Rare Species Sighting: American Marten

In late February this year, a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera deployed in Vilas County captured an American marten (Martes americana). This is the first time an American marten has been captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera! The below American marten was identified by the trail camera host, Ashley, and the identification was then confirmed by several species experts in the Wisconsin DNR. While American marten can vary in color, they are best identified by their pale buff to orange throats, dark legs and tails, vertical black lines running above the inner corners of their eyes, and bushy tails that account for one-third of their total length.

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American marten captured on a Vilas County Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera.

Extirpated from Wisconsin in the 1940’s, these small members of the weasel family were later reintroduced to the state and placed on the Wisconsin Endangered Species List in 1972 due to loss of suitable habitat. Marten are restricted to the northern portion of the state where they reside in dense, mature forests with preference for areas that are a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees.

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Counties shaded in blue have documented occurrences for American marten in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where occurrences of American marten meet NHI data standards and is not meant as a comprehensive map of all observations. Source: WNDR.

Did you know that marten are excellent climbers? They use this skill not only to hunt down prey, but also to avoid potential danger. These solitary animals are very territorial, with territories spanning an average of two square miles for males and one square mile for females. Although the breeding season lasts from July to August, fertilized eggs do not fasten to the uterine wall until January or February. Females birth two to four kits in March or April, and raise their young in tree dens without any male assistance.

There is still much to be learned about American marten, as their nocturnal lifestyle and often shy demeanor make them a difficult species to study. Follow this link for more information about American marten in Wisconsin, and stay tuned to discover what rare species will be captured next on Snapshot Wisconsin trail cameras!

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Snapshot Saturday: May 18th, 2019

Test your Wisconsin wildlife identification skills with this below trail camera image. These small, rare members of the weasel family were once extirpated from the state and later reintroduced in Wisconsin northwoods. Staff members were pleasantly surprised when the first individual of this species made their debut on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera in Vilas County this year!

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Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/.

An Iowan Learns About Porcupines

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Before joining Snapshot Wisconsin in 2016, I knew very little about porcupines. I grew up in Iowa where porcupines were extirpated in the 1800’s. What I knew consisted of what I learned from my grandparents as a youngster on summer fishing trips to northern Minnesota. Essentially, porcupines have sharp quills and you don’t want your dog to tangle with them. I never saw a porcupine on any of these trips but was always on alert to make sure my dog, a Miniature Schnauzer named George, never wandered too far.

My first task upon joining Snapshot Wisconsin was classifying photos from Black River Falls, where trail cameras are in place to monitor the reintroduced elk population. As I was flipping through photos, I kept seeing these critters that I couldn’t identify. They were small, rounded and dark colored, always facing away from the camera, and only appearing at night. I wasn’t sure what these could be, and we had yet to create resources to help with this task, such as the Snapshot Wisconsin Field Guide*. Sometimes I classified them as raccoons and sometimes as beaver (in my defense, our early cameras didn’t take very clear photos!)  Eventually, my porcupine identification skills improved and thankfully so did the photo quality of our cameras. Porkies have since become one of my favorite species captured on our cameras. Read below to learn more about these quill-y, charismatic critters!

There is only one species of porcupine in Wisconsin, the North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum). Worldwide there are 23 different species of porcupines. Our porcupine is the second largest rodent in North America, only beavers are larger. Their size ranges from 7-30 pounds and 20-26 inches. They typically give birth to one young per year. Young are called porcupettes.

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Porcupines are herbivores, consuming tree bark, branches, buds, evergreen needles, garden produce, and even tool handles.. A common misconception is that porcupines can shoot their quills when threatened. The quills are actually loosely attached  and embed themselves in the unfortunate victim when they come in direct contact with the porcupine.

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Porcupines occur in the Northern and Central Forest regions of Wisconsin. To date, we have had  4,175 reports of porcupine from trail camera hosts. These have not yet been verified and presumably include a few raccoons and beavers due to my early classification mistakes and similar errors by other staff and volunteers. A handful of porcupine classifications from southern Wisconsin (Grant, Iowa and Waukesha counties) revealed the true species to be woodchuck, raccoon, unknown bird and squirrel. Species distribution maps are quite useful for classifying our photos and Snapshot Wisconsin data will be instrumental in updating these in future.

