Saturday, February 26, 2011

Inglourius Basterds!

The problem with camera traps is that they are often the target of theives.  For some reason, commiting a crime is worth it for folks to get their hands on a $200 camera.  They'll even try so hard to steal the camera that they'll nearly (or actually) damage it in the process.  I guess I shouldn't be suprised that such less-than-brilliant folks come up with such less-than-brilliant plans. 


These two nit-wits apparently determined that smoking cigarrettes and attempted theft were more fun than school.

They tried tugging to pull the camera off of the tree it was mounted to.

When that didn't work they tried kicking the camera off of the tree!  What a great way to steal a delicate piece of electronic equipment!

All I can say to these two is:  Enjoy your future at McDonalds!  You should be able to make just enough to afford those cigarrettes that you'll need to smoke every hour for the rest of your probably short lives (smoking isn't really known to prolong your time on this planet, afterall).

Oh, and for the parents of these kids...I'm sure even if you happen to see my blog AND somehow recognize one of these is your kid by their clothes, you wont do anything of substance about it.  I didn't get a picture of their faces, becuase if I had, I'd have sent the pictures to the police (this was not only attempted theft, but also tressspassing).  But, at the very least, maybe you could discipline them for being stupid.  Ground them.  Take away their iPhones...or their X-box 360s.....or their computer for a week...or something. I bitter?  YES.  I worked hard to get these cameras and set up a monitoring project with them, just to have a couple of morons try to steal them. 

I never thought I'd say this but "what's wrong with kids these days?"

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Tussle.

Sometimes interesting behavior is captured by camera traps.  This occurs, in part, because the person placing the camera is able to find a good spot...but more times than not it has to do with plain ol' dumb luck.

It just so happened that back in August, I was able to get a series of pictures of a few male white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) attempting to assert their dominance over one another in front of my camera.

Dramatis Personae:
The Brute: I had captured pictures of this fella over a month before the incident.  He's easy to identify becuase of the fibromas that cover his body (for more information on deer fibromas, see the bottom of this post).  Although this picture of his face is blurry, you can see the large fibromas on his right cheek and above his right eye, and near the base of his right-front leg (picture 2 below) that identify him as the likely player later on.

The Upstart:  This individual has a smaller rack than The Brute at the time the tussle occurs.

The Onlooker:  An individual that stands by during the infraction.  He's clearly identifiable by the odd shape of his antlers.

So, our little performance begans at roughly 1:21 am on August 25th, 2010 with The Brute.  He appears in front of the camera at about this time.  Note how his antlers have grown since the first photograph of him taken in mid-June.  Whether I am correct in this, or not...I like to imagine he is the "resident male", defending his little patch of territory from intruders.

Before long, something catches his attention, and he turns.

Soon The Onlooker appears, and you can barely see The Upstart behind him.

After several minutes, The Onlooker turns as The Upstart passes him and comes into frame (perhaps being pursued by The Brute).

The confrontation ensues as The Brute appears from the left....

And eventually...The Brute drives off The Upstart.
Although he does give The Onlooker a brief glance, there appears to be no interest and off he goes behind The Upstart.

As great as camera traps are, they survey a very small capturing pictures similar to this are sort of a shot-in-the-dark.  This is especially true if one is not putting out bait to attract the deer, which I am not.  In fact, I'm not even really targetting deer with my cameras.  The purpose is to inventory wildlife on-site..and I know there are deer (TONS of deer) without using a wildlife camera trap to detect them.

According to Webster et al. 2003 (Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia and Maryland) the rutting/mating season usually occurs in Autumn here.  The North Carolina Wildlife Resources commission reports this would be specifically be in November.  Testosterone levels are reportedly low in the summer.  So, I was alittle surprised to see this type of behavior in late August.  Seems a bit early.

But, it's only an anecdotal observation...and I ain't a deer.


