Snapshot Saturday: December 8th, 2018

This Snapshot Saturday features a beautiful Red-tailed hawk sharing a glimpse of where their name comes from!

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Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/. Classify photos from all the trail cameras at www.snapshotwisconsin.org.

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December Volunteer of the Month

December’s Volunteers of the Month are
Colleen and Jerry from Ashland County!

December’s Volunteer of the Month goes to Colleen and Jerry from Ashland County! The duo moved up to the Clam Lake area in the early 2000’s to build their log cabin, and love everything connected to the Northwoods. Both Colleen and Jerry work at the local gas station, the Clam Lake Junction, which keeps them grounded and connected to their small community – they even put up a pickleball court there!

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Colleen and Jerry were some of the very first volunteers to get involved monitoring Snapshot Wisconsin cameras in the Clam Lake elk reintroduction area. Colleen shared that they joined to project because it was something they could do together, and gave them an opportunity to further explore the area. The two have since played a key role in keeping up with the elk herd.

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

Snapshot Saturday: December 1st, 2018

Check out these two leucistic bucks recently captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin camera! Happy Snapshot Saturday!

SnapshotSaturday_12.1.18Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/. Classify photos from all the trail cameras at www.snapshotwisconsin.org.

November #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap features a raccoon from Racine County nominated by our Zooniverse volunteer @AUK. This sequence shows what appears to be an attempt at foraging for food. A commonly known raccoon behavior is dousing or dabbling food in water. This behavior also gives the species its name Procyon lotor aka “the washer”. All these seemingly complex tasks are possible thanks to their highly dexterous fore paws.

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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.

What to Wear If You’re a Snowshoe Hare?

Have you ever wondered what is responsible for the crimson shade of a fox’s coat, or the distinctive stripes that distinguish a raccoon tail? The answer, in short, is pigments! Pigments are chemical compounds that determine the color an object appears to the human eye based on how much light they absorb or reflect. Melanin is a major group of pigments naturally produced by most animals. Two types of melanin, eumelanin and pheomelanin, control the color that hair appears. This is true from the hair on your head to the coats of the critters you see in the wild!

While most species maintain the same coat coloration year-round, some swap out their coats seasonally for white, “ecologically fashionable” winter coats. This process is known as molting. You may recall some species around the world that do this, including Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus), White-tailed ptarmigan (Lagopus leacura) and various weasel species. Changing coats is not only a terrific way to help avoid predation, but may also serve as an extra tool to keep warm during the frigid winter months. Because the white fur lacks pigment, it is believed that there is extra space in the hair shafts for air that can be warmed by the animal’s body heat (think of a bird ruffling its feathers during a cool morning to trap in warm air).

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An Arctic fox sports a summer and winter coat. Source: animalia.com

Although the exact mechanisms behind this wardrobe change are not fully understood, there is evidence that suggests that the length of daylight, also known as photoperiod, plays a key role in when animals switch their coat color. Receptors in the retina transfer messages to the brain that it’s time to get a new outfit for the next season. Once this process begins, the hair begins to change color starting with the extremities.

A local expert at swapping out coats is Wisconsin’s own Snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus). You can most commonly find these long jump champions in the northern forests of Wisconsin. Contrary to the common Cottontail rabbit, Snowshoe hare swap brown summer coats for bright white during the snowy winter months to camouflage with their surroundings.

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Snowshoe hares in their summer and winter coats. Source: massaudobon.com

Snapshot Wisconsin cameras capture images of Snowshoe hares year-round across the state. This provides a unique opportunity to not only pinpoint the time of year that snowshoes go through their wardrobe change, but also identify the surrounding area’s brown down or green up state. Because Snowshoe hares rely heavily on their coat color to stay camouflaged and avoid predation, any mismatch between coat and season can make a hare an easy target for lunch. Snapshot Wisconsin cameras can capture images of these mismatches to help understand interactions between Snowshoe hares and predation, as well as Snowshoe hare molting biology across time.

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A Snowshoe hare captured by a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera.

Snapshot Saturday: November 24th, 2018

For those of you also still enjoying leftovers, happy Snapshot Saturday!

Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/. Classify photos from all the trail cameras at www.snapshotwisconsin.org.

Not Easy Seeing Green…

As many volunteers may be aware, Snapshot Wisconsin operates continuously and year-round. This is distinct from many other studies and monitoring efforts focused upon wildlife that typically evaluate population status during a particular time of year and look at changes between years. One belief that underpins Snapshot Wisconsin is that because the environment consistently changes across the year, how animals move, behave, live, die also changes. Consistent and continuous data collection provides the project much richer insights into animal habitat associations, and it also gives the project the ability to evaluate which time of year deserves most focus–when should we be monitoring things?

