The Portland Phoenix

Into the Wild: Saying something nice about Maine’s most-hated animals

We live in polarized times. I read a stat online that said Americans are more divided than ever, and I believe it even if I don’t remember where it was or if I’m just making it up in my head. Things feel bad.

But I don’t want them to be. Things shouldn’t be. Life expectancy is higher than ever (78.9 years in 2020, up from 39.4 years in 1860). National crime rates are about half of what they were in 1990. The Bald Eagle is off the Endangered Species List. It’s possible to see bright sides if you look hard enough.

Maybe that’s naive and ignorant, but at least it’s different from what everyone else seems to be doing. I want to challenge myself to think positively. Even about animals.

For as much as we love wildlife, some creatures are just straight-up hated. It doesn’t always make sense. Butterflies are beloved but moths are icky. Cans of tuna on the supermarket shelves proudly proclaim to be dolphin-safe – which isn’t much consolation for the tuna. It’s only natural to hate some animals, but that doesn’t necessarily make it right. So, I’m going to challenge myself now to say something nice about some of Maine’s most-hated creatures.

• Browntail moths. Alright. Starting with a hard one. I have these little punks all over my yard in Cumberland and I despise them. I peer after them on the underside of reachable leaves and flick them with a stick into a bucket of soapy water to drown. They’re nasty as caterpillars and ugly as adults – their colored rear end doesn’t look to me like a brown tail so much as soiled underpants. I can’t think of anything nice to say, sorry.

• Ticks. OK, rough start, but let’s try again. Something nice about ticks. Ugh. They’re food, I guess, for opossums and turkeys and some other things? Is that a nice thing to say? I dunno, man, this is hard. Ticks are the worst. One time this spring I was driving home after a walk in the woods and a tick crawled across my face. I almost drove into a telephone pole and part of me thinks I should have so I wouldn’t have to think about the tick on my face anymore. Next.

A leech does its thing. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

• Leeches. Good lord. I’ve never had a leech on me but I can imagine it. Ugh – grabbing onto its squirmy little body and yanking it out? Awful. I just Googled “good things about leeches” and the answer came up as “Leeches are effective at increasing blood circulation and breaking up blood clots.” Cool, thanks for the advice, doctor. Where was your residency, anyway, a field tent at Antietam? Could you maybe balance my humors when you’re done amputating that guy’s arm? Thanks. I have nothing good to say about leeches.

• Mosquitoes. What’s good about them? What? They’re terrible looking – all spindly and weird – they’re annoying, they make me itch, and they kill hundreds of thousands of people a year. Not good. I don’t care that they (quickly Googles “good things about mosquitoes”) pollinate. We can get other creatures to pollinate. Nope, nothing good about mosquitoes.

• Black flies. Like mosquitoes but worse.

Sorry, that didn’t work at all. I failed. I love nature and the Earth and wildlife and everything, but I can’t do it all. Maybe, of all the disagreements and anger and division in this broken world, these crappy animals are something we can all agree on.

Nick Lund of Cumberland is outreach and network manager at Maine Audubon. He has written about nature for the National Audubon Society, Down East, National Parks Magazine, The Washington Post, and others. He can be found online at and on Twitter @TheBirdist.

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