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Vermont Public’s weekly dose of all things environment.

Out There: Why Lamprey Deserve More Love 💓

This is the web version of our email newsletter, Out There! Sign up to get our weekly dose of all things environment — from creatures you might encounter on your next stroll, to a critical look at the state's energy transition, plus local outdoor events.

It’s Thursday, June 29. Here’s what’s on deck:

  • Why smoky skies will return
  • Strawberry festival season
  • How to build a rain barrel

Enter your email to sign up for Out There
Vermont Public's biweekly dose of all things environment.


“They belong here, just like other critters belong here”

 A sea lamprey shows off its sharp teeth on a pink background with hearts surrounding its head.
Photo by Joanna Gilkeson/ USFWS, graphic by Sophie Stephens
Vermont Public
Sea lamprey use their mouth and sharp teeth to suck prey's blood.

Sea lamprey are scary, no question. They attach their sharp teeth to other fish and suck their prey’s blood with a mouth that looks straight out of a horror film – a suction-cup hole lined with rows of fangs that spits out a chemical to stop blood from clotting.

Scientists have waged a decades-long fight to control sea lamprey in Lake Champlain, (though some genetic studies show they’re likely native to the region). But in the Connecticut River Valley, it's a different story. There, biologists are trying to give sea lamprey a hand. Here’s why:

  • 🦕 Sea lamprey are native to the Connecticut River, where they’ve traveled to and from the ocean for thousands of years. Their ancestors go back way further – the fish have been around for nearly 400 million years, far outlasting the dinosaurs, not to mention four mass-extinction events.
  • 🏞 The fish spawn in tributaries along the Connecticut River. To build a nest, they carry pebbles and rocks in their mouths – some as large as a golf ball – and drag them across the river bottom to form a circle, where females lay their eggs. This process helps clean the river.
  • 🐦 Once sea lamprey lay and fertilize their eggs, they die. Their bodies are rich in nutrients from the ocean, and provide food for birds and other animals. The babies can spend years in the river before swimming down to the Atlantic to fatten up at sea. They’ll return to the same place they were born to mate.
  • ⛔ Dams block sea lamprey from reaching habitat where they can lay their eggs. Biologists are working to remove old dams and design fish ladders that lamprey can better navigate.
  • 🔎 You can volunteer to help look for sea lamprey constructing their nests this summer. And don’t worry: Once they reach freshwater, these lamprey stop eating. They’re only out for blood when they’re out at sea.

In other news...

😷 Expect more smoke: As long as Quebec wildfires burn, Vermont is likely to see air quality impacts when winds blow from the north. The smoke has been so potent here because the fires are so close, and so intense. Wildfire season in Canada is just beginning and the fires aren’t expected to abate anytime soon: Experts say they could burn until the snow flies.

🏊 Before you swim: Across northern Vermont, there have been several cyanobacteria blooms reported in recent days, from Charlotte to Derby and Burlington, where beaches were briefly closed over the weekend. Besides looking gross, the blooms can produce toxins that can sicken people and pets.

💸 Under a new law, money can grow on trees: If you own a large tract of forested land, you might now qualify for a tax break for letting your trees grow old. That’s for landowners with at least 25 acres of working forest or farmland who are eligible for the state’s Current Use program. To qualify, the land can’t be suitable for logging or farming, or has to be ecologically sensitive or rare.

🍾 Get paid to recycle? 5 cents for every water bottle, soda bottle or energy drink, 15 cents for every wine bottle. That's the proposal under a new bill that passed the Statehouse to expand the state's deposit program. But the governor could still veto the legislation. He’ll give it a yay or nay this week.

In your backyard

 A graphic showing an American eel swimming.
Reed Nye
Vermont Public
Sometimes confused with sea lamprey, American eels don’t do any blood sucking, but they do travel between saltwater and freshwater. They’re born out at sea and journey thousands of miles to reach rivers and lakes across the U.S. where they live for decades. Eventually, they'll head back to the ocean to spawn. Exactly where, is still a mystery.

Get out there

🔍 Look for lamprey: If you ever wanted to spend a morning wading through a streamwith a fisheries biologist to hunt for sea lamprey, this is your chance. The Connecticut River Conservancy is leading volunteer groups throughout the next few weeks – today in Bellows Falls, and in July at a number of southern NH towns.

🍓 Peak strawberry season: There’s the strawberry festival Friday in Burke, complete with strawberry shortcake and dancing. If one isn’t enough for you, Wellford Orchards in Springfield is hosting another strawberry fest on Sunday. Or head to a farm to pick your own. There are you-pick berries at Sam Mazza’s Farm Market in Colchester, Cabot Smith Farm in Cabot, Crossroad Farm in Thetford, and many, many more.

🐝 ID that bee: Not only will the folks from the Vermont Center for Ecostudies teach you how to identify bees at this workshop next week in Rupert, in Bennington County, they’ll also go over how to capture, handle, and photograph bees and other insects.

🧑‍🌾 Get growing: There’s a series of free gardening workshops in Woodstock about the how and why behind no-till gardening and ways to turn your garden into habitat for wildlife. Tonight and the next several Thursdays.

☀️ Your turn: What do you like to do to get outside during Vermont summers? Tell us about your favorite spot or summer pastime, and we’ll feature it in this newsletter next month.

Before you go: how to build a rain barrel

Thousands of gallons of water can pour off rooftops and downspouts during a heavy summer storm. You can capture and reuse that water pretty easily.

  • Upcycle a food-grade plastic barrel (maybe from friends who work in restaurants?) or find a rain barrel kit at your local garden or farm store.
  • Set it on a bed of rocks, gravel, or a brick or two, then make a hole towards the bottom to insert a spigot.
  • After your barrel is full, attach a garden hose to the spigot (or fill up a bucket or watering can), then use the water you catch for watering gardens, house plants, filling bird baths, washing your car, etc. You could probably wash your dishes with it, too!

Thanks to Rosie who wrote into All Things Gardening with the idea.

Enter your email to sign up for Out There
Vermont Public's biweekly dose of all things environment.


Thanks for reading! If you have ideas for events we should feature, critters, fungi or plants you want to learn more about, or other feedback, we'd love to hear from you! Just email us.

Credits: This week’s Out There was put together by Lexi Krupp, Sophie Stephens, Mary Engisch, Abagael Giles and edited by April McCullum, with lots of help from the Vermont Public team including graphics by Laura Nakasaka.

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