Further Information about Deer Fibromas:

Fibromas are considered a "cutaneous neoplasm" that occurs in members of the deer family (Cervidae).  "Cutaneous" refering to the skin and "neoplasm" being the technical term for a tumor or abnormal growth.  According to Sunberg and Nielsen in 1981, "viral particles" have been found in the nuclei of cells from deer fibromas and they suggest transmission is similar to that of any virus.  Becuase fibromas often become cracked, or ulcerate, which can result in bleeding, un-infected animals may become inoculated if they, themselves, have a scratch that comes into contact with the ulcerated fibroma of another deer.  Also, scratched skin coming into contact with vegetation that has touched the ulcerated fibroma of an infected individual is a possible means of transmission.  Finally, blood-feeding insects may be an important vector.  Although this information is somewhat dated, Sunberg and Nielsen also summarize data on the prevalence of fibromas in white-tail deer populations reported by other studies: 
  • Of 3,000 deer harvested in New York State in 1962, 1.4% had tumors that may have been fibromas
  • Of 236 deer examined from 1946-1958 at the University of Maine, 5.5% had fibromas
  • Of 861 deer examined from 1933-1962 in Michigan, 1.3% had fibromas.
So, a pretty low rate of occurrence.  Also of interest is the fact that, of the deer with fibromas in the New York study, the majority were male.  This would sugget that male-male transmission may occur during tussles in the rutting season, or from the rubbing of antlers to remove velvet on a tree that was previously rubbed by an infected individual.

Because these fibromas are cutaneous (involving only the skin), they are not considered a major health hazard for the deer..of course, unless they become particularly congregated in areas around the nose or eyes (which can lead to secondary mortality, not as a result of pathology related to the fibroma). 

It is also worth noting that, most sources indicate fibromas are not a health hazard to humans, and according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, are not known to infect humans.  For the most part, they're just unsightly...and may make a infected deer undesirable as a "trophy".

Literature Cited:

Sundberg, J.P., and S.W. Nielsen. 1981.  Deer Fibroma: a review. Canadian Veterinary Journal 22: 385-388.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Turtle in The Box

The Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) can be a rather common sight if one knows what to look for when walking through the deciduous hardwood forests here in the eastern U.S..  The true explanation for where this small, unobtrusive critter got its vernacular name ("box turtle") is apparently open to debate.   Some say it's because they are shaped like a box.   Others say it's becuase they can close up tightly like a box when threatened.  Whether or not the latter is true, it is a particularly interesting point about box turtles.  Their lower shell, called a "plastron", is hinged.  As such, these turtles can draw their lower shells up tight against their upper shells (called a "carapace"), looking something like this after doing so:

A nifty little defense mechanism.  These turtles need the extra help becuase they are basically terrestrial (land-dwelling).  So, whereas their aquatic relatives can dive into the drink at the first hint of danger, box turtles cannot.  The ability to close their shells helps them avoid predation.

When one is a weirdo ecologist, like myself, one often wonders: "What do these turtles do every day?"  Not an easy question to answer without alittle help.  So, what do weirdo ecologists do to rectify this problem?  Attach a radio transmitter to a bunch of turtles and track their movements, of course!

So, in the summer of 2010, I started affixing radio transmitters to the shells of turtles using Epoxy.  To the newbie, this may sound ingenious...but trust me, I stood on the backs of geniuses to get to this point. 

Each transmitter emitts a signal with a unique frequency.  Then the weirdo ecologist takes a reciever with a giant awkward antennae, dials in the specific frequency of a transmitter attached to a specific turtle and listens for the "beep".  The beep grows louder as the weirdo ecologist draws closer to the turtle with the transmitter until they are found.  In doing so, we can learn about the turtles' movement patterns, habitat selection, behavior, diet, etc.. 

BTW, I should note the picture below is not of me, but of students that I also forced into behaving like weirdo ecologists as part of their college education.

So, the turtles were tracked throughout the summer.  Habitat observed, GPS coordinates recorded, and so forth.  During the time period in which they were tracked, my students and I determined that (based on Aebischer's Compositional Analysis), box turtles prefer lowland hardwood forest and wooded riparian areas (as opposed to upland forest, grassland, or disturbed habitats).  Also, of nine turtles tracked across two sites, the average minimum convex polygon home range estimations were 2.5 acres at Site A and 3.3 acres at Site B (that's alot of moving for a little critter like this!).

Then...some time in October...the turtle's decided it was time to take a winter's nap.  So they either burrowed into the ground, or found existing mammal burrows that they climbed into, or rested in the root channels of a fallen tree, awaiting the warmth of spring.  As such, there was no need for weirdo ecologists to track them any more.  At least not until spring.

In the last few weeks, temperatures here have rose into the seventies on more than one occassion...and have often been in the fifties or sixties.  I've heard upland chorus frogs (Pseudacris ferarium) calling for more than two weeks now, which is always an indication that spring is on the way. 

So today, and with the help of a dedicated student, went out and tracked the turtles to see if anyone had started moving about yet.

