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Weekly blog: Cougars Sniffing Around Stafford;

Cougars Sniffing Around Stafford; Resurrecting Chinese Cricket Fighting

By JAY MANN | Oct 04, 2012

Not only is fall in the air but so, apparently, are bounding cougars.

Yes, I’m talking your average, people-eating, big-ass cat type cougars – though that is a damn nice 1967 Mercury Cougar you’ve spent your last dime restoring. And, by the way, your wife is leaving you.

As we speak, there is a growing concern over actual cougars a-prance over in the Atlantic Hills section of Stafford Township, a senior community, ripe with finely aged meat.

Would that I was being wise-assed here. I ain’t.

Duly informed sources say that multiple sightings of not just one but possibly numerous cougars have some Manahawkin-ites edgy about doing block walkabouts or spending too much time in cougar-prone backyards.

A segment of one e-mail: The mom of a woman I work with lives in Atlantic Hills, and it seems there have been many sightings, and has caused residents there to alter their day by being home before dark and whatnot. … Dane S.

First, let’s all take a deep breath – and calm the hell down. Now, in a controlled manner, let’s laugh our asses off.

There, now that we’re done that, let’s break into small units and follow the blood trail where old man Jones was last seen, before seemingly being dragged from his daily walk and into the jungle.

“Whoa! Stop! You hear that in the distance? I swear that sounds just like Meryl Streep screaming, “The cougar ate my daddy!”

Obviously, I’m both the worst and best person to e-mail with cougar updates.

More toward my “best” persona, I have very frequently written in here about the cougar(s) of Manahawkin.

Fair dinkim, I once spotted a huge, cougar-ish cat bolting across Hilliard Boulevard, clearing the road in only 2.67 bounds. (I kinda tried to be scientific about my sighting.)

I’m far from the only noted cougar sighter. Of a far more respectable ilk, Stafford Mayor John Spodafora also spotted a bounding creature that his hunter’s eye immediately pegged as a cougar. His bountiful, bounding feline was seen within roaring distance of where I saw mine.

Can it possibly be they really exist? Break for a commercial.

Seriously, let’s get down to brass claws – before I run out and haul a bevy of old folks into the woods on, ostensibly, a “Two-hour Pinelands Tour.” Hey, nobody’s gonna answer an ad, “Wanted: Cougar Bait.”

In a backgroundish way, I was told by way-old-timers that even way-er back, a fellow up Forked River way used to secretly own a slew of big cats. While that might lend an anecdotal hair of integrity to why big cats might be in our ‘hood, it also implies there have been following generations of reproducing pumas (another word for cougar) roaming hereabouts.

I’d be far more inclined to turn a suspicious eye toward Great Adventure or Popcorn Park Zoo. They swear “No way, Jay! And you’re not welcome here any more!”

While I’ve treaded and tracked across nearly every inch of Ocean County terrain where wild things and feral hallucinations might roam, I somehow never trekked in the very zone where these spottings are occurring, namely the north side of Route 72, from west Ocean Acres out to the woods around the Long Beach Carefree RV Resort, and westward a ways.

While I’m not big on cats, big-ass cats offer a certain exotic feel, especially when I clearly envision myself clad in khaki, armed with a couple fully loaded cans of Cat BeGone, swaying along sugar-sand Pinelands roads while sitting in an umbrella-ed howdah atop an elephant, a dozen or so dark-skinned, brightly clothed Atlantic Hills residents carrying my gear down below.

Oh, damn, there comes that other side of me.

More to come on this odd tale.

IT’S CRICKET CROONING TIME AGAIN: In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re approaching the height of cricket singing season. The leg-fiddling bugs are in exceptionally fine, uh, voice this year.

Many folks think of crickets as summer-long serenaders. Not so. Most of the insectified racket you hear on long summer nights comes via cicadas, night birds and even frogs.

The famed cricket serenades begin in late August and carry on into November. It’s, in fact, a very autumnal sound.

The leg-rubbing music of crickets is technically called tridualtion, or the act of making sounds by rubbing body parts together. Noisily grinding your teeth together while standing in a slow-moving line is technically a form of tridualtion, at least for me.

Although crickets are among those bugs exterminators promise to eliminate from your home, they’re officially listed as the most beloved “pet” insect on the planet, easily surpassing the next most popular bugs, namely tarantulas, scorpions and centipedes. Hmmm.

As you likely know, crickets have long been huge in Asia, dating back a thousand years – that’s almost 100,000 years in bug time.

How popular were these crooning insects in the then-Far East?

They were royally certified as the “Number One pet” in the Imperial Forbidden City, Beijing. Gospel truth. Court engineers designed incredible little edifices to comfortably house royal crickets. When the crickets died, the buildings were used to house very small poor people – until new crickets were captured during the next cricket season. There, as here, that season was fall.

