Behaviors and Babies: What ARE We Looking For?
In addition to asking who and how many creatures are captured in each picture, we also request that you tell us a little more information about what’s going on in the camera trap images. Specifically, we’re interested in behaviors the animals are performing and whether they have babies with them. From these data, we can then ask specific science questions about what these animals are doing and why. Here, we provide a clarification for what we are looking for and why in several of the most confusing classifications:
Here, we’re trying to figure out where animals are traversing across areas instead of stopping to hang around. Perhaps they feel less safe in this particular area, or there is less food, or too much competition. “Moving” is a category for animals that are actively walking, running, swimming, or flying across the frame. We’re not interested here in animals that are standing still or lying down and moving parts of their body, like their heads or tails. This kind of “movement” doesn’t capture the moving from place to place element that we’re hoping to study and can be confusing for our analyses!
INTERACTINGThis is a category for animals interacting with one another. This can be for animals interacting with the same species or with different species, and can include grooming, fighting, playing, and other kinds of behaviors where one individual is engaging another. Do not mark animals that are interacting with the camera trap with this category! Our researchers are interested in using these data to study how animals relate to other animals. If you find a great picture of an animal getting up close and personal with the camera, feel free to comment on it or use a hashtag like #animalselfie, #camerastare or #extremecloseup.
Juvenile animals tend to be more vulnerable to predators and have different nutritional needs than their adult parents. This can force adult animals to make particular decisions about where they need to be and how they need to act in order to trade off their own needs with those of their offspring. While you might sometimes see younger-looking animals in the camera images (ones that are smaller than adults, or following close behind), here we are interested in animals that are young enough to still be primarily dependent on their parents. Specifically for deer, this means brown fawns with spots! The exact age will vary from species to species, but if you use the general definition of dependency on parents, you should be in good shape.
ANTLERS: YES/NO......OR MAYBE?
For deer specifically, you'll be asked a question about antlers and whether you see them or not. Female white-tailed deer (does) never have antlers; bucks have them seasonally. Antler growth begins in April or May, increases in June, and usually has reached its peak by the end of July. In August and September, blood flow to the antlers ceases and the soft velvet that covers them earlier in the year begins to slough off. During the fall, bucks use their hardened antlers to spar with one another before breeding begins in November. After the breeding season is over, bucks shed their antlers. We see a lot of bucks on our cameras in December, January and February with only a single antler (you can use #unicorn to single them out), but they do eventually both come off! Marking whether or not you see antlers in the subject sets gives the research team some indications about where, how and with whom males and females are spending their time.
Of course, 'antlers: yes or no' is not a foolproof way to tell males and females apart. There are times of year when males don't have antlers, and there are also plenty of images (like the one above) where you don't get a clear look at the deer's head. For now, we are asking you to mark these images as 'No' for the question about whether you can see antlers - but we do understand that there is a difference between a picture like this and one where you can see that the deer truly does not have antlers! In the next update of the project, thanks to your great suggestions, we'll add an additional 'Not Visible' option to this question. This will help us to use your data even more effectively as we delve further into questions about everyone's favorite animal, the white-tailed deer!
EATING: what's that about?!
Foraging behaviors can tell us a number of things about an animal - from hints about its physical condition to ideas about how safe or threatened it feels in different parts of the landscape. Eating is defined as when an animal has its head in extremely close proximity to a food source (e.g., ground, bush, carcass) or can be clearly seen with food (e.g., foliage, seeds, carrion) in its mouth. Look for browsing, chewing, and grazing behaviors! If you suspect an animal is foraging, mark this category.