Archive by Author | Taylor_Peltier

Past Pieces: “You little weasel!”

Snapshot Wisconsin volunteers have identified a total of 493 triggers of weasels over the course of the project. Although we don’t distinguish between species in our classifications, Wisconsin is home to three distinct species: the long-tailed weasel, short-tailed weasel and least weasel. One of them is known as the smallest carnivore in North America, read through the post to find out which species it is!

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Long-tailed weasel from Jackson County

The article below, “You little weasel!” by Christian W. Cold, was originally published in Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine in February 1998. After reading, you may find that these mysterious critters will weasel their way into your liking.

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@ Gregory Scott

Survival is the objective of the day, every day, if you are little. And danger is always nearby when you are a weasel. Creatures larger than you are out there, listening, and watching with hungry eyes. You avoid their attention by remaining tentative; carefully choosing when to move. You travel about your 40-acre universe in a state of perpetual tension, keenly aware of every sound, every smell and every motion around you

Finding a meal is work. Avoiding becoming a meal is even tougher. As both hunter and hunted, you bear the risks by constantly moving. If you tarry, you die; if your prey hesitates, it dies. Your quarry takes many forms – most are smaller than you, but similar in appearance. Their scent lingers everywhere, but they vanish when you arrive. Your prey cringes in terror in your presence…with good reason

Weasels have an image problem. We are quick to condemn them as corrupt, greedy little villains who sneak around and kill with deadly efficiency for no reason whatsoever. We’ve historically viewed weasels as pests, varmints or scraps of fur only suitable for a decorative trim on collar or cuff. It’s a wonder that weasels have endured such a hostile world.In fact, weasels are marvelously successful. They persist by being alert, inquisitive, tenacious and most importantly, small.

weasels track mice through their winter runaways and lairs gregory scott

Weasels track mice through their winter runaways and lairs @Gregory Scott

Hunters of mice

Weasels are members of a large and diverse family of mammals known as mustelids, which include mink, martens, fishers and skunks. If you shake the family tree harder, badgers, wolverines and otters are also distant relatives. As a clan, the mustelids are typically slender, elongated animals with short legs, a small head and short fur. Their needle-like canine teeth are designed to pierce the throat and brain of small animals, particularly rodents.

The species name, Mustela, means “one who carries off mice,” and all weasels are accomplished mousers. However, to reap the benefits of their small, dynamic world, the weasels can’t afford to be picky eaters. The bill-of-fare includes chipmunks, ground squirrels, insects, small birds, frogs and snakes. Shrews form an important part of their winter diet. Though they occasionally eat fish, weasels are poor swimmers, paddling clumsily with their backs arched out of water.

Weasels have an earned reputation as fierce, efficient predators that will attack animals several times their own size. A four-ounce weasel can kill a four-pound rabbit. The weasel’s habit of killing larger prey and killing several animals at a time stems from its habit of storing or caching surplus food for later use.

Small caches scattered about can provide a series of small meals. Incidents of wholesale slaughter in poultry yards are likely triggered when a weasel goes into “hunt mode” in the unnatural setting of finding several confined prey with no avenue of escape

Weasel biology

Three species of true weasels live in North America. The largest, at 18 inches, is the long-tailed weasel. Long-tails occupy diverse habitats throughout the United States and into Central America. They appear to prefer patchy landscapes of mixed habitats intersected by streams and small rivers. The smaller short-tailed weasel or “ermine” is found in heavily-forested areas and brushy areas of Canada, the northeastern states, the Upper Midwest and Northwestern forests. Smallest of the tribe is the least weasel, a pugnacious dynamo who claims the title as North America’s smallest carnivore. The least weasel is infrequently observed in the marshes and damp meadow. I once inadvertently caught one in a repeating mouse trp at the Mead Wildlife Area in Marathon County in the Upper Great lakes region.

The pelts of all three weasels are brownish and are replaced by a winter white coat that begins to appear by the first of November. The long-tail and short-tail sport a black tip on their tails; an attribute which may confound the striking accuracy of avian predators. Hawks, owls, eagles, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, lynx and domestic cats will eat a weasel – provided they can catch one! The larger mustelids such as mink, marten and fisher pursue small weasels with frightful determination. Size and agility are not the weasel’s only defense. A pungent musk, secreted from an anal gland, may repel or nauseate all but the most persistent of predators.

Weasels sexually mature before their first birthday. A typical litter of six or seven young is born each year and is cared for by both parents. Weasels reaching five to six years are regarded as fully mature. Individuals as old as 10 are considered ancient

How to find a weasel

Weasels are easiest to see in winter when leaf cover is gone and a thin layer of tracking snow will show their whereabouts in the neighborhood. Weasels leave staggered pairs of little footprints placed in a bounding gait fashion. Look for sudden right-angle turns in the tracks that often disappear beneath the snow and reappear at a considerable distance.