Find out more about porcupines at the links below!

Sources:

*Snapshot Wisconsin Classification Field Guide (located on the right hand side of your screen while classifying photos on Zooniverse)

Snapshot Saturday: May 11th, 2019

Can you guess what tree-climbing species is featured in this Snapshot Saturday? We will give you a hint, their “crimson cousins” don’t share this skill!

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Did you know you can view and classify photos collected from Snapshot Wisconsin cameras across the state at www.SnapshotWisconsin.org? It’s a fun activity for the whole family!

May Volunteer of the Month

May’s Volunteer of the Month is
Chris from Portage County!

Volunteer of the MonthMay’s Volunteer of the Month goes to Chris from Portage County! Chris is a Professor of Biology at UW-Stevens Point. Chris was first introduced to citizen science around 10 years ago through the Wisconsin Bat Program. In collaboration with the Urban Ecology Center and Milwaukee area high school teachers, Chris has since developed a bat curriculum that incorporates citizen science, or as it is known in Milwaukee, community science.

Chris first discovered the Zooniverse platform about two years ago, which led him to learn about Snapshot Wisconsin. After he began hosting his own trail camera, Chris stated that he was initially annoyed by a fawn that rested in front of his camera resulting in hundreds of photos (which we are sure many volunteer have experienced!) Chris’s “aha moment” was then realizing how interesting the data collected about that fawn was – time alert, sleeping, stretching, foraging.

When asked about his advice for potential volunteers, Chris shared, “There are lots of citizen science projects, but Snapshot Wisconsin does a great job of motivating its volunteers. Start with Zooniverse. Snapshot Wisconsin was a pioneer project on this global platform and will connect you immediately to Wisconsin wildlife. If you are hooked by Snapshot like I was, you can consider hosting your own camera and become a small part of a big thing.”

Thank you, Chris! Thank you to all our trail camera hosts and Zooniverse volunteers for helping us discover our wildlife together.

Snapshot Saturday: May 4th, 2019

Trail cameras offer a non-invasive approach to monitor not only animals, but their surrounding habitats as well. In addition to capturing exciting images of wildlife Snapshot Wisconsin cameras are programmed to take a daily time-lapse image at 10:40 a.m.  As part of the project’s phenology research staff members began measuring the greenness in these time-lapse photos to determine when the different “phenophases”, or significant stages in the yearly cycle of a location’s vegetation, are occurring across the state.

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If you have noticed the vegetation around you becoming a little more colorful, that is because much of the state is entering the “greenup” phenophase. This Snapshot Saturday features a Sawyer County elk enjoying spring greenup from May 2018.

Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/.

April #SuperSnap

This month’s supersnap goes to an inquisitive red fox (Vulpes vulpes) chasing prey, nominated by @AUK. Red fox are known for their intelligence and cunning. These abilities help them to survive all over the world in a diverse set of habitats including mountains, deserts, grasslands, urban environments and here in Wisconsin!

The University of Wisconsin Madison has launched a project, the Urban Canid Project, to investigate red fox and coyote use of urban landscapes. Similar to Snapshot Wisconsin, the Urban Canid Project uses the power of citizen science to collect data on space use, behavior and population demographics of city dwelling canids. To learn more about the project, check out this link.

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Continue classifying photos on Zooniverse and hashtagging your favorites for a chance to be featured in the next #SuperSnap blog post. Check out all of the nominations by searching “#SuperSnap” on the Snapshot Wisconsin Talk boards.

Chutes and Otters

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A “romp” of river otters seen on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera in 2015.

Within the scientific field of animal behavior, research topics such as parental care, natural selection, and feeding tendencies seem to arise far more frequently than animal play.  After all, a life in the wild tends to revolve less around play and more around survival.  For some animals, however, play is an integral part of their lifestyles and ultimately their perseverance.  River otters, for example, are social animals with a playful and charismatic reputation.  As their name suggests, river otters do not typically stray far from waterways, and some Snapshot Wisconsin cameras are perfectly positioned to capture interesting otter behavior.  We have observed otters grooming together, wrestling with one another, and – perhaps most amusingly for our staff and volunteers – sliding across the snow.  At the bottom of this post there is a compilation of otter slide photos.

otter_door017_4.15.18a-e1551379448343.pngUndeniably, sliding across snow or mud is an effective method for locomotion when you compare it an otter’s normal gate – a cylindrical body bounding on short legs.  It’s the kind of body shape that glides effortlessly through the water but doesn’t demonstrate the same sort of grace on land.  Those proportions make it especially tough to traverse snow, just take it from the otter pictured on the right.

