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For Those On The 'B' List, 2009 Was A Year To 'B' Careful



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For Those On The ‘B’ List, 2009 Was A Year To ‘B’ Careful

By Nancy K. Crevier

If you were a creature whose name began with a “B,” 2009 was a year to “B” careful.

B is for butterfly: Newtown resident Vicki Maresca became concerned, and rightly so, over the lack of butterflies.

She has made a concerted effort over the years to develop her property to attract wildlife, including planting plenty of coneflower, bee balm, black-eyed Susans, and butterfly bush that generally appeal to a wide variety of butterflies, but this summer she was not seeing any butterflies. The rainy weather in June appeared to be a key factor affecting the butterfly population, said David Wagner, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and co-director of the Center for Conservation and Biodiversity at the University of Connecticut. An early July butterfly count in Salisbury, said Dr Wagner, indicated numbers were down by about 50 percent.

He was not overly alarmed, however, and noted that only if low counts continued for the next few years in a row would it be of grave concern. The late season and low numbers might mean that butterfly observers had to be a bit more patient this summer, and accept that 2009 may just be a down year for the Lepidoptera order of insects.

B is for bats: It would not be unusual to see dozens of little brown bats flitting on high, their small bulky bodies kept buoyant by paper-thin wings, silhouetted against the darkening sky. But just when the rain and cool weather this summer colluded to produce prodigious numbers of mosquitoes and we most needed the bat’s ravenous appetite, the Northeast bat population sank due to a deadly fungus known as “white nose syndrome (WNS).” The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that between 400,000 and 500,000 bats in nine states have succumbed to WNS since it was first identified in 2006. Connecticut is among those states, along with neighboring states New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. Other states with confirmed cases of WNS, which appears to cause bats to lose weight and starve to death during hibernation, are New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

B is for bedbug: Ugh. According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), pest control companies nationwide are reporting a 71 percent increase in calls since 2001 to eradicate bed bugs. Increased domestic and international travel by an increasingly mobile society may be at the root of the reappearance of the blood-sucking pest. The transient bugs are easily carried from one location to another, and are very hardy. Bed bugs can survive for more than a year between feedings, and can withstand temperatures from nearly freezing to 100 degrees-plus Fahrenheit. Nor are bed bugs exclusively a bedding problem. Chair and sofa cushions, electrical outlets, baseboards, floor boards, and even the space behind picture frames provide hideaways for the tiny pest.

There has definitely been an increase in the incidences of bed bug infestations in the past five years, said Richard Monastero, owner of Amtech Pest Control in Danbury. “Five years ago, I think we had our first bed bug call. This year, I wouldn’t be surprised if we did 800 calls for bed bugs,” he said. Bed bug infestations are not so common in communities of single-family homes, said Mr Monastero, and he has not seen an upswing in calls to the Newtown/Sandy Hook area, though.

The nocturnal bed bug, a tiny reddish brown insect about the size and shape of a sesame seed, is a “hitchhiker,” Mr Monastero, said, traveling into New England homes via plane or train, or returning in suitcases from warmer climates. The miniscule bug remains out of sight during daylight hours, preferring the tight quarters of the edging on mattresses and bed springs as a hideout, or cracks and crevices near the bed. After dark, the bed bug gets to work feasting on human hosts sleeping in the infested bed. Because the bed bugs inject an anesthetic into the victim before biting, most people are unaware they have been bitten until they arise the next morning with mysterious red, itchy welts. Bed bugs, beware: the population is on to you and taking up arms.

B is for bee: “The long winter and long, wet spring were harder on the bees here than any colony collapse disorder [CCD] problem in Connecticut,” said beekeeper Dick Marron. With the cold, rainy weather, said Mr Marron, “The bees would just about get started and the nectar would get washed away. A rainy day is like a lost day to a bee.” Ted Jones of Jones Apiaries in Farmington has 350 colonies in yards all around the state. Mr Jones, the president of the Connecticut Beekeepers Association, said that beekeepers do unofficially track losses among registered yards, and so far as CCD was concerned, this past year was “not too bad. The [Connecticut Agricultural Experimentation Station in New Haven] as of two months ago, has not detected any CCD cases this year,” said Mr Jones.

What is a problem for Connecticut beekeepers is the verroa mite. “The mites are devastating the hives in the fall, so the hives go into the winter with no young bees,” he explained. “Then in the spring, keepers suffer a loss that they attribute to the winter weather or CCD, but it’s the mites,” he said.

Surely 2010 will “B” a better year. Or do we move on to the plight of the “C’s”?

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