Weasels hunt aggressively during the cold, hungry months of winter. Their intense curiosity and insatiable appetite leads them to range widely in a seemingly erratic fashion. They seldom travel far in any one direction. A weasel will stop to poke its little head into every hole, nook and cranny it can probe. Its slender body can squeeze into lairs and runways of mice. Within these subterranean passages the weasel’s sensitive nose and ears will quickly locate the tenants.

Weasels often den in an abandoned (or usurped!) home of a chipmunk or ground squirrel, in a hollow log or under a pile of rubble. The nest chamber is often lined with fine grasses, feathers or the fur of the “former” occupants. Weasels are remarkably clean animals that will not defecate in their quarters. They designate a separate latrine area.

These sleek, little hunters are both feared and respected. If you are a weasel among mice, is it merely “a terrible efficiency” to be the animal that eats its neighbors? I think not. The weasel was designed by the limits of its environment to eat the flesh of others. It must kill to see another day. As humans, we tend to leave that grisly chore to the butcher, but the weasel assumes considerable risk and expends considerable energy just surviving.

The next time you get to see these ambitious little bundles of energy, take a moment to view the world from their perspective. Be thankful that at your comparative size, you can afford to wish them “good hunting.”

To view the full posting of the article in the Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine, click this link.

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December #SuperSnap

Can you guess who took the spot light for our December #SuperSnap? That “bobbed” tail may give it away!

The December #SuperSnap, nominated by @AUK, goes to a bobcat (Lynx rufus) from Jackson County. Often confused with their larger cousins, the Canada Lynx, bobcats can be distinguished by their short tail, tufted ears and white underbelly. They are the most abundant wildcat found in the United States, so keep an eye out for bobcats on your trail cameras!

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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.

October #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap goes to series of photos of a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) captured on camera in Manitowoc county last January. Red foxes use their thick tails for warmth, aiding in balance and communicating with other foxes. To learn more fun foxy facts, visit this link. Thanks for sharing this stunning photo @snowdigger!

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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.

September #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap goes to this tom turkey in full display from Waukesha County. The Wisconsin turkey story is recognized as an incredible success. Wisconsin turkeys were considered extirpated (locally extinct) by the 1970s. Since reintroduction efforts, turkeys have spread far and wide over the Wisconsin landscape. To learn more about the turkey success story, click this link.  Thank you for the photo nomination @snowdigger and @anhaltcm!

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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.

August #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap goes to this impressive buck giving the classic “camera stare.” Thanks for the nomination, @momsabina! Look closely, you may also notice a buddy in the background! Check out the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Southwest CWD, Predator, Prey Project for more information about white tailed deer in Wisconsin.

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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.

Announcement: Educator Resources Updates!

Riding on the wake of Snapshot Wisconsin’s statewide launch last week (see here), we are excited to announce updates to our educator resources. Snapshot Wisconsin is a fantastic opportunity to engage students in outdoor learning and to teach them about local wildlife. With over 200 educators enrolled in the Snapshot program, we thought it would be beneficial to have a wide-ranging group of lesson plans and resources available.

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Lesson Plan Updates

We are excited to announce that our suite of lesson plans is now freely available on our website (see here). These lesson plans, including “Wildlife Detectives” and “Measuring Biodiversity”, have been designed for use by educators whether or not they are hosting a trail camera! Our 10 lesson plans can be used for students of all ages, from pre-k through adulthood, and are an excellent way to incorporate exciting concepts about Wisconsin wildlife into classrooms or nature centers. To fit our lesson plans in with curriculum, we’ve made sure to meet Wisconsin’s Standards for Science.

“When I began using Snapshot Wisconsin and hosting a Trail Cam, I realized how much fun it would be to develop lessons for our local school that has a school forest and is hosting a DNR Trail Cam. The pictures from Snapshot Wisconsin inject excitement into the Wisconsin Science and Math standards. They transform abstract concepts into local experiences.” – Mary from Bayfield County

Additionally, check out our flashcard collection on our lesson plan page. These printable activities are a fun way to learn and practice animal species identification in Wisconsin. Test your skills with beginner through expert level flash cards. Below is an example from our “canid collection”.

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NEW: Educator Newsletter

SIGNUP to receive our biannual educator newsletter for lesson plan updates and other classroom resources. This is a newsletter designed specifically for educators and separate from The Snapshot, our monthly volunteer e-newsletter.

Connect with other Educators

On our Zooniverse site, where volunteers from around the world can classify Wisconsin wildlife captured on Snapshot cameras, we have a page dedicated to connecting educators. Visit this talk board to discuss the use of Snapshot Wisconsin in the classroom.

A special thank you to all the educators who reviewed and provided helpful feedback on our lesson plans. YOU make updates to the project like this possible!