Of course, being the top pet in the Forbidden City was something of a default thing, considering the Chinese were dining, buffet-style, on their dogs and cats. Historians believe that crickets were pretty much the first things, along pet-able lines, that weren’t already on the menu.

Once the Chinese aristocracy became enamored with captive crickets, the bugs quickly became hugely popular with common people – who at first admired the crickets’ singing for its calming and transcendental appeal, until someone named Lu Fat realized they weren’t half bad stir fried. The poor in China eventually settled on aphids as pets.

Although crickets were first hyped as representing good luck and inner peace in China, they also made damn good blood sport. Cricket fighting began during the Qing Dynasty. (Historians to this day are baffled over where the hell the “u” in Qing went).

Qingons literally bred the biggest and baddest crickets for fighting. This was fine with most folks since those crickets were lousy singers anyway.

Betting on cricket fights during the Qing dynasty – and extending into the 1900s – went ballistic. Of course, getting a seat up front near the tiny ring was half the battle. Many great kung-fu movies are based on fights for better seats at cricket fights.

OK, so maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but cricket fighting was a top national pastime.

Sorrowfully, losing crickets were secretly dragged into a back alley and destroyed.

At one point, cricket fighting was so nobelized in China that common folks would be hung if found clandestinely fighting the insects. They still did it. And you can guess where the losers ended up, i.e. sweet and sour loser chow mein with water chestnuts.

Anyway, the big brown/black, fairly friendly, impressively noisy crickets we have are, in fact, made in China – though they’ve been here long enough to be considered semi-locals.

As for be-petting crickets, it’s as easy as going out into the woods, turning over a board and gently grabbing one to shove into a jar or some other damn thing.

Warning: It’s not good to befriend a cricket you’ve wounded in the grabbing process. I should know. Since the bug only lives a couple months, you might spend just about the bug’s entire “pet” life nursing it back to health. Worse, the vet bills can be insanely high.

“I’m afraid that initial surgery we performed last week on Jiminy’s thorax isn’t working all that well, Mr. Mann. We’re going to have to do some follow-up work. Fortunately, it’ll only run a few gran; much less than the first operation.”

“Well, I guess ya gotta do what ya gotta do, Doc. It would mean the world to me to hear Jiminy sing.”

“A few more follow-up operations and he’ll be singing like Jiminy Buffett.”

“Doc, this is nothin’ to joke about.”


Check out http://www.cricketpets.com/.

WELCOME TO THE PRE-POST-SEASON: The Island is on the blink. Traffic signals are now flashing in a shade known as off-season yellow.

We’ve moved into what might be called Phase One of off-season quietude.

The high-energy wackiness of the young guns – kids to collegians – has drifted off to shine in classroom climes. Families are finally familying back home. Workers are anchored to their oft-distant jobs, many needing to pay back “sick days” they finagled to fluke fish during the summer.

However, not far from everyone is gone with the west winds.

Surfers remain at the ready for autumnal swells; back-home summerites eagerly await their warrior weekends; great flocks of snowbirds still hang here for the holidays.

More importantly, surf anglers are poised to swarm the suds line for the eight-week Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic. It starts this Saturday.

Speaking of the imminent Classic, time is running out to be an early entrant. Get crackin’.

Even if you wait until the last possible instant to climb aboard this year’s surf fishing tourney, you’ll still be just as qualified to cash in on the event’s fame and fortune.

CLASSIC PROGNOSTICATION: My fishing forecast for this year’s Classic remains unchanged. It’s bound to start slow, even very slow. Rogue entry-level fish will offer a weigh-in here, a weigh-in there.

The big fish, mainly bass, aren’t far off. They’re just not right here, right now. And that’s not the worst thing for the event’s start. It levels the fishing field. Each and every entrant can be the one to land a singular, weigh-worthy bass – and then watch it rack up some serious winnings. It actually gets tougher to make a leaderboard splash when the fishing becomes fast and furious.

The bigger push of linesiders – and possibly the event’s largest stripers – will be later in October.

Bluefish are a whole other arrival matter. The annual influx of fall choppers has become an unpredictable waiting game. In fact, the autumnal slammer appearance might very well be one of those micro-indicators of a rapidly warming ocean.

Back in the day, bluefish would be hitting the tourney scales from “Day One” onward. Of course, water temps would be in the upper 50s.

Nowadays, we might not see a serious flow of slammers until the last segment of the contest.

ADVANCED BASS COAXING: While I’d love to think all arriving bass will be jonseing to pounce on one of my beloved plugs, I can just about guarantee they’ll all be bait-seeking, bait-caught fish.

When baiting for bass, some serious fishing strategy can step up to bat. Along with always using the freshest possible bunker chunks, some of the largest bass go for the entire head of a fresh bunker.

Chunking outside the box, kingfish heads are known to be fabulous bait for big fish, mainly drum to our south.