Interestingly, they have not.  Despite the warm temperatures, they have not budged.  I guess February is still too unpredictable for them to fall for a few warm days.  The only glimpse we got of a turtle was this individual buried near enough the surface for us to see its transmitter and the top of its shell.

So, regardless of whether or not the Whistle-pig saw his shadow (I honestly don't know if he did around here....didn't read the paper that day), it ain't spring yet!

The Mystery!

It happens frequently that camera traps catch pictures of things that don't show up well.  In fact, that is often the case.

However, it's rare (in my experience) that one gets multiple pictures of the same critter over the course of several weeks and still can't figure out what it is.'s an exception.  This is along a river corridor...sparsely wooded in this location....with steep muddy banks.  I've gotten numerous pictures of raccoon, deer, possum, etc..  But this one continues to evade me.

I'm thinking, based on size, that it's a mink.  However, when the camera was first deployed, I put down a dab of commerical otter lure (Lennon's Otter All-Call).  This critter seems to ignore that lure and I don't know why a mink would do that.

At any length, the critter first shows up a few days after the camera went up.

Then....a few days later (always heading the same direction).

And again the next night.

These had been stumping me all week.  Today, I went and swapped cards on this camera and found more pictures of this mysterious critter.

Now...the last one is still a mystery, but slightly different than the rest.
After zooming in on the critter, I saw this:'s still pretty dang hard to say what this is.  But, upon closer inspection this almost appears to be TWO, not one, animals.  And...perhaps its my mind playing tricks on me, but they almost appear to be within the throws of coitus.   Excuse my ham-fisted attempts at using a photo editing software.  But, it *almost* looks as if there are two back feet facing the camera (see yellow arrows).  The feet also appear to have five toes, which both raccoons and mustelids (like a mink) have.  And could that possibly be a pair of testicles circled in red? 
Perhaps my interest in figuring this out is not endearing me to some, but I am incredibly curious about what this critter is!!

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission reports that mink breed from late January through the timing is right.  The Commission also reports them frequenting primarily wetlands...but Webster et al. (2003) Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia and Maryland report they are also found along the borders of other water bodies, such as streams, rivers, lakes, and even drainage ditches.

Seeing as this camera is located along a river/stream system...the habitat is right.  There are also otter in this general vacinity....but these look to small for otter to me.  At first I would have believed a juvenile otter when they were walking by solo, but with the pair of them (if, in fact, that is a pair) acting as I think they are acting...then these are adults.

When I swapped the memory cards on the camera this time, I dripped some of Mark June's Shellfire Lure (pure uncut shellfish oil).  I would assume this works on otter and mink (critters that will eat shellfish), lthough I know it draws in Raccoon and 'possum....maybe it will get our mystery critter to turn around for just a few seconds.

I am still leaning towards mink.

Maybe some of my non-existant blog readers can figure it out!

oh...and for's a picture of a raccoon at the same camera, so you can see the size comparison.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Triplet Fawns

What a diffference 6 months makes.

I first caught a pic of these three with their mother in mid-July 2010 (the third fawn is just about out of the field of view on the right). 

I suppose...ultimately...its hard to say that these three were actually birthed by this female.  It's possible that another female's fawn(s) glommed onto her.  But, whatever the case, these three stuck around with her.  There are relatively few critters wandering the trail this camera is over.  About the only thing I see along the trail with any frequency was (what I am pretty sure) were these deer.  I'd get pictures of them off and on.  Sometimes only two young ones would happen to be in the frame, and I'd think one had fallen victim to something.  Yet, then later all three would invariably show themselves later.

Here, they posed nicely for a "6 month" family photo.  You can see the eyeshine from the other two on the right side of the frame. 

As summarized by DeNicola et al. in Managing White-Tailed Deer in Suburban Environments: a technical guide (2000; pg 11), although fawns/does as young as 6 months can breed (in areas with high resources), most do not become pregnant until they are yearlings.  Furthermore, multiple-offspring births are usually reserved for does of 2.5 years or older.  Triplets also usually only occur when conditions are favorable.