Is sliding truly just an efficient way to travel, or does the otter’s seemingly spirited nature play a role in this behavior as well?  2005 paper published in the Northeastern Naturalist suggests that it could be both.  The study analyzed 5 minutes and 49 seconds of video of wild otters in Pennsylvania.  The otters were observed sliding 16 times, an excessive number for the sake of conserving energy.

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A Snapshot Wisconsin otter on what may be a latrine site.

The term “otter slide” doesn’t just refer to a mode of transportation, however.  It can also refer to the marks near riverbanks that are left when otters slide in and out of the water.  Often repeated otter sliding will occur near latrine sites, where the animals will go to deposit and read scent-coded messages from other otters in the area.  The slides are such a great indicator of otter presence, that the Wisconsin DNR conducts aerial surveys in the winter to help determine population trends.  Whatever the motivation is behind the sliding behavior, we certainly enjoy watching it on our trail cameras.

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Snapshot Saturday: April 27th, 2019

It’s that time of year again when black bears begin making their appearances on Snapshot Wisconsin cameras. Have you spotted a bear yet on your trail camera this year?

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Did you know you can view and classify photos collected from Snapshot Wisconsin cameras across the state at www.SnapshotWisconsin.org? It’s a fun activity for the whole family!

April 2019 Science Update

The Snapshot Wisconsin team is often asked why we accept data only from our Snapshot-specific cameras. While there are several reasons, the reason that was highlighted in the April 2019 newsletter was because Snapshot Wisconsin cameras are programmed to take a single photo at 10:40 a.m. each day.  Although 10:40 may seem like an arbitrary time, this corresponds to the approximate time that a NASA satellite flies over Wisconsin and collects aerial imagery. (More information on how NASA data and Snapshot data are complementary can be found in this blog post.)

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An example of a motion-triggered photo and a time-lapse photo from the same site in Sawyer County, September 2017.

It may be difficult to recognize the value of a blank photo in wildlife research, but a year-long series of these photos allows us to examine something very important to wildlife: habitat condition. For each camera site, the time-lapse photos are loaded into the statistical software, “R,” where each pixel in the image is analyzed and an overall measure of greenness is summarized for the entire photo. That measure, called the Green Chromatic Coordinate, can be used to identify different “phenophases,” or significant stages in the yearly cycle of a location’s plants and animals. These stages can be delineated on a graph, called a phenoplot, where a fitted curve reveals the transition day-by-day. The 2018 phenoplot for one Snapshot Wisconsin camera site is seen below.

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Time-lapse photos from the corresponding phenophases as identified by the phenoplot above.

In 2018, 45 camera sites had a complete set of 365 time-lapse photos, but we expect many more sites to be included in the 2019 analyses. The relatively small sample size for 2018 is due in part to many counties not being opened for applications until partway through the year, but also because time-lapse data are rendered unusable if the date and time are not set properly on the camera. This may happen when the operator accidentally sets the time on the 12-hour clock instead of the 24-hour clock, or if the hardware malfunctions and resets the date and time to manufacturer settings—this is why we ask our volunteers to verify the camera’s date and time settings before leaving the site each time they perform a camera check.

The information derived from these analyses will be integrated into wildlife models. For example, the objective of one ongoing DNR research project is to understand linkages between deer body condition and habitat, which includes what’s available to deer as forest cover and food resources, as well as weather-related factors, such as winter severity or timing of spring greenup. The project currently uses weather data collected across the state to estimate snow depth, temperature, and winter severity, and creates maps based off this information.

Snapshot’s time-lapse cameras offer a wealth of seasonal information regarding type of forest cover and food sources, as well as weather-related information. In the future, phenological data obtained from Snapshot cameras could be used to create “greenup maps” that provide estimates of where and when greenup is occurring, and potentially test that information as a means of better understanding how environmental factors affect deer health, such as whether an early spring greenup improved deer body condition the next fall.