As discussed in previous posts, we heavily rely on spatial data produced by processing satellite imagery in order to quantify species’ habitats and estimate or predict where animals are. Recall that two important sensors or satellites are Landsat, which has fine spatial resolution but captures imagery of Wisconsin less frequently, and Modis (on the Aqua and Terra Satellites) that has coarser spatial resolution, but captures an image of Wisconsin daily. Data produced from Modis imagery is incredibly useful for capturing, say, the timing of larger scale phenomena like big snow events, or the onset of either long-term snow coverage in the winter or green up in the spring. The behaviors and activity of animal species are often connected to the timing of these environmental cues (or others, like temperature, or the length of daylight).

One animal species that is particularly sensitive to seasonality is the black bear: bears spend the winter in dens in a state of torpor. In brown bears, previous research has suggested that the timing of bear den entry is sensitive to environmental factors, while the timing of ending torpor is more related to individual physiology. One thing we are interested in is whether bear behavior (out and about, or in torpor) exhibits any correlation with the variation in the timing of plant green-up and senescence across space, and whether “mismatch” between when bears exit dens and when plants green up (plants like sedges are an important food source for bears early in the year) seems to have any population consequences.

 

Snapshot Wisconsin cameras capture bears growing and moving across seasons. 

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While Wisconsin vegetation greens up from late winter to mid-summer, bears also become increasingly present across the landscape.

BUT…..while satellite imagery provides an excellent overhead synopsis of plant activity, it is not always clear which plants are making the image green. Bears–and many other animal species–primarily eat green matter at ground level rather than leaves at the tops of trees. Snapshot Wisconsin’s cameras provide a ground view that we can relate to satellite images to get a sense of what airborne imagery is responding to.  In the long term, this will allow improved estimates of where animals are and at what time.

Snapshot Saturday: November 17th, 2018

Good luck and stay warm, hunters! Happy Snapshot Saturday!

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Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/. Classify photos from all the trail cameras at www.snapshotwisconsin.org.

Wisconsin Wildlife: Generalists & Specialists

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Raccoons aren’t picky about what they eat! Source: stevehdc, Wikimedia Commons.

My brother Ian was a picky eater. Breakfast was always a bowl of Crispex. For lunch, he ate a PB&J and refused to eat the crusts. I was the opposite. Even as a young child, I loved proverbially “gross” foods like mushrooms and started drinking coffee when I was twelve.

Turns out that some animals are like Ian and some are like me. For example, monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed. We call animals like the monarch specialists. Conversely, some animals will eat, well, just about anything. Raccoons, for example, are equally happy eating crayfish from the creek or scraps from your garbage can. We call such species generalists.

Diet isn’t the only thing to be picky about! Some species exhibit preferences for precise habitat types. For example, the Kirtland’s Warbler breeds only in young jack pine barrens, primarily in Michigan, but also occasionally in Wisconsin. On the other hand, some species are ubiquitous. The coyote is an exemplar habitat generalist—you might spot one in the wilds of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest or in a suburb of Milwaukee.

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A coyote in a forest captured by a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera.

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A coyote in farmland captured by a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera

Taken together, diet and habitat comprise what we call the ecological niche of a species. You can think of a niche as the “cubbyhole” that a species occupies within the broader tapestry of its environment. The breadth of a niche is a continuum from extreme specialists (like Kirtland’s Warblers) to extreme generalists (like raccoons). Some species fall between those extremes; deer are a great example. Deer are strict herbivores, but they can be found in many different habits, from forests to farmlands. So, not every species can be neatly classified as a generalist or a specialist.

Scientists are interested in generalists and specialists because they exhibit different responses to change. Like a trained craftsman whose job is replaced by a machine, the specialist has nowhere to go when the environment changes. Generalists, on the other hand, can capitalize on the vacant niche space and colonize altered landscapes. Given the widespread changes humans are exerting on the earth, we are seeing global proliferation of generalists while many specialists are disappearing, a process known as biotic homogenization.

This may seem dire, but the more we learn about generalists and specialists, the more we’ll be able to do to maintain biodiversity and lose fewer specialists. In the meantime, I encourage you to think about the animals you see on a regular basis. Is that squirrel outside your window an ecological jack-of-all-trades? Are there any habitat specialists that live on your property? And maybe even think about your own niche—are you a generalist, a specialist, or somewhere in between?

Snapshot Saturday: November 10th, 2018

This Snapshot Saturday features a grinning pair of black bears from Jackson County!

Interested in hosting your own Snapshot Wisconsin camera? Visit our webpage to find out how to get involved: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/research/projects/snapshot/. Classify photos from all the trail cameras at www.snapshotwisconsin.org.