Imagine sitting in a truck parked alongside a snowy forest edge, playing a round of cribbage while dressed in full winter gear – a cooler of deer sedative wrapped around one arm, a deer blind wrapped around the other – anxiously awaiting a radio call to hop into action. This is how research technicians, Taylor and myself, spent our evening on February 8th as we tagged along to assist crew members trap and collar deer for the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study.
The combination of recent snowfall and prolonged bouts of cold temperatures provided an excellent opportunity to get out in the field and collar deer. These conditions are ideal because they make finding food more difficult; deer have to spend more time foraging and therefore are more likely to visit baited drop nets, one of the methods the study uses for trapping animals.
On our night out with the crew, one study technician sat in a blind proximal to the net and waited for a deer to visit. Meanwhile, we waited patiently roughly a quarter mile away to minimize noise at the site. Once a doe fawn was spotted feeding on the bait, the technician triggered the net to drop and radioed our crew before sprinting to restrain the doe and cover her eyes, reducing potential stress.
In a burst of chaos, we quickly grabbed the equipment, hopped in the UTV, and sped to the net site. Upon arrival, a sedative was quickly applied. Once the doe was immobilized, we fit a GPS collar and applied ear tags, collected a genetic sample and a sample to test for CWD, and performed a series of body measurements. Throughout the process the doe was positioned on her sternum to maintain regular bodily functions and receive oxygen. We monitored her vitals routinely to ensure her safety and well-being. Upon completing these tasks, the sedation was reversed and we watched from a distance to make sure the doe woke up and was able to walk away safely.
As of February, this project had collared 91 fawns, 263 deer, 21 bobcats, and 39 coyotes with the help of 174 volunteer landowners. Getting out in the field is an experience we would strongly recommend to anyone. If you’re in Wisconsin, you can explore opportunities to volunteer on WDNR projects near you!
Curious to learn more about the CWD, Deer and Predator study? Check out Caitlin Henning’s featured blog post, or visit the WDNR project webpage. Keep an eye out for these collared critters from Dane, Grant, and Iowa counties on our Snapshot Wisconsin Zooniverse site.
We’re happy to announce that enrollment recently opened in eight new counties, bringing our county total to 26. Any individual or organization in these counties with access to 10 acres of land is encouraged to apply to host a trail camera. We are also continuing to accept applications from educators and tribal members/affiliates across the state. Check out our project web page and monthly newsletter for complete updates!
We’ve gotten some great questions from volunteers on species distributions. One from early in the project was, “Do the ranges of gray fox and red fox overlap?” We couldn’t answer that at the time since there is no comprehensive tracking effort for gray fox in Wisconsin. Great news: we now have enough data from Snapshot Wisconsin photos that we can start shedding light on questions like this!
So far, we’ve had 6099 photo subjects classified as canids on Zooniverse from photos taken at 484 cameras. Of these, 5832 classifications from 465 cameras had enough agreement among users that we feel confident in these classifications, while 267 classifications from 19 cameras need review by experts before a final classification is determined.
Do we find different species of canid at the same camera site? Yes we do, but some combinations are more commonly found than others. The below graph shows that coyotes are the most commonly seen canid in Snapshot Wisconsin photos, and most cameras capturing canids have so far only captured coyotes. The most commonly seen multi-species mixes are coyote and fox. We’ve captured relatively few photos of wolves so far, but most cameras that have captured photos of wolves have also captured coyotes and/or fox. (Note that cameras in the elk areas are not included in this graph, since those cameras are more clustered than our other cameras and are not representative of the state.) Click on the graph to view a larger version.
The below map shows the canid data summarized by county. Data from the elk areas are included here and seen in the three small, square polygons. Note that since we do not have cameras in all parts of the state, and since different cameras have been active for different amounts of time, a lack of sightings in an area does not mean that a species is absent there – just that we haven’t seen it on our cameras (yet)! For example, we know from other data sources that wolves occur in more northern counties than what we’ve found on Snapshot Wisconsin cameras so far.
What we can say about these data so far:
- Coyote, gray fox, and red fox are found across the state.
- Photos of gray fox and red fox are sometimes captured on the same camera, and their ranges appear to have considerable overlap.
