to donate, and I hope you will, please contact me at EleneDOM@aol.com for the address.


* I don’t mean any disrespect in referring to Dr. Rogers this way– it just doesn’t feel right to call her by her formal title in this context.

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Bonding with Complex Creatures

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parrot

“Two colorful parrots from Jurong Bird Park of Singapore.”
(Image of macaws from Riza Nugraha on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Our local PBS channel reran a 2013 Nature program, “Parrot Confidential.”  http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/parrot-confidential-parrot-confidential/8496/  It’s about the fascinating complexity of parrot brains and behavior, and makes the point that birds in the parrot family are wild animals that in many ways are unsuitable as pets. They have been extremely popular, though, and huge numbers of them are homeless refugees in the US, because people buy them and then find themselves unwilling or unable to keep them. A great many have been poached from the wild, and in an attempt to prevent that from happening, bird lovers have bred them domestically. Eventually this turned out to be compounding the problem, so breeders shut down their operations, and now everyone who wants a parrot is strongly encouraged to adopt one from a shelter. Habitat loss as well as poaching has threatened parrots in the wild, with the ironic result that their numbers in their native countries are decreasing even as shelters here are bursting at the seams.

But pet parrot overpopulation, while I want to spread the word about it, is not my main subject for today. I guess my subject is “bonding with complex creatures.” It seemed to me, when I watched the program, that the parrot experiences could teach us a great deal of what we humans need to understand about relationships.

One of the difficulties, and at the same time one of the joys, of living with a parrot is its deep attachment to its human companion. [Disclaimer: I do not live with a parrot and never have— I only know about this from observation.] The program explained why this is so. Parrots spend virtually all their time with their mate, and the human becomes a mate substitute and is also expected to give 100% attention. This is likely not what the human expected.

Among the parrots featured by the Nature team was a yellow-naped Amazon named Basil. He had done well with his human family for his first four years, bonding especially strongly with the husband, until he hit puberty. Then suddenly it was no longer okay that the husband was away a lot on business. The wife and kids became Basil’s targets, with the wife getting the brunt of his wrath. He would actually fly at her and attack her, and had to be locked in his cage to protect her and the children.

Parrot-Confidential-Basil1At one point during this period, the family wanted to take a vacation. They had friends who also had a male yellow-naped Amazon, and they asked to leave Basil at their house. Neither bird had ever had the opportunity to interact with another of his kind, and as soon as they met, they were best friends.

Two weeks went by, and Basil’s family returned. They put him in his cage and started out the door, and as they were leaving, the other bird, Coco, began to scream, with total clarity, “NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!” (And some people say that birds can’t use human language appropriately.) Well, no one could hear that heartrending sound and not be moved. They immediately brought Basil back, and it was decided that he would stay and be adopted by Coco’s family.

I was much moved by Coco’s pleas myself, and it seemed to me that what he was saying was something fundamental to all of us. More and more I think that relationships boil down to something very simple. Most creatures with some degree of awareness want to bond with others of their kind, or failing that, others of some kind.

If you put someone in a cage, they will not be at their best. One of the experts said that sometimes he is asked what the right size of cage for a macaw is, and he replies that it’s 35 square miles, their range in the wild. There is no right-sized cage, he said. For anyone, probably.

If you expect someone to act in a way that is contrary to their nature, your expectations will not be met. We were told that people ask for a bird that sings, that is quiet, and that doesn’t bite, and that there is no such species.

The main character in this presentation was Lou, a cockatoo who had been left alone to starve in his cage when his family’s house was foreclosed upon. The humans had just up and left him in the empty house. Fortunately, the neighbors noticed that something was amiss, and they had animal control come and look into the situation. The very traumatized and timid Lou was taken to a shelter filled with dozens of other cockatoos. He had to be quarantined for a month, and then he was placed into the aviary, still in his cage in order to protect him from possible aggression. When the staff finally decided it was safe to open his cage, he climbed to its roof, and a beautiful scene ensued. One of the females, Princess, sidled over to Lou in the most non-threatening and gentle way, with her back to him, as if to say, “Don’t mind me, not trying to bother you, just cleaning my wings over here.” Lou seemed to light up, and a moment later the two were preening each other’s neck feathers and clicking beaks as if they’d been together forever.

Humans make everything about relationships incredibly more complicated, with all sorts of arbitrary rules. I wonder if we could try just settling down with each other sometimes and sharing a nice piece of fruit or something.

 

We think of the natural world as a place of ruthless competition, but as Lynne McTaggart made clear in her book The Bond, cooperation is more prevalent and more beneficial. It can be shown rigorously, through game theory, that cooperation generally leads to the best outcomes for all. Many times, though, altruism seems to gain an animal nothing in particular except perhaps a pleasant feeling. McTaggart began the book* with an example of not a dog-eat-dog but a dog-help-dog story. It seems that her own dog was crazy about the dog next door, and although there was no advantage to be had for mating (both dogs being fixed), or anything at all other than friendship, he shared food and toys with her whenever he got the chance.

I know not every kind of animal enjoys company like this, but through the magical power of Facebook videos, I’ve marveled at the variety of animals who do. Even creatures as “unintelligent” as tortoises interact with other animals in fascinating and complex ways. Every species from bats to wombats seems to appreciate care and snuggling under the right circumstances. Humans are no different.

*http://thebond.net/ I went to find a link to the book for you, and found that there are other related materials available. Haven’t checked these out as yet.

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After working on this post during the afternoon, I attended a web meeting of a new organization that’s trying to form, based on Alex Loyd’s book Beyond Willpower. The central idea of the book is extremely simple: You can have love, or you can have fear. If you act out of love, things will generally go well, and if you act out of fear, they will tend to go badly. At the time that the book was published, earlier this year, I was encountering this idea over and over in various places. I don’t think there is a more important concept anywhere. It transforms everything. The group intends to help spread the transformation.

Aggression and other negative behaviors have fear at their core. There is fear of abandonment, for example, at the bottom of the violence Basil the parrot visited on his family when his preferred human was not at home. Humans have the choice to think more clearly about the reasons for their behavior and to change it for the better.

http://beyondwillpowertogether.com/

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