Imagine this: You’re at a party enjoying good food and the company of your friends. Someone calls to you from across the room. You turn your head and then…SNAP! As the blinding flash subsides, you are confronted with the sobering truth that you are forever caught on camera with a cheese puff stuck to the corner of your mouth.
Although you may not appreciate a surprise picture, biologists are using a similar technique to snap candid shots of local wildlife, collecting valuable information on what wildlife does when we’re not watching. Using cameras placed in forests, biologists with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office are monitoring endangered Delmarva fox squirrels as they roam about their natural habitat.
Using remote cameras triggered by animal activity (without the animal even knowing) is called photomonitoring. It allows biologists to collect information without disturbing natural wildlife behavior. Photomonitoring equipment consists of a transmitter that sends an infrared beam to a receiver. When an animal moves in front of the infrared beam, the receiver sends a signal to a 35mm camera to take a picture.
Biologists are using photomonitors to determine the type of habitat and forest cover Delmarva fox squirrels use within Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, Maryland. Delmarva fox squirrels are only found on the Delmarva Peninsula, and are most abundant in Dorchester, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties in Maryland.
Delmarva fox squirrels live in mature pine and hardwood forests, especially near farmland areas. Large trees provide an abundant supply of acorns and seeds for food and provide nest cavities for dens. They feed heavily on mast: nuts and seeds of oak, hickory, sweetgum, walnut and loblolly pine trees. During spring they feed on maple buds and flowers but will also eat fungi, insects, fruit and seeds. In the summer and early fall, Delmarva fox squirrels will feed on mature green pine cones. They make their dens in tree hollows during the winter months and leaf nests during the summer.
Past conversion of forests into agricultural land, timber harvesting, and over-hunting all contributed to the original decline in Delmarva fox squirrel populations. In order to protect Delmarva fox squirrel habitat, biologists need to identify suitable habitat where food and potential nest cavities are plentiful. Collecting information on Delmarva fox squirrels with photomonitoring equipment will help biologists better understand which areas on the Delmarva Peninsula have the highest quality habitat, helping to ensure their continued survival.
"Smile, you're on Candid Camera!", Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Natural Heritage Program
Delaware Fox Squirrel photographed with remote photomonitoring equipment at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Dorchester county, MD, USFWS photo
Delmarva Fox Squirrel, USFWS photo
For more information:
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Maryland Department of Natural Resources