Wake County

NC ‘citizen scientists’ sought for wildlife camera survey

Lola Dupuie, 14, captured this photo with a remote, motion-activated camera set up on her family’s property in Wake Forest in late 2013.
Lola Dupuie, 14, captured this photo with a remote, motion-activated camera set up on her family’s property in Wake Forest in late 2013. 2014 News & Observer file photo

North Carolinians will soon be able to check out motion-activated cameras from their local libraries to discover what wildlife lives around them.

In addition to satisfying their curiosity, they will be helping researchers track changes in the distribution of mammals across the state in what is being billed as the world’s largest-ever camera-trap survey. The new research project enlisting the help of citizen scientists is run by the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, the state Wildlife Resources Commission and N.C. State University.

The project, called North Carolina’s Candid Critters, aims to place camera traps at 20,000 to 30,000 sites in backyards, state and national parks, game lands and forests over the course of three years. The camera traps, which are camouflaged and will be attached to trees, operate using a motion sensor and infrared flash so they don’t startle animals when they go off, said Roland Kays, the head of the Biodiversity Research Lab at the Museum of Natural Sciences.

“For a long time, scientists have wanted to collect this kind of large-scale data using camera traps,” said Kays, the project’s leader. “But it’s daunting to do by yourself. We basically have built an e-Mammal data management system so that researchers can see and use the information that comes from citizen scientists’ camera traps.”

Kays said scientists are particularly interested in studying the distribution patterns of deer across the state, particularly in relation to the number of coyotes. Coyotes have not always inhabited North Carolina, but their numbers have grown in recent years. Kays said scientists don’t have a reliable estimate of that growth, but the camera trap project could help track them.

He added that scientists also hope to learn about bears, skunks, chipmunks, feral hogs and other animals through the project.

Candid Critters will roll out in two stages. On Dec. 1, citizens in the eastern third of the state will be able to check cameras out from their local libraries to begin participating, said project coordinator Arielle Parsons, a research associate with the museum’s Biodiversity Research Lab. Parsons said the project will expand in March to include sites across the state.

A grant from the Wildlife Resource Commission allowed the project to purchase 300 cameras, with plans to add another 200 by March, which means there will be about five cameras in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties, Parsons said.

To provide extra incentive for citizens to participate, the project will have activities, host webinars and share behind-the-scenes information on data being gathered from the project, Parsons said.

State Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz described the project as a “wonderful opportunity” – for both citizens and scientists.

“It’ll be so fun for citizens to find out really what’s in their own backyards,” she said. “And it’s wonderful thing for our population to be involved in helping scientists.”

Rachel Chason: 919-829-4629

Want to participate?

People interested in taking part in the N.C.’s Candid Critters project can sign up at nccandidcritters.org.