CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — Hundreds of cameras are available to the public, to help researchers track wildlife throughout North Carolina.
It’s part of a project called Candid Critters. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences wants to collect photos from 20,000 to 30,000 locations over the next three years.
Volunteers such as East Chapel Hill High School senior Danielle Losos strap battery-powered, motion-activated cameras about knee-high to trees in yards, woods, and parks.
Three weeks later, the unofficially titled citizen scientists retrieve the devices, which take five shots at a time when they detect animals. The volunteers then review the images and upload the pictures for the researchers to analyze.
“In a residential area like my yard, over the course of three weeks it must have taken 2,000 photographs of deer, but there were barely any other species, maybe a few squirrels here and there,” Losos said.
She said the Candid Critters program was a great find as a way to investigate biology and nature.
Losos calls herself an aspiring scientist, and said real research opportunities are hard to come by for high school students. Candid Critters allowed her to contribute to a large project, while being a commitment with flexible hours and allowing her to work at home.
“One of the things I was curious about was whether or not a huge abundance of deer would scare off other species and so that was one puzzle I think I might have uncovered a bit while working on the project,” Losos said.
“In some of the larger plots of land that I deployed a camera trap, such as Duke Forest, there was actually a lower abundance of animals but a much higher diversity of species.”
Losos is using her findings as part of her studies for school, as well as college applications. She hopes to become a scientific researcher like the team at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
Stephanie Schuttler said volunteers like Losos are crucial to accomplishing the major undertaking that lies ahead.
“If I were go out and set up all of those camera traps myself, it would take my forever, so through the use of what we call citizen science or public volunteers to help us set these camera traps, we’re able to achieve that large scale,” Schuttler said.
“We’re hoping people get really excited and inspired by these pictures and become more connected to the nature around them.”
This study focuses on mammals, particularly on species which are seeing shrinking numbers. They will also study whether the deer population is increasing or decreasing, as well as coyote.
“Coyotes are a new species to North Carolina. They’ve only been here for about 30 years, and we have no idea where they’re living, so the camera traps will help us identify what kind of habitats and how close to people that they’re getting,” Schuttler said.
“They do live in suburban neighborhoods, although we’re not finding them in people’s yards much. They tend to still be skittish and scared of people.”
More than 20 libraries will have cameras available for people to rent starting later this year. They will start distributing them near the east coast in December, with the rest of the state around March.