I'm not going to take the time to summarize every source out there on the frequency at which triplets occur in white-tailed deer females.  However, as an example, the Pennsylvania Game Commission reported in 2008 as part of their Deer Management Plan for 2009 through 2018 (pg. 20) that the average embryo per adult female is roughly 1.8, which means that multiple-offspring births occur.  In fact, they report that out of nearly 470 pregnant adult females sampled, 22 gave birth to triplets (with 333 giving birth to twins).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Gray Ghost

Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) are pretty common here.  They are one of the species that has seemed to do incredibly well in the suburban/rural landscape that is found throughout the region where we live.  Although the urban environment poses some significant challenges to certain species (particularly small vertebrates with little mobility, like amphibians and reptiles), other species seem to adapt and take advantage of what surburbia has to offer.  According to Gehrt's Urban Carnivores (2010) when a carnivore, like a gray fox, travels through the rural/urban landscape they are likely to experience a variety of biotic (living) and abiotic (nonliving) factors, and althought these factors are present in more "natural" ecosystems, they are substantially different in a urban/rural matrix.

(1) Climate: temperatures within "urban cores" are typically warmer than the surrounding non-urban landscape.  All of that black top, concrete, and etc. absorbs heat and retains it for longer than vegetation and soil.  Obviously for ectothermic (cold-blooded) species, this may be more problematic.  But it poses challenges to endotherms as well.

(2) Water: Hydrology may be significantly altered in urban areas.  In cities surrounded by arid landscapes (such as deserts), water may be more plentiful in town than out-of-town (due to garden ponds, sprinklers, fountains, golf courses, etc.). Urban/suburban areas in any part of the U.S. also usually have storm-water retention ponds.  These collect rain run-off, which occurs in excess when lots of concrete is present, that blocks rain from being absorbed by the ground.  That rain must go somewhere.  Often natural wetlands act as a catchment area for rain-runnoff.  But, as we fill in wetlands for a variety of purposes related to development, that water is more likely to end up in basements, etc..  So artificial retention ponds are often built in urban/suburban areas to act as an artificial catchment for excess rain water.  These are not natural, but may attract wildlife just the same.  Amphibians breed in them, fish are introduced into them, while mammals and birds find them for drinking purposes.  Some semi-aquatic mammals and birds (i.e., mink and herons) may actually take up more permanent residency in artificial retention ponds.  In some cases hydrology is massively altered in the form of stream corridors, river corridors and lakeshores being rearranged and re-directed to suit the needs of the people living within a given area.

(3) Light:  We often do not think of light pollution.  Street lights, billboards, neon signs all create artificial light that illuminates urband/surburban areas, making them much brighter at night than in more rural areas.  Many mammal species likely learn to avoid areas that are lit up at night, or at least skirt around in the shadows.  Although for carnivores like fox and coyotes, their major prey (small mammals) may become less active on bright nights, which can cause them problems.  For some species, particularly certain reptiles and amphibians, artificial light sources can be a more serious problem.  They have been known to artificially attract adults during the breeding season, or juveniles recently hatching from eggs.

(4) Noise: Something else we take for granted.  We're used to constant traffic, lawn mowers, leaf-blowers, and car stereos.  The inlfuence of this is not well-studied, but animals that rely heavily on hearing must be affected.  See Gehrt (2010) for some examples.

(5) Habitat Fragmentation:  Loss of habitat is the number one cause for the global reduction of biodiversity that we are experiencing.  Habitats become fragmented into smaller isolated "islands" due to a variety of reasons.  Conversion of previously "undisturbed" habitat into agriculture or housing/commercial land is one cause of fragmentation.  Also, construction of roads through previously undisturbed habitat is another cause of fragmentation (for a good general overview of fragmentation see Franklin et al., 2002, What is Habitat Fragmentation? in Studies in Avian Biology).  Obviously, some animals are more heavily affected by it than others.  Small vertebrates are particularly susceptible to mortality when a large undisturbed plot of woodland gets bisected by a road (for example).  They tend not to be quick enough getting across and will either not attempt to cross the road (and become stranded in a habitat island of inadequate size) or get smacked when trying to cross.  Some species may remain in habitat fragments (or islands of "undisturbed" habitat surrounded by development) for some period of time.  But the retention rate of species within these fragments depends on the size of the fragment and the avialble resources within that fragment.  So, if food becomes scarce, animals will be required to make forays into the disturbed suburban or urban landscape to meet this need.  Larger, more mobile vertebrates can likely get across these boundaries with greater ease than small mammals, reptiles and amphibians.  Some species do well in fragmented landscapes, so long as there are still small buffers and "green spaces" for them to move along and hide in among the homes and businesses associated with suburbia. 

