A (Brief) Year In Review
It's been a while since I've posted about the Rhode Island Fisher Study, we've been quite busy! Here's a recap of the year from the RIFS crew:
We've completed 2 more season of camera trapping and amassed over 1 million photos this past year. That's a lot of data! We've been hard at work tagging all the photos so we know what species we've seen, particularly where we are seeing fisher across the state. Currently, we are halfway through our winter photo session and looking forward to pulling cameras next month.
Live-trapping and collaring
Our first season was a huge success with the capture of 21 individuals in just 2 months. We were able to relocate most of the collared fishers, and those we could not relocate we captured on cameras in the summer months healthy and prospering. Additionally, we were able to get some great video of one of our mothers (F11 - Toph) bringing her kits out of the den for the first time. We are excited to have started our second trapping season to see which furry friends we may catch this year!
We occasionally get luck to get a bobcat kitten on camera, but this was an extraordinary event! Not one, not two, but three kittens padding through the sand. I had seen plenty of tracks on my walks in to check these cameras, and was extremely excited when we finally got some photos of the print makers. These kits have striking black markings on the back of their hind legs and the second photo gives you a great view of their bobbed tails and white ears. There are plenty of eastern cottontail rabbits roaming these scrubby areas of beaches, and it looks like these kittens are staying well fed!
Eye for an eye?
Was your first thought..."Is this coyote missing an eye?" Mine was too!
Wait...okay, what actually makes animal's eyes glow at night when we shine a light on them? The glow, or eyeshine, is a result of a reflective layer behind the retina called the tapetum lucidum. Essentially, this layer effectively increases the amount of light reflected in the eye which enhances an animal's vision once it gets dark. We humans are not equipped with this awesome adaptation, which could have helped you not to bang your toe on dresser when you're trying to navigate your room in the dark.
So, what is going on here with this coyote? Well, there could be many things that are resulting in one eye not reflecting light. A simple, and common cause is that this coyote has a lazy eye. The slightest change in eye position can cause the light to be reflected in a totally different direction, thus not being redirected back toward the camera. Some other causes can be related to eye disorders or infection.
Is he/she going to be alright? Firstly, we cannot pinpoint the cause of the lack of eyeshine without being able to examine the animal. However, if we look at the body condition of this coyote, we can see that it appears healthy and that whatever the cause of the lack of eyeshine is, it does not seem to be impacting the coyote's ability to hunt and gather food. Hopefully we will get more photos of this beautiful coyote in the coming months and can keep an eye on it!
Cat Scratch Fever
House cats are notorious for their love to rub up on anything, whether it be your legs, the side of the couch, or their cat tree. This bobcat goes to show that wild cats have similar behaviors...but their cat tree is a real one!
These are four photos of this bobcat rubbing its cheek and back against the downed log. What you can't see is that we've placed a smelly scent lure on this log, which this cat loves! We get photos of a variety of animals rolling in the scent lure, but none look as elegant as this bobcat.
You may be familiar with cat scratch fever, but if you've only heard of it from the Ted Nugent song, let's talk a little bit about it. No, cat scratch fever is not what's happening in these photo with our buddy scratching itself on a log. Cat scratch fever, or cat-scratch disease (CDS) is caused by a bacterial infection. It's relatively common in domestic cats, with it mainly being transmitted cat to cat by fleas. It can be transmitted to humans via a scratch or bite from an infected cat.
But it's not just domestic cats that are infected with the bacteria; wild cats, such as bobcats, can also get it. The bacteria can be transferred from your cat to a wild bobcat (or visa versa), which then can spread to more wild animals. Although cases in humans are rare, it is still important for your safety, along with your cat and the wild cats, that we keep our domestic cats inside. CSD just barely 'scratches' the surface of the potential disease your house cat can pick up and bring into your home if you let them wonder outside. Let the bobcats and cougars roam the woods, and let your cat be the king of his/her own domain: your house!
Look closely...how many fisher do you see?
This was one of our first fisher detections of the year, and it happened to be a mother fisher scampering along a rock wall with two of her kits. Fisher love to climb on fallen logs, leaning trees, and you guessed it, rock walls! These kits are about 3 months old at this point and will stick around mom until winter comes. Typically, young males will set out first to find new stomping grounds around December or January, and females follow to live on their own by spring. Similar to their weasel and otter cousins, fisher also have a playful spirit. This photo caught one of the kits mid-leap as it tries to keep up with its sibling and mom!
Welcome to the Rhode Island Fisher Chronicles! This is a new feature I am trying out to share some photos from the field. If you follow my twitter account, @GanoeResearch, you'll see I post some of our camera trap photos there. There may be some cross-posting of photos, however, on this blog I will provide more of a narrative behind the photos, the species in them, and some tales from our live-trapping season.
So what is a camera trap? Is it the same as a trail camera? Yes, and no. Camera traps are typically created using trail cameras and bait and/or scent lures at the site. The scent lures usually serve a long-distance attractant to pull the animal to the site and increase the chance of it walking in front of the camera. The bait increases the chance of an animal returning (food reward) and helps to keep the animal in front of the camera for a longer amount of time which is crucial for successful DNA collection (e.g. from hair snares) or for individual identification (e.g. from coat patterns/unique markings).
Okay, so now I know what a camera trap is, what is going on with them in RI? We are using camera traps with a scented lure. As I write this, we are in the process of wrapping up our summer camera trapping season and have tons of amazing photos to share. For the next three years, we will be conducting two camera trapping seasons - summer and winter - across the state of Rhode Island. The survey consists of 250 sites with two cameras at each site, which means....a lot of photos of critters! We are specifically looking for one fantastic critter in particular: fisher.
Fisher are what we call mesocarnivores, or medium-bodied carnivores. They are in the family Mustelidae (commonly referred to as the mustelids), which includes weasels, otter, badger, skunks, wolverines, etc. If you look at the animal in the header photo on this page, that is a fisher! Okay, but why are we interested in fisher in Rhode Island? Well, we don't know much about their lives in our state. They naturally colonized RI as recently as the 1980's, and they rapidly expanded across much of the state. RI is the second most densely populated state in the U.S., which makes us super curious as to how our fisher are navigating such an urbanized landscape. Using camera trap photos and GPS collars, we will study where fisher are at in RI and how they are getting there.
I hope you are as excited about this project as I am, and I hope you continue to follow this blog. If anything, you'll get to break up your day with some neat wildlife photos and a story to go with them. Remember, fisher are friends, not fiends.
Until next time, dear reader.
Laken Ganoe is a PhD student at the University of Rhode Island studying fisher ecology across the state of Rhode Island. She loves sharing her findings and research updates in an informative but comical way.