Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Jonathan Pishney with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
Do you ever wonder what animals lurk in the wildest parts of the state? Or in your own backyard? Still waiting for photographic proof of a North Carolina mountain lion? (Or Big Foot?) Now is your chance to discover the secrets of wildlife right here in North Carolina by participating in “North Carolina’s Candid Critters,” a new research project of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, NC Wildlife Resources Commission and NC State University.
This citizen science project will span the entire state, from the mountains to the sea. No matter what county you live in, you can borrow a camera trap from a nearby public library to set on approved public lands. If you own your own camera trap, you can set it on either approved public land or in your own backyard. Then wait and see what critters you catch. At the same time that you are discovering what wildlife lives near you, you will be helping scientists learn more about deer reproduction and the distribution of all mammal species across the state.
“Before we can answer all these questions about mammals we need to collect massive amounts of data, in this case camera trap images, from across all 100 counties in North Carolina,” says project coordinator Arielle Parsons, researcher with the Museum of Natural Sciences. “We really need the public’s help to accomplish this. The more people that participate, the more we can learn about North Carolina’s critters.” For more information or to sign up, visit NCCandidCritters.org.
Camera traps allow scientists (and citizen scientists) to collect pictures of animals without disturbing them. These cameras can capture thousands of digital photos, which are then stored online indefinitely, allowing scientists now and in the future to look at how the state’s mammals change over time. One of the main scientific advantages of pictures from camera traps is that they are “verifiable,” which means that they are evidence that an animal was located in a specific time and place. The photos generated turn into data, allowing scientists to map where animals live and when and where they are most active across the state. They can then use this data to study how wildlife interacts with the environment, with humans and with other species. For example, wildlife biologist Roland Kays with NC State and his colleagues at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences recently used camera trap photos to determine that human recreation—like hiking, hunting and dog walking—is largely compatible with most wildlife species in the Southeast and doesn’t cause measurable disturbance.