Mysterious ‘slime’ on Maine seashores seems to be useless bugs, officers say

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State officials now have an answer, and it’s not pretty: dead insects.

Jim Britt, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said a Maine Forest Service entomologist was examining a sample to determine the species of insect.

Britt said from what they know so far it is most likely a “harmless kelp fly that feeds on decaying algae” and the black substance that stains people’s feet is “the pigment that is naturally produced by the what they eat occurs ”.

Britt said the phenomenon first became aware of the phenomenon over the weekend and there are no suspected health issues related to the insects’ contact with people’s skin.

Linda Stathoplos and John Lillibridge are retired NOAA oceanographers who are married and live in Wells. They collected a sample of the black stuff and helped solve the puzzle.

“We got wind of it on Monday,” he said. “We went for a walk and saw all this crap on the beach. Each wave would bring in more of this dirt. “

Lillibridge described the substance as “silt” or “slime”. It was dark brown in color and “looked almost like tiny pieces of algae or algae,” he said. “If you went through it, your feet would turn black.”

Lillibridge said his wife, Linda, took part of it under a microscope and learned the answer while looking at the bodies of tiny winged insects.

“That was not at all what we expected,” he said. “We were surprised that it was bugs and not tar or algae or anything else.”

“There must have been millions … millions of dead bugs. All those little beetle carcasses, ”Lillibridge said. “You can’t tell they’re bugs until they’re under a microscope.”

Retired oceanographer Linda Stathoplos collected a sample of the black material and viewed it under a microscope. It turned out to be dead insects. The tip of the sewing needle in this photo shows how small it was. Linda Stathoplos

Lillibridge said the black pigment posed no threat to humans and the stains were not permanent. “Like henna paint, it wears off at some point. It’s just a natural dye. Like getting berry stains on your fingers, ”he said.

Lillibridge and Stathoplos brought home samples that can be used for further study. “We threw the slime in the fridge,” he said.

On Wednesday, Lillibridge said the dead insects had already been washed away from Wells Beach.

“Now they’re gone,” he said.

Once the state confirms what type of insect it is, local officials will share their findings with beach goers.

The Parks and Recreation Department of the City of York posted a message at the top of the department’s website to let people know that officials were working to get answers.

“The Parks and Recreation Department is working with our Healthy Maine Beaches Coordinator from the Department of Environmental Protection to find out what is causing the black spots on beachgoers’ feet,” the message read. “We get the latest information and pass it on to you as soon as we have it.”

Britt said the insects could be identified as early as Wednesday afternoon. He also praised Lillibridge and Stathoplos for their work.

“Bravo to John and Linda for digging in and helping solve this mystery,” said Britt.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.