- Wolves are very infrequently detected compared to the other canid species.
As always, as we continue to expand the Snapshot Wisconsin program, we’ll be able to fill in more of the spaces in the map!
It’s time to pick #SuperSnap for the shortest month of the year! This month’s sequence was shared by @Mitch56 and nominated by @cjpope. A beautiful wolf from Sawyer county which appears to be showing it’s funny side!
Check out all the nominations by searching “#SuperSnap” in Talk. Hashtag your favorite photos for a chance to be featured in the next #SuperSnap blog post.
From time to time, we find photos of animals with white coats that don’t typically have white coats. Are these animals albino?
Albinism is caused by a genetic mutation whereby cells called melanocytes are “switched off” and fail to produce the pigment melanin. Melanin colors hair, skin, feathers, scales and eyes. Albinism can occur in any animal that has melanocytes, including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish. Albino individuals may appear pure white, or may just be lighter overall than non-albino individuals.
Albinism is a rare condition, and there are several more common explanations for light coloration in animals. One is leucism, a condition caused by recessive genes that restrict the creation and/or distribution of pigment-making cells throughout the body during early development. Leucistic individuals may have light coloration overall, or they may have a light patch or patches scattered across the body.
Since either condition can result in individuals that appear white or very light in color, how can the casual observer tell the difference? It’s helpful to look at the eyes. Eye pupils normally look black because pigments at the back of the eye absorb light. In albino individuals unable to produce melanin, however, eyes appear red because light is reflected off blood vessels in the retina rather than being absorbed by pigment. This is why albino individuals experience a heightened sensitivity to light, and often some degree of blindness. Since the melanocytes that produce eye color are not affected by leucism, leucistic individuals typically have normal eye color.
So, is the deer in the photo above albino or leucistic? Based on the dark eyes, it’s more likely leucistic.
White deer (albino or not) are protected from hunting in certain places, including Wisconsin. Why? White deer are not a special “breed” or subspecies, but they do hold social significance. People love seeing them, and some believe that they are good luck or magical. Certain areas of the state are now known for their white deer, and we are likely to keep spotting them on Snapshot Wisconsin cameras from time to time.
More info on color variation in animals:
- Albinism and Leucism: Origins and Differences
- Causes of Color: Biological Pigments
- What colour is that bird?
- Piebald mystery solved: Scientists discover how animals develop patches
Our Snapshot Wisconsin trail cameras capture images from all over the state and throughout the year. Sometimes folks spot a critter that looks a bit different from the others and ask, “Is this deer sick?” In most cases, the answer is “not likely.” In this post we are sharing some of our most frequently asked questions about deer appearance and wildlife diseases.
This deer looks skinny! Is it sick? Could it have CWD?
Winter in Wisconsin can be quite rough for a deer! In summer food sources are abundant, but come wintertime deer have to rely on less nutritious forage like twigs, lichens, or leftovers in harvested crop fields. Because resources vary significantly with the season, a deer’s weight will also vary. After particularly long winters, deer may look very skinny the following spring and even in to early summer. But not to worry; they will put the weight back on in no time.
CWD (chronic wasting disease) is a fatal nervous system disease that affects deer, elk, and moose. CWD has been found in wild deer in 23 Wisconsin counties, with highest prevalence in the southern part of the state. Clinical signs of CWD include diminished muscle tone and emaciation, but outward symptoms often do not appear for months or years after infection. The disease is best confirmed through a lab test for the disease; physical appearance based on trail camera images is not a reliable indicator. More likely a deer is skinny because of poor food resources in winter and not because of CWD or some other disease.
What is wrong with this deer’s coat?
Each spring deer molt or lose their winter coats. The thick grey hairs that make up the winter coat are replaced with a new reddish-brown summer coat. This molting process can happen quite quickly and during the transition deer can look a little ratty and rough. This is a normal process and nature’s way of making sure deer are “dressed” for the temperature.
This deer has an injury. Can you notify someone or help this deer?
Sometimes deer with physical injuries show up in our photos. This is common for wild animals. These injuries can be caused by any number of reasons, such as scraping against a fence or perhaps from a predator. In many cases, the small injuries will heal quickly, leaving a scar or patch bare of hair. In cases where the injury is major (say from a car collision) and the deer cannot recover, the animal will become an important food source for scavengers.