Then there’s swimming outside the bait box. I’m bringing this up as a way to (hopefully) motivate even Classic newbies to get creative – and highly competitive.

For weeks to come, there will be a smorgasbord of baitfish in our waters, all just begging to be live-lined.

Net or buy a spot (croaker) to throw into the suds. You’ll be offering a bass arguably its favorite foodstuff.

Along the same lines: Snag (foul-hook) a live bunker, and then rehook it to “swim.” It’s an open invite to the biggest and baddest bass on the block.

Fishing tiny plastic grub jigs to nab an ocean herring offers a chance to then liveline a prime target of bigger stripers.

By the by, livelining uses some of the simplest rigs imaginable, but, you gotta have just the right hooks and leaders. Ask at our shops for “livelining” hooks, which are short-shanked and kinda thick.

I fully believe in circle hooks when live-lining, though many/most of the best anglers prefer extra-strength bait hooks – so they can drive the hook home with enough force to pull the fish’s head clean off its body.

CALENDAR ALERT: This Saturday is the Classic’s free “Super Surf Casting Seminar.” It takes place in Ship Bottom between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. This year, Century Rods Pro Team will be among the instructors. Meet at 9 a.m. at the Chamber of Commerce on 9th Street, incoming Causeway.

For more info, go to http://lbift.com/LBISeminar.htm, or Google “LBI Classic Seminar.”

A wicked miracidium ...

ITCHING INTO MADNESS: Whenever I even talk about clamming the mudflats of Holgate, I instantly get ghost itches, essentially fingernail flashbacks.

Among the worst nights of my life were those spent scarifyingly scratching at the weeping bites from unmerciful, mud-based parasites common to our bayside mudflats. I’ve self-scratched myself so badly that the lower parts of my legs were rendered human hamburger meat. I carry lifelong scars from those “bites,” as do most folks who have been attacked.

The malady has coyly been called “swimmer’s itch,” though such a name belies the complex environment needed to nurture the underlying creatures.

Science blanket terms the “itch” as cercarial dermatitis. The raised, red pinpoint rash is quite similar to the look and feel of harvest mites (chiggers), though times ten on that “feel” part.

As studies continue on the rash, it appears it’s a worldwide bitch of an itch. In some places it’s called “rice paddy itch,” and, gospel truth, “clamdiggers’ itch.”

I’m told that in Jersey it has been dubbed “duckworms” – though I’ll be danged if I’ve ever once heard someone say, “Be careful of them-there duckworms.”

However, the “duck” angle actually plays well with emerging science.

The specific creature causing the chaos of clamdiggers’ itch is the trematode parasite. These reach humans via aquatic, migrating birds, i.e. ducks and stuff.

The life cycle of near microscopic trematodes is complex. They don’t just jump off wading birds and tear into our legs. They arrive as eggs within the waste from birds. The eggs hit the ground, in this case muck, and quickly hatch into something known as a miracidium.

The miracidium aren’t yet a threat to our skin. They have gooier haunts on their mind. They seek a singular type of host, namely snails. They came to the right frickin’ place. We have tons of small, black marine snails, known as periwinkles – though you don’t call them that to their faces. Our periwinkled bay banks must be heaven to duckworm miracidium.

Having no problems finding snails, miracidia climb into their skin and undergo some bodily changes. They emerge as a motile cercaria larvae – with a big red “I,” for Itch, on their chests.

Once a-mud, the motile larvae seek that big host in the sky: a shore bird. However, these larvae aren’t the brightest Crayolas in the box. They can’t tell a human from a heron if they tried. They’ll burrow into our human skin as if we had “duck” painted all over us.

Although they quickly wish they hadn’t wiggled their way inside a human – dying of either shame or caffeine poisoning – the damage is done, from our skin’s point of view. Our body’s immunity system has utter conniption fits trying to reject the ugly invader.Out, out, damned duckworm!

Whereas chiggers simply eat the surface skin of humans, duckworms have climbed inside to rot. The itch factor is a 50 on a 10 scale.

Fully acceptable items to attack duckworm itches include glass shards from broken Coca-Cola bottles; Dremel tools armed with diamond-tipped augers moving at 10,000 rpm; wire brushes dipped in hydrochloric acid; and, a personal favorite when numerous duckworms have burrowed in, a screaming belt sander with 70-grit paper.

While cercarial dermatitis is primarily a summer condition in many parts of the world, we’re just hitting our miracidia stride, as migrating birds touch down.

The only prevention is prophylaxis. Quit you giggling. You won’t be so giddy after you’re put upon by voracious hordes of miracidia.

Always wear boots and clothing whenever in the personal presence of bay mud. One prophylactic slip up and you’re screwed.

I recently got a glancing blow – likely one lone duckworm – to a single finger. It already looks like leprosy. That’s why I can write this with such firsthand conviction.

See photos and more on my duckworm blog at www.jaymanntoday.ning.com.


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