 

New Blog Series: Non-Invasive Surveying Methods

From the Snapshot Wisconsin program, you may be familiar with wildlife monitoring using trail cameras. Trail cameras are one wildlife monitoring tool classified into a group of monitoring techniques that are considered non-invasive, meaning that the technique causes little or no impact on the animal’s normal activity, ecology or physiology. By contrast, invasive monitoring techniques include any type of wildlife monitoring that has a direct, human caused impact on an animal (GPS collaring, tagging, close observation are a few examples). In this blog post series, we are going to highlight other non-invasive monitoring methods and include ways you can get involved in these types of non-invasive monitoring! Our first post on non-invasive monitoring is focused on.. tracking!

Tracking

A gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) left tracks on a piece of paper that utilized bait and a track plate to collect non-invasive information such as species and occupancy.

Tracking involves locating animal footprints and identifying the species. This monitoring technique can be done during all times of year in snow, mud, dirt or sand. You can learn a lot about an animal by its tracks. For example, you can tell what gait the animal was in (walk, trot, lope, spring), where it was heading to and from and if the animal was travelling in a group or alone.

Taking accurate measurements of tracks can help ID an animal. If you don’t have a ruler, use your foot or hand for size reference for identification later. This was taken by Taylor Peltier, from the Snaspshot Wisconsin team. Any guess who it belongs to?

Researchers can use tracks to estimate abundance, home ranges and behavior patterns. This can be especially helpful for monitoring more elusive animals that are sensitive to human disturbance.

One research project that uses tracks to estimate abundance is the Wisconsin winter wolf count. Using tracks in the snow, the DNR can estimate a minimum wolf count. For more information about that project, check out this link.

Stay tuned for more non-invasive survey method blog posts! Upcoming will be a post featuring how scat, hair and even eDNA play a role in wildlife research.

 

Elk Calf Searching

After two days of meticulous searching in the rain, a crew of about ten people (including two Snapshot team members) dejectedly walked out of the forest. We were searching for elk (Cervus canadensis) calves in the Clam Lake and Flambeau River State Forest regions of Wisconsin, and had not had any luck thus far. Just as we were leaving, a biologist on the crew softly yelled “elk!”. Nestled into the side of a tree was a small brown creature perfectly camouflaged with the surrounding dead leaves. We estimated that we had walked by the little calf three times without noticing her!

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The female elk calf that Snapshot Wisconsin team members helped to find. She was a little soggy from the rain.

The elk biologists put a blindfold over the elk calf to keep her calm. With hushed voices, they took measurements, applied ear tags, fitted her with a VHF (very high frequency) collar for location tracking and then moved away. Collars provide information on mortality, movement and herd interactions throughout the calves’ lifetimes. Collectively, this data can be used to help inform management decisions for Wisconsin’s elk herds.

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Elk calves are fitted with VHF collars and ear tags for identification and location tracking. Photograph credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

For more information about Wisconsin’s elk herds, check out this link.

May #SuperSnap

This month’s #SuperSnap of a crisp looking coyote (Canis latrans) was nominated by @WInature. Coyotes are also known as the brushwolf, prairie wolf, kyute, little wolf and mush-quo-de-ma-in-gon (Chippewa). For more fun facts about coyotes, visit 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.

A Booming Success: Prairie Chickens and Trail Cameras

What looks like a chicken, lives in the prairie and has one of the most phenomenal displays of courtship in the animal kingdom? You guessed it, the greater prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido)! Earlier this spring, Snapshot Wisconsin teamed up with WDNR biologists in the Buena Vista Grasslands area to implement a prairie chicken trail camera monitoring project in Wisconsin.

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Greater prairie chicken males display on “lekking” grounds, which typically consist of a mound just a little higher up than the surrounding area. The males strut their stuff, including tufts of feathers that look like ears and orange air sacs the males use to “boom”.

In the 1950’s, the greater prairie chicken was close to extinction in the state of Wisconsin. The WDNR, in partnership with conservation groups, established a prairie chicken management program. Every year in early spring, WDNR biologists begin thoroughly surveying known greater prairie chicken lekking grounds to track population size and locations of leks.  The protection and monitoring of the species has helped the comeback of the prairie chicken in Wisconsin. Currently, a few thousand chickens can be found in the central part of the state.

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Photo of a male greater prairie chicken taken from a Snapshot Wisconsin camera.

This year, Snapshot Wisconsin deployed 15 cameras to help supplement monitoring efforts. Trail cameras can efficiently and continuously survey known lekking grounds to count peak numbers of males at each lek.

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Snapshot Wisconsin team members and WDNR biologists stand behind the traditional surveying blind and a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera.

The team had a blast deploying trail cameras at lekking grounds. For those of you who own trail cameras, you may be familiar with the walk test. In the chicken camera test, we ended up crawling to test if a chicken would be detected on camera. This resulted in a lot grass in our clothes and an equal amount of laughter.

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For more information on Wisconsin’s prairie chickens check out this link.

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