(6) Biota: Native wildlife species in urban/suburban landscapes also likely come into contact with many types of flora and fauna that are unfamiliar.  Exotic pets, exotic ornamental plants, domestic dogs & cats, etc. all pose the potential for interactions with wildlife that live in such a landscape that don't exist in "natural" areas.  Ornamental plants, shrubs, bushes, may provide cover for certain species.  On the other hand, large manicured lawns reduce cover.  Newer developed areas may lack any type of vegetation that has grown enough to provide real cover for many medium and large vertebrates, while older suburbs and city parks (with older trees, shrubs, etc.) may be adequate. was talking about gray fox, right?  Gray fox seem to be a very adaptable little critter. 

Take a look at their traditional geographic range, extending from Canada to Panama.  It is often reported to prefer wooded habitats, or areas of dense cover (thickets, woodlands, wooded wetlands, etc.).  It is also a very adept climber, which means it can eat birds and their eggs, as well as any arboreal or ground-residing mammals, birds, insects, and etc (they'll also eat a fair amount of berries, and other vegetable matter throughout the year).  They are great mousers, which makes them beneficial in natural ecosystems (and may control rodent populations in towns and cities, although I could find little information on this.  Their generalist's attitude towards diet, range and habitat features means it can be a frequent inhabitant of surburan and urban areas.  Plenty of food is provided in the form of vegetable gardens, backyard birds, squirrels, dog food that's been left outside, and perhaps scraps of meat in a trashcan. 

Although they can handle disturbed habitats, it may not be good for them.  They are more likely to come into contact with domestic dogs and either contract, or spread, diseases such as canine distemper (which is fatal in wild canines that can't visit the vet) and rabies.  They also often run afoul of folks that keep poultry in rural and suburban settings.  Them chickens are easy pickins! 

Yet, despite all of this, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists them as being of "Least Concern".  Globally, this is accurrate, as in many areas they are relatively common.  IUCN also lists the major threat to this species as loss of habitat (which probably affects just about all species).  Becuase it apparently does not have a desirable coat for trappers/hunters, it is not often a target species in those areas.  It is worth noting, however, that this species may be considered rare regionally.  For example, although common where I live my home state of Wisconsin, this is a more rare species that is legally protected by the state.


I have captured so many pictures of gray fox on my camera traps over the last year that I hardly know how to start posting them all!  So..I'll post some of my more recent pics that I've obtained.  These are, appropriately, from my own back yard.  We live in a suburban environment, but one with alot of "green space" in between the houses (mostly in the form of small wooded corridors).  Also, some of the development in our area is relatively old and the Shrubs and trees larger for more cover.

My first experience with a gray fox near our home came in the car with the wife and kid.  One day last spring, as we drove home form somewhere in the middle of the day, I was shocked to see a grey streak shoot in front of the car, followed by a gang of angry ravens.  Not sure what happened, but I can only imagine the fox was after young or eggs (because they can climb...a nest in a tree is no problem!).  That night, I took the dog out for his nightly evacuation and I happened to see one run along our lot line (just in the shadows of an area illuminated by our street lamp) before bolting off between the houses.  Not a week later, I saw two running in the neighbor's yard one night (and the next morning found a dried husk of a squirrel roadkill they had probably drug into our yard, which I had to quickly dispose of before it got into my young daughter's curious line-of-sight).  Then, activity in the yard stopped.  At one point last July, I half-heartedly tried putting a camera trap in the yard to see if they were around, but after two weeeks of brutal heat realized they weren't going to be very active and pulled the cam.

This spring, however, I started testing out new cameras in the back yard and guess who decided to show?

In this first picture below, I was still testing which direction the camera should face for the best pics.  So, I caught only a glimpse of the fox, off to the left of the field of view.   In the second picture, I had figured out which angle was better.  With the help of Sampson (my dog), who emptied his bladder in front of the cam, I was able to get some of these urban fox to come in for a close up.

Not two days ago, we (my wife, the kid, the dog and I) were enjoying a very mild spring afternoon.  It was nearing evening, and the sun was going down, but our daughter was enjoying alittle play time outside before bed.  Suddenly, I noticed movement along our back lot line and without any hesitation, a gray fox silently trotted out, walking along the neighbor's driveway.  He moved with a purpose, but didn't seem to pay us much heed, and didn't run as I said "hey, look...a gray fox!" to my wife and kid.  In a matter of seconds, and before the dog had even noticed, the fox had quickly moved across the street and into the wooded green space between the houses on the other side.

