Friday, March 9, 2012

Advanced Ecology Lab Week 7: The Tod

"I'm the Tod.  Tod, ye know?  Canniest Tod on Moss an' Moor."
-The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams

Richard Adams is one of my favorite authors.  If you know him at all, it's probably for his classic Watership Down, a fictional tale about the adventures of a group of rabbits living in the Brittish Countryside.  The group decides one day to leave their home and find a new one, only to constantly dodge death as the result of run-ins with predators, humans, and a disturbing rival group of militant rabbits.  These rabbits come from a "warren" called Efrafra, and they make strong attempts to assimilate the protagonist rabbits.  There's no way I can describe the book without it sounding silly.  But trust me, it's incredible.......even riveting.  Complete with a rabbit (named Fiver) plagued by visions of the future, and the nasty leader of the Efrafran rabbits (that is rumored to have survived a run-in with a dog) named General Woundwort.   To put Adams' ability as a writer into perspective: the character of General Woundwort is more intimidating than Darth Vader, and that alone should be reason enough to read this book....  :)

But, my goal in this was not to discuss Watership Down, but one of Adams' other novels called The Plague Dogs.  This story centers on a pair of dogs (Snitter and Rowlf) who escape from a research facility in England, where they have been experimented on and mistreated.  Snitter, for example, has had repeated brain surgeries, that have led to his inability to separate reality from halucination.  He also has visions of the future and vivid flashbacks.  The two dogs survive in the wild for a time with the help of a Red Fox named simply The Tod, who speaks with a northeastern English dialect/accent.  Eventually, however, the dogs and the Tod are spotted killing sheep and branded by the media as a danger to humans.  At which point a "man-hunt" begins, which only escalates as folks determine the dogs have escaped from a research facility and may be carrying a bioweapon (plague).  The book is incredible....often depressing, but also very riveting.

The Tod is sly and cunning.  He knows how to hunt and not get caught.  He teaches the dogs how to survive on the moors.

"Just a proposition, bonny lads.  If ye'll hunt with me, I'll keep ye right, and ye'll have yer meat, we'll run through the night and follow me feet.....Why, ye'll have no bother with me, I'm a delicate eater.  I don't aught but pick at me meat."

He also has some fairly memorable quotes, such as:

"Yer lookin' for me?  The way yer runnin' I thought yer arse was a' fire."

Eventually, fate catches up with The Tod when a group of humans and hounds come (attempting to kill the dogs due to their rumored connection to a bioweapon).  The less-experienced Rowlf and Snitter are nearly captured. The Tod uses all of his tricks to distract the hunters and save the dogs, but is cornered and killed in the process.

"Us tods, we're used to runnin', 'till the dark comes, anyway.....  That's the place where you stop runnin' for good."

The Tod was very active on the cameras we're using in lab over the last week and we finally got some decent pictures of him (or her).

We were on hiatus during week 5, and as I mentioned last time, our week 6 lab involved checking some cameras and setting up an experiment that I'll post some results from in the future.

Week 7 was for housekeeping.  We updated our experiments started in Week 6 (more to come), and we moved the camera traps deployed during Week 1.  This provided two functions: 1). it allows us to increase our sample size; 2) the students basically sucked at finding spots on their own during week 1.  This is to be expected and all part of the learning process.  After 6 weeks, they have hopefully learned what care and attention to detail can provide (i.e., put in some work, and actually get some wildlife pics as your pay-back).  Thus, moving the cameras allowed them to redeem themselves for some of the crummy spots they picked before.

A few spots looked very promising.  One group uncovered the left-overs of a Tod/bunny interaction (i.e. hasenfeffer). 

The critter (that we're assuming was a Tod, but just as likely a Coyote), went through alot of work to dig this rabbit out of its burrow under the roots of a big red oak.

But once he got in, the bunny was trapped and all we found was fur......

The Tod was apparently everywhere last week.....recorded on 2 of 6 cameras, potentially found in a different location near the oak tree above, and was also leaving tracks along the far eastern edge of the property (below).

Stay tuned!


  1. I love the blunt evaluation of your student's work. They will figure it out after realizing the easy way out isn't going to work.

    Not familiar with those books at all, but I will check them out now. Thanks for the recommendations.

    1. Ha! Yeah, I made sure to point out every picture to them that was of a critter's back ("boy, it would sure be nice if that camera was mounted alittle lower")...and so on :)

      But, you can tell them to pay attention and be observant (the first step of the scientific method!)....yet, nothing compares to actual experience.

      In fairness, there were two or three of the cams that were pretty well placed.

      I definately recommend anything by Richard Adams. I suppose he's more popular in the UK and we don't hear as much about him here. But....I can vividly remember watching the cartoon movie version of Watership Down as a kid and loving it. Then reading the book when I was older.....there was much I didn't understand about the movie when I was young, and really appreciated it in the book as an adult.

      They are both very good reads!

    2. Very cool RF pics! I am vacationing on the Outer Banks, NC right now...and I just set a camera trap in the back yard of the beach house. While setting it and scenting it, I experienced something very cool- a RF (I think) came in to me to see what I was doing! Didn't get a good look other than glowing eyes and a silhouette, but almost positive it was. Can't wait to see what I get!

  2. Read both books when young and despite or because of Adams sentimentality enjoyed them both,they are very moving.I understand he read Lockley,s study on rabbits beforehand...

    1. Adams well-known in Europe? It seems like so few folks in the US know of him. Watership Down was a staple movie of my childhood (one of those that mom and dad would tell me was going to be on tv and I'd plan my evening around it!). So I just assumed he was well-known here.

      They're so different from the other stuff I was into as a kid (Star Wars, etc.) and I think that's why they appealed to me.

      I hadn't read Plague Dogs until I was much older....which is probably just as well becuase it's alot more heavy than Watership Down, I thought.