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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

A Crane Game for Lobster;

Coyotes Well Satisfied

With Open-air Cat Buffet

 

If you’re boomer material, you surely recall those diabolical arcade “skill crane claw” machines, where you put hard-earned coins into that tall brightly lit machine, certain that you can manipulate a string-rigged grabber to descend down upon a sea of near-worthless goodies, grabbing who know how many, to then transfer to a small chute – and soon into your skilled hands. And you likely remember that solid gold solitaire diamond ring in there, also just begging to be grabbed?

Well, in a you-gotta-see-this version of the crane game, a large number of seafood restaurants down south – and more recently in New England -- now have lobster-grabber vending machine, sold under the name “The Lobster Zone.”

The machines are the spittin’ image of the crane games but patrons fork out bucks – not pennies – to go mechanically groping for live lobster at the bottom of an aquarium. I kid you not. Just Google the words “lobster crane game.” It’s truly insane – and overtly morbid.

Sure, I fully realize it’s already a big tad morose simply having loads of live lobster in a restaurant live tank, ready to be handpicked for boiling, but dropping doomed lobster into this fickled claw of fate game seems doubly wicked to lobster life. Hey, a mere quiver in the cosmos could have us humans running around in a tank with drunken Garthtomizins swinging treble hooks to nab us for deep-frying.

Now don’t go putting me in the same bathwater with PETA – who would surely find something cruel in what we do to poor helpless bars of soap. But to see these lobsters, already slowed by drugged water, climbing over each other to hide from the crane, that’s wicked cruel. And, of course, their claws are held shut by those famed lobster claw rubber bands.

What happened to that motherly mandate “Don’t play with your food!”?

The only up side is the way the lobsters seldom get nabbed by craners. For that accomplishment, they eventually get placed back into the big tank of dinner doom.

 

I got a tad freaked out driving Rte. 72 the other day. As I approached that DOT digital sign, I could see it was in the well-lit alert mode. I first worried it might be an Amber Alert, or maybe just a Silver Alert. But, as I got closer, it became spooky. Turned out it was a “Blond Alert!” I wasn’t 100 percent sure what that meant but it spiked my level of alertness on concept alone.

MEAT AND GREET TWIXT CATS AND COYOTES: It’s kinda mystical the way things arriving at my news office connect in the oddest of ways. Take, for instance, a recent local effort to trap/neuter/release feral cats and the arrival of a just-completed study entitled “Observations of Coyote-Cat Interactions,” published in the Journal of Wildlife Management.

That scientific study, done by Shannon Grubbs of the University of Arizona and Paul Krausman of the University of Montana, has instantly opened more than a few eyes to the unintended role cats play as, well, cat food, so to speak.  

Chronicling coyotes in Tucson, Arizona, the researchers directly observed 36 “coyote-cat interactions.” Astoundingly, in half of those often less-than-chance hookups, the coyotes invited the cats back to the den for dinner. In many of the other meet-ups, the cats most often opted out of the invite. “I’d love stop by but I really must run.”

While national coyote/cat interaction reports estimate cats are only about 13 percent of a coyote’s diet, the Grubbs-Krausman study -- one of the only such research efforts based on actual long-term firsthand observations – seemingly elevates the cat consumption rate to nearer 40 percent of a coyote’s dietary intake.

Back at the coyote den: “Oh, Albert, not cat again!”

“Hey, you go try ta run done one of them stinkin’ rabbits. Here, just smother the damn thing in some of this Cajun spice.”

While you might shrug off the Arizonian study as being far off, it is actually applicable to environments similar to the study area. And we are truly a similar environment: a highly populated suburban milieu with wild-and-woolly wilderness areas a mere cat’s stroll away. Interestingly, the study references a series of coyote sightings in Central Park (NYC) and Manhattan, confirming the astounding spread – and secrecy - of the wild species. 

After reading this study, I’m now taking to heart assorted claims that feral and night-loosed cats do, in fact, revert to wildlife – as prey. By the by, if you want to get all sciencey, pets as prey are called anthropogenic food sources, as in ““Lou, I’m heading up to bed. And make sure you let the anthropogenic food sources out before you turn off the lights.”

As for home-fattened Fifi, that microburst of freedom that accompanies being let out for a night of romping and bird ravaging could have a reality bite to it. Grubbs-Krausman concluded that “any cat outside is vulnerable to coyote attack,” and recommend that cat owners keep their cats indoors. I say perish the thought.