I have many, many more gray fox pictures that I will share with you.  Most from more natural settings.  But these are some of my favorites.

Further Reading on Gray Fox:

Chapman and Feldhammer (editors). 1982.  Wild Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Macdonald and Sullero-Zibiri (editors). 2004. The Biology and Conservation of Wild Canines.  Oxford Uuniversity Press.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Coyote Cams

The winter is when canines seem to become most active.  Probably this is due to the fact that late winter/early spring is the breeding season for the species in this area. 

Take, for example, the Coyote (Canis latrans).  The so-called "singing dog", or "talking dog", as its greek name translates to (in reference to their vocal nature).  The coyote is a wary animal.  Let's face it, you'd be wary too if folks felt about you the way they feel about coyotes.  It's impossible to deny that humans have waged a nation-wide all-out war against predators throughout our history.  I'm not saying it's right or wrong (well, at least I'm not saying one way or the other right now).  It's just a fact.  Let's focus on coyotes, for now.  The Colorado Division of Wildlife claims on their website that between 1915 and 1947 some 1,884,897 coyotes were brought in dead and had bounties paid on them (Armstrong, 2010).  This is reported to be largely due to reports of livestock depredation.  It is interesting to note that coyotes "thrive despite widespread attempts to control or eradicate them" in Colorado (Armstrong, 2010).  This is only one of countless examples. 

Regardless, this form of predator control is not only something that occured in the past.  It also is not something that occurs solely at the behest of upset cattle-ranchers.  Sometimes attempts to control 'yotes are made becuase they threaten other species of wildlife that we deem more desirable, are a greater conservation concern, or are things WE like to hunt and really don't want coyotes cutting in on our action.  For example, the Nevada Department of Wildlife has a number of "Predator Management Plans" that involved removal of coyotes (and other carnivores) to help conserve deer, big horn sheep, elk in 2006 (  I don't mean to pick on this particular agency, as others have done the same. 

Many (not all) recreational hunters loath coyotes because they'll occassionally take white-tailed deer as part of their incredibly varied diet.  I'm sure this will draw the ire of folks, but some would not consider a reduction of the white-tailed deer herd a bad thing (ask a person who's had Lyme Disease recently, or is interested in the conservation of native plant communities).

Even your humble Trailblazer...when working on a research project that involved radio tracking Bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi) in Wisconsin.... had coyotes that gave him a wee bit O' trouble.  It seems 'yotes will also eat snakes (even big snakes with expensive radio transmitters implanted into their body cavities; Kapfer et al. 2008).  In fairness, I didn't propose removal of coyotes to conserve snakes (although I may have felt a small twinge of maliciousness towards them at that time :)  ).

Now...remember....I'm not saying coyote removal for these reasons is right or wrong.  But, this persecution has resulted in some pretty wary (and savy) coyotes!  That hapless canine that is perpetually (and with futility) attempting to catch a tongue-plugging, "meeping" bird on Saturday morning cartoons isn't named "Wil E. Coyote" for nuthing!  Coyotes, it seems, can easily adjust to negotiate the current urban/suburban/rural matrix that we've created on the landscape (for reference, see reports of coyotes in Chicago and New York City; Illinois Department of Natural Resources;  New York State Department of Environmental Conservation).  *I must also here recommend DeStefano's recent book Coyote At the Kitchen Door. A very nice book that focuses on living with wildilfe in suburbia.* 

But ...back to wary coyotes.  Street-wise or otherwise, 'yotes are flat-out wary as heck!  So, to get pictures of them on a camera trap requires extra effort and alot of patience!

Back in June (2010), I placed a number of cameras on my study sites.  I was expecting anything and everything.  However, what I was quickly struck with was the absolute lack of carnivores captured by cameras. Many thoughts came to mind about how to rectify the situation.  I was certain coyote and fox were around (I had seen their tracks earlier in the project).  So,  I decided it was time to try some commercial trapper scent, and l settled on applying a scent lure of animal glands, musks and/or urines.  I also figured I'd try some food lures of some kind.  This eventually drew in some grey fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), but still no 'yotes!

I started reading up on what traditional coyote trappers do to catch their quarry...and it can be very extensive and requires meticulous scent control on the part of the trapper.  Well, that's just not feasible for me.  I'm doing more in the field than just messing with my cameras and all the other work gets me good and sweaty.  So, there's no way I have the time to spend on the personal scent control that many report I need.