All of the photos appear on Zooniverse many months after they have been taken, and the animal may no longer be in the area. Although reporting the observation via Zooniverse will not be helpful, Wisconsinites who personally observe sick or dead animals can make a timely report to their local DNR office or contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
Before joining the Snapshot crew, I worked on a long-term fisher (Pekania pennanti) monitoring project in a beautiful section of Northern California, called the Klamath-Siskiyou eco-region.
Our study focused on one of two endemic populations of fishers on the West coast found in Northern California and Southern Oregon. Fisher populations declined in the 1800s and early 1900s due mainly to trapping and habitat loss. This study was undertaken 11 years ago in response to a petition to list the fisher as a federally endangered species (which was ultimately overruled).
The goals of the project are to better understand the size and robustness of the western fisher population, explore species interactions between meso-carnivores (such as gray fox and ringtail), and investigate fisher responses to wildfires. It’s a very dynamic and exciting project to work on, with lots of valuable questions to explore.
We used baited, corrugated plastic boxes at 100 historical locations to track our fisher populations. The boxes were fitted with a metal track plate covered in contact paper and ink, along with a glue strip that caught hair from critters passing through the box.
Every day for three months, my co-worker and I would set off into the woods to collect track plates and hair snares. This usually meant 10-12 hour days of driving around the Klamath National Forest, punctuated by steep hikes to retrieve samples in the forest.
Even though we never outright saw the feisty fishers, we began to expect “visits” from them at our boxes. We collected tracks and hair from the same boxes every week. The fishers certainly appreciated the chicken and cat food we left as bait for them! Our weekly box checks became like meeting up with old friends. At one site, I collected a female’s tracks and hair every week for two months. She never made a mess of the bait or destroyed the box (which I greatly appreciated)!
All in all, I had a terrific experience that helped me to understand the importance of non-invasive sampling (i.e., sampling that does not require capturing animals – like the camera trap method used in Snapshot Wisconsin)!
If you are still curious about the non-invasive sampling boxes, check out this video of the box setup.
The Snapshot Wisconsin team
Last week the Snapshot team traveled to Milwaukee to participate in the Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference. As a sponsor of the conference, Snapshot Wisconsin hosted a booth where we met and chatted with wildlife folks from around the Midwestern U.S. We had a lot to show attendees, including some fun flashcards that the team put together to help people work on their classification skills. We were honored that our booth was chosen Best in Show!
We also organized a Citizen Science symposium called “Collaboration with the Public for Natural Resource Research, Management and Conservation.” The symposium focused on practical advice for citizen science project managers. Topics included protocol design, participant recruitment and training, data management, and evaluating program outcomes. Presenters included WDNR project coordinators, a developer from Zooniverse, and the new director of the UW-Madison Arboretum.
Christine Anhalt-Depies and Professor Tim Van Deelen
One of our Snapshot Wisconsin team members, Christine Anhalt-Depies, was chosen as the graduate student recipient of this year’s Leopold Scholarship from the Wisconsin Chapter of the Wildlife Society. Christine was chosen based on her commitment to the wildlife profession and her exceptional commitment to her professional development in a way that honors the memory of Aldo Leopold. Congratulations Christine!
Our new Snapshot Wisconsin mascot, Snappy the Snapshot Beaver, was a hit with students at the conference. We were offering up a gift for anyone who posed with Snappy for a selfie and many students were happy to participate.
This month’s #SuperSnap was nominated by @eaglecon. Thanks for this fantastic photo series of a pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileastus) in action from Waupaca county! Fun fact: the pileated woodpecker’s brain is completely protected by a reinforced skull and neck. This protection is important since the woodpecker pecks into trees for carpenter ant snacks and “drums” for mates. (source )
Check out all the nominations by searching “#SuperSnap” in Talk. Hashtag your favorite photos for a chance to be featured in the next #SuperSnap blog post.
The following post is by a guest blogger, Caitlin Henning, Communications Specialist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Office of Applied Science. Currently, her primary project is the WDNR’s landmark Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer & Predator Study. Thanks for the information on this project, Caitlin! Read More…