Tuesday, April 3, 2012

More live-traps AND more snow!!

The lobster boat dock close to our home in Nova Scotia
Hey kids!!!
Hope you had a great vacation and it was fantastic to see SO many comments.  A reminder: there's a four-hour time difference between here and Nova Scotia, so when you are just getting out of school, I'm getting ready for dinner.

Sometimes this means you may post a comment and not see a response from me for over a day.  Please be patient!  I'm out in the field the majority of the time, but promise to answer all questions pertaining to Nova Scotia, animals in the field, and the project in general.
Now, onto the Challenge Question winners:
Sierra earns a Canadian candy bar for her correct answer to Challenge Question #1: 
Where in the forest would a researcher be most likely to set a live-trap and successfully catch a mouse?  Why?

Her answer - taken from her posted comment - is right on the money:
"You would want to place the traps near tunnels at the base of vegetation, paths across leaf litter, moss or soil. Also the edges of boulders and logs because they like to hide from their predators and they like to rub their bodies on the rocks and logs. They are able to move along paths when there is leaf litter better without being spotted."
You may be able to see the square-glint of metal in the lower left hand corner of the photo below.  You'll notice that we positioned the trap right along the line of the tree roots and stump.  Mice feel safer running along the edges of things because, if they run out in the open, they risk being spotted and eaten by a predator.  We camouflage the trap, not so much to make it blend into the habitat but to keep it warm overnight.  Many mice and voles have an overnight stay in the live-trap and we want to make it as comfortable as possible.

Mimi earns a Canadian candy bar for her correct answer (via email) to Challenge Question #2:
What climate factor might create a low vole count?  Why?

Mimi's answer: "Hibernation time! when it's too cold the voles hide and hibernate until its safe again (weather wise)."

The low vole count we are currently experiencing has a lot to do with how cold it is here. Normally, temperatures are heating up at this time, but - while it continues to snow - the voles and other small critters would rather stay bundled up inside, conserving their energy for the warmer months ahead.  In addition: mice and voles have dark coats that are easy for their predators (such as owls, bobcats and raccoons) to spot in the snow.

Caloy gets a Runner's Up - for being the first to post the correct answer to Challenge Question #2 in a blog comment (but not before Mimi beat him to it).  =)

Now, onto our new discoveries!!!!

Last week, in total, we caught three red backed voles and one unexpected critter - a bog lemming.
Lemmings are incredibly soft, but not as cute as mice or voles
Bog lemmings are Maple-leaf Mammalians, no doubt, they just aren't seen as often in the area where we are collecting our data.  They tend to live in wetlands, like bogs, and we hadn't set any live-traps near water during our first week.  A lemming is a kind of rodent - just like mice and voles - but are usually gray in color with a tiny tail.  Anytime we live-trap ANY of these small mammals we drop them into a plastic bag and catch it by the scruff of the neck.  

Then we put the critters back in a plastic bag and Dr. Buesching collects the data she needs on a clipboard, including the weight of the small mammals.
This lemming weighed about 18 kilograms, a healthy weight
all answers get credit; first right answer gets a candy bar...the winning post must also include both the why questions and some physiological explanation for the correct answer

Why don't the critters suffocate when we put them in a plastic bag?  It is tightly closed to prevent an escape.  Why do humans suffocate, then, if enclosed in plastic?

Yesterday, we were out setting live-traps again, but we moved them to another place on the large piece of land that's being used for the study.  It was snowing while we prepared the traps.

Last week we placed traps in a forest and a clearing.  A clearing is the worst to walk through!  It's basically a forest-in-the-making so it's full of small trees and bushes that are at shoulder height and above.  We had to fight to get through the underbrush and I would often come out onto the other side with my hat missing and my glasses on side ways.

This week, we are placing the live-traps in a field and a bog.  Fields are straight-forward, fairly wide open places.
Look at the bottom right hand corner; you'll see the bright pink trap markers we set to remind us where the traps are
Bogs are a little more difficult.  The ground is wet and muddy and tends to hang onto your shoe when you are trying to step away.
My trusty box of live-traps, bedding to keep the animals warm once they're trapped, and pink marking tape

all answers get credit; first right answer gets a candy bar...the winning post must also include the why and BOTH what questions

Why do we choose different areas on the project land (forest, clearing, field and bog) to study?  What are the benefits of this?  What would be the scientific language to describe this approach?


  1. to get variabilty in the different species and get a wider range of what works and what doesn't work with the species.-John Aguilar

  2. Hi John,

    You've got a good PARTIAL answer here. Talk about the benefits and define variability. THAT will earn you Canadian chocolate...


  3. Each area has a different range of species, even if it is the same type of animal. Their traits may have changed because of the different habitat, and each animal may have had to separately adapt to each place. For example, their fur may be thicker, or their teeth may be differently shaped, depending on the weather, and the food they have had to adapt for to consume. So when you study different areas, you are seeing a various, wide range of mammals to use to conduct the research.

    ..if that makes any sense.

    And I'm unsure about the first question, but isn't it because they are smaller than we are, so they take in smaller amounts of air than a human would? I don't know.


  4. Hi Irene,

    Yes and yes!! Both of your answers are correct! Mice and voles are so tiny and their lung capacity is so minimal, that a plastic bag full of air is enough to sustain them for the time it takes to weigh them and return them to the area where we trapped them originally!

    To qualify your first answer - it isn't so much that physical characteristics would vary that much within a few mile radius BUT the small mammals DO prefer particular habitats over others and their behavior may vary depending on the habitat. For example, a clearing has a lot of visibility from the sky - meaning birds of prey can more easily see small mammals. In the forest, this isn't as much of the case.

    Two Canadian candy bars for you!!!

    ~Ms. Elahi