But...turns out patience is as important as anything.  Also, time of year may play a factor.

My first capture (out of 8 cameras deployed across two sites!) comes in October of last year.  A fleeting shot as one crosses in front of my camera along a wooded stream that runs adjacent to a power line Right of Way.  This picture occured on a camera that I do not put scent or food lures in front of.

It takes several weeks for the next ones to show up.  This picture of an individual from a completely different site.  No scent lure was applied in front of this camera.  Interestingly, there was another camera placed roughly 80 yds away from this location....and I tried alot of different scent lures in front of that camera 80 yds from this one, with no avail.  Yet, at that distance, the coyotes must have smelled the scent at that other camera, but their spidey senses must have been tingling becuase I never got a picture of them there.

The individual below was captured on a different camera, but still at the same study site where the first picture was taken.  No scent lures used in front of this camera either.  This individual is obviously high-tailing it outta there.

An important point about camera traps.  This particular brand is considered "Infra-red", or IR.  So, at night a series of red LEDs glow slightly, which causes just enough illumination for the special IR filter over the camera lens to take night pictures without a bright white flash.  The bright white flash (presumably) scares animals away, although this is debatable.  However, although less obvious at night than a white flash camera, the IR flash is still visible.  It doesn't visibly illuminate an area, but if the animal is looking directly at the camera, they will see the red LEDs flash.  It's those glowing red LEDs that must have scared the coyote in that last picture.

After that, things get pretty quiet on the 'yote front, and it's not until mid-December of 2010 that they start showing up again.  But when they show...boy do they show!

First crossing the stream multiple times in the same location as the first picture in this blog entry.

Then, crossing in front of a camera located down stream from the location pictured immediately above

Here a Christmas Coyote following a stream corridor at a completely different camera location at another site.

And...the trend continues on into the new year.  This first picture is my personal favorite.  Mostly becuase this coyote is looking right at the camera.  Given the fact that it's day, there shouldn't be any red LED glow to cue the 'yote into the camera's presence.  But...the camera just doesn't look right, I guess.  The 'yote gives the camera one glance and is nowhere to be found later!

Another interesting note: this last picture is at the same camera as the picture I posted above with the coyote obviously being scared by something (taken on 11/12/2010). the night time picture captured immediately above (taken on 1/23/2011), the coyote pictured clearly gets the red LEDs straight in the face and casually walks past. 

I'm guessing a period of acclimation had to occur.  And coyotes, being as smart as they are, learn that if something isn't a threat...don't waste your energy running from it!

I'm a coyote fan.  For some, that apparently means I'm a hippie, pinko, commie, environmentalist, tree-hugger.  I'm not.  I'm a realist and I know that the coyote can be problematic.  I'm also not an animal rights activist (although I ain't crazy about unneccessary animal testing), but that means I understand that in some instances 'yotes may have to be removed.  I am, however, a conservation biologist, which means I'm interested in practical and objective approaches to conserve biodiversity.  The coyote, it would seem, has thwarted all of humanity's efforts to eradicate it for many years.  Despite being one of the most loathed and reviled critters in America (behind, perhaps, the wolf and the rattlesnake), it has learned to get around every trap we set and every gun barrel we point.  It also has been shown to be a very useful predator, based on the work of Kevin Crooks and Michael Soule, who coined the term mesopredator release as a result of their research.  I'd summarize what mesopredator release is for you, but you have to figure out something for yourself, right?  :)  It's a must-read for anyone serious about wildlife conservation (particularly those interested in birds)!

So, I suppose we could ask the questions:

Are coyotes an important part of the ecological communities in which they naturally exist? 


Do coyotes need to be removed sometimes? 


Are there probably much bigger concerns to human, livestock or other wildlife's safety than coyotes? 

I'll bet a large sum of money there are!  Feral pigs, feral dogs, feral cats, mosquitoes, cars and Homo sapiens (to name a few) pose a bigger threat to the three categories listed above than coyotes ever will.

Armstrong, D.M. 2010. Coyote (Canis latrans). Colorado Division of Wildlife.  Accessed on Feb. 19, 2011.

Kapfer, J.M., J.R. Coggins, and R. Hay. 2008. Estimates of population size, measurements of sex ratios, and reported mortality rates for Bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi) at a site in the upper Midwestern United States.  Journal of Herpetology 42:265-269.