Not exactly the photos we wanted

I mentioned in an earlier blog that we started collaborating last year with Danny Lough, who is interested in understanding what animals collect and eat seeds in the mountainous forests of Southeast Peru. To be honest, in the past I’ve not invested a lot of time trying to figure out which species of small mammal was shown in a photograph. Many of them looked very similar to me, especially in black and white photos!

However, because we’re using newer cameras, placed specifically to obtain informative photos of smaller animals, and because he’s spent a significant amount of time visiting natural history museums to see what the little guys look like, Danny’s been able to identify species of small mammals in most of the photos we’ve obtained. One way to start narrowing down which mouse, rat, or opossum you’re looking at it is to estimate its size. Rather than place rulers at every experimental location, Danny purchased cheap and lightweight pieces of plastic and placed them in front of the cameras to provide a visual size reference.

Unfortunately, as Thea Wang said in her recent blog, things don’t always go as planned in the field. That can be challenging and humorous when interesting wildlife takes an interest in what you’re doing!

After we recovered the memory cards from the camera traps last fall and started reviewing them, we discovered a series of photos showing two wattled guans, a large distinctive-looking bird of the Andean forests. What’s funny about the photos is that the birds weren’t looking for seeds, because there were no seeds at this camera. Instead, these birds were tussling over the light piece of plastic that Danny set out as a size marker!

Fortunately, guans and most other wild animals are not very interested in the cameras. Some research has shown that although we can’t hear the cameras taking photos, or see the infrared flash they produce, many species of wild animals can detect the cameras. Most of the time the animals don’t react, although sometimes they’ll look at the camera or perhaps sniff and rub on it.

Unfortunately, bears of different species, including Andean bears, take a more active interest in camera traps and bears are large and dexterous enough to really ‘modify’ the camera and its positioning. This results in reduced data collection, but sometimes the photos are pretty humorous!