Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Getting Down to Business

Today we were out in the field doing what we came here to do--lay down traps for small mammals. Our core mechanic over the next week will be to check the traps we set to see if any mammals are in them and to reset them with more food and bedding for the next day. We will be doing that twice a day for the rest of the week. The traps, which I will talk about in detail further down, are designed to catch mice and voles.

We're not overly optimistic because it was so cold today that the animals are probably going to stay burrowed underground. The scientists said it was the coldest day they ever had volunteers working with them. With the wind chill it was 10 degrees and snowing! However, they also said it's very important to collect the data even if it is that we didn't catch any mammals. All information is important for the big picture of how the system is functioning and changing.

Dr. Buesching explains, above left, how to set up the traps. Each one costs $100 and we had to set 100. That's a lot of money to lose if we can't find the traps or accidentally break them. Traps have to have nice grass bedding and food in them so the mice, voles or shrews won't freeze or starve once they enter the traps. Mice have very little body fat and need to eat a lot to stay warm. How much do you think is a lot of food for a mouse? One teaspoon, one pint, or one gallon?

After the traps are ready, we set them in places where we thought small mammals would go, marked them with pink tape tied to a tree so we could find them again and covered them with grass and leaves to insulate them. In case you were wondering why learning to create grids is important, the scientists had us volunteers line up in rows and place the traps in a grid pattern. That way they can be sure that they are collecting data from the same area every time.

Above right, I am placing a trap in a spot I hope a small mammal would be likely to go. Where do you think would be some good places in the forest to put a mouse trap? Hint: Think about the places you might see a mouse running. Why do you think they run there? What places in the forest would be similar?

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