I’m a coyote person. I make that pretty clear in this column. But it runs a lot deeper than my ultra-amazement at any form of wildlife that can actually persevere and populate in the face of deadly human over-development. Coyotes just happen to be my guardian creature, commonly referred to by Native Americans as a spirit guide. My great grandmother, Elizabeth Dollar Hide, was of the coyote clan. So it runs in the family. (Go ahead and chuckle. I’ll bet coyotes don’t have your back.)

As part of the coyote clan, I allegedly share traits like intelligence, stealth, wisdom and folly, guile and innocence -- based purely on established totem symbolism. Totem or not, it doesn’t hurt to list all that on a résumé.

“That’s quite some résumé, Mr. Mann, but I’m not sure you’d fit in so well here at the Cat Junction Pet Shop.”

And later breaking the news to the coyotes. “Sorry, guys. I tried though.”

One coyote thing I really can’t share is the cat-eating thing, being a vegetarian and all. However, I do make a yearly effort to symbolically stay true to the clan cause.  At Thanksgiving, I faithfully prepare a 25-pound soy cat, with black olive eyes and chive whiskers. Fellow clan members just kinda go with the symbolism flow.

“OK, so who wants a leg? Hey, no need to fight over it. I got four of ‘em – and I can always shape the tail into one if need be.”

Leftover cat for weeks to come.

A SMOKIN’ PAIN INDEX: I was chatting about poison with an office cohort. Toxins are one of those typically cheery topics reporters bandy about, especially when reflecting on some of the crackpots who call in. The toxin du jour centered on stingers and biters of an insect ilk.

 

The subject led me to as odd a rating system as you’ll ever find. It’s something called the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. Developed by Tuscan entomologist Justin O. Schmidt, it is an allegedly scientific pain scale rating of bee, wasp and insect stings/bites.

 

I was utterly intrigued that someone would create a graduated pain scale that fractionally goes from 1 through 4, based purely on how much it hurts. Quite cool, considering the only way to duly devise such a scale was to actually go out and get stung. Now you’re talking. It’s always fun to watch other people getting stung by stuff.

 

However, my very first glance at the Schmidt Sting Pain Index quickly got me rethinking the scale – not to mention rethinking Schmidt himself.

 

To start his scale, Schmidt rated the painfulness of the tiny sweat bee, a very common NJ species, at a lowly 1.0.

I fully agreed with that rating. I’ve often felt the minor wrath of these comely green metallic-toned little bees, half the size of a black fly. They’re always getting caught up in my insect nets, as I chase the likes of tigerbeetles. Their stings are so lightweight, I just shrug ‘em off.

 

However, Schmidt’s interpretive read on sweat bees is also shruggable – as in WTF!? He expresses the sweat bee sting as “Light, ephemeral, almost fruity, like a tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.” What’s he doing, fermenting and drinking the bees after they sting him?

And he doesn’t stop there. Regarding fire ants – and we also have tons of those hereabouts – he offers an understandable 1.2 pain rating but again goes off by saying the fire ant sting is “Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch.”

I’m then wondering if old Schmidty is secretly smoking these ants. First of all, who has shag carpets any more and, most of all, who has fire ants crawling on their light switches? I’m guessing most people getting attacked by fire ants don’t instantly think “Geez, that feels like static electricity from the 1960s.” 

The 1.8-pained acacia ant strikes Schmidt as “A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain; someone has fired a staple into your cheek.”

In my now long and oft odd life, I’ve never once heard of anyone stapling their cheek -- much less offering the experience as if it’s some common dominator of pain that we all share. 

(I swear I’m not making this up! Google the Schmidt Sting Pain Index to see.)

Exploring another type stinger we’ve all run into, the good old short-fused yellowjacket (wasp), Schmidt goes with “Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.”

No, Schmidtster, I outright refuse to imagine anyone putting a cigar out on my tongue. As for “smoky,” I think that confirms one of my earlier suspicions.

Let me offer just one more sting off Schmidt’s list, the hyper-common paper wasp. It rates a no-nonsense 3.0. Then it flies off the sensibility charts when it is portrayed as “Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.”

Aftertaste?! I have to think this is one lonely man. In fact, I’ve lost interest in the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, per se, and have contacted The Discovery Channel to propose a reality show on the daily life of Justin O. Schmidt. I offered to spring for the hydrochloric acid.

All that said, I’m compelled to write my own list of coastal stingers/biters, coming soon.

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