By Alexandra Mash
Do you ever wonder what animals lurk in the most wild parts of the state? Or in your own backyard? Still waiting for photographic proof of a North Carolina mountain lion? Big foot? North Carolina’s Candid Critters is your chance to discover the secrets of wildlife right here in North Carolina!
The NC Museum of Natural Sciences, NC Wildlife Resources Commission and NC State University are bringing you a new citizen science project that will span the entire state of North Carolina 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 back yard. Then, wait and see what critters you catch! At the same time you are discovering what wildlife live near you, you will be helping the NC Wildlife Resources Commission learn more about deer reproduction and the distribution of all mammal species across the state.
These cameras are digital and can store thousands of photos. They’re easy to use, so you don’t need to be a professional scientist or photographer to help us collect data. Simply complete our 45-minute online training and you’ll qualify as a camera trapper! Cameras will be run in one place for 3 weeks, then volunteers will use our specially developed “eMammal” software to tag the species in the photographs and upload them for archiving at the Smithsonian. These photos will be stored indefinitely, allowing scientists of the future to look at how mammals change over time in the state. It’s easy, fun and you can choose your favorite photos to share with us and others online.
One of the main 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 us to map where animals live and when and where they are most active across the state. We can use these images to study how wildlife interacts with their environment, with humans and with other species. We’ve 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.
To answer these types of questions for mammals, we need to collect data on very large scales, like entire states, and we can’t do it alone. This is where you come in! By participating in North Carolina’s Candid Critters, you will help us collect the data necessary to meet our scientific goals over the entire state to fully understand the wildlife of North Carolina. The project will kick off with the first cameras being set in the Eastern third of the state beginning December 2016, then we will move into all 100 counties in March 2017! If you own your own camera, you can start anytime no matter what county you live in! You can follow our progress and see favorite photos and preliminary results on our website.
We hope you will join us in this ambitious project! Sign up now at NCCandidCritters.org.