Inside NC Science: Help capture wildlife on camera

Arielle Parsons is eMammal Project Coordinator for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
Arielle Parsons is eMammal Project Coordinator for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Like most people in the Carolinas, you’ve probably had plenty of encounters with local wildlife lsuch as deer and squirrels, perhaps a raccoon. You’re much less likely to have a personal encounter with the more wary species – such as coyotes, foxes or even bobcats. Do you ever wonder what wildlife is roaming your neighborhood when no one is there?

Rather than stay up all night stalking wildlife, you can use camera traps – motion-triggered cameras – to record animals that live in a particular area. Biologists in the Biodiversity Lab at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences are using these cameras to document what species occur along urban-to-rural areas around Raleigh and Charlotte. This project, called eMammal, is a partnership between the museum and the Smithsonian Institution.

EMammal researchers are sampling a variety of habitats, from yards and parks to cemeteries and golf courses. All of the cameras are being run by citizen scientists who receive online training and are able to borrow a camera if they don’t own one.

Data collection began in Raleigh in 2013. Over the past two years, we have captured more than 60,000 pictures of 13 species of wild mammals. Not surprisingly, most images were of deer. But cameras also captured common species such as raccoons and gray foxes as well as some relatively rare suburban bobcats. Because raccoons were most common in suburban areas, preliminary analysis suggests that they prefer yards and small forests for habitat. By contrast, coyotes were most often found in open suburban areas such as golf courses but were rarely detected in yards.

Researchers are especially interested in using these data to analyze coyote habitat in urban-to-rural areas. Coyotes have been invading North Carolina since the mid-1980s and can now be found in all 100 counties. EMammal researchers, in cooperation with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, are interested in discovering what coyotes are doing at the state level and how their activity is influencing other wildlife species, such as foxes. In coming years, eMammal will expand its data collection to all 100 North Carolina counties and solicit the participation of any citizen scientists interested in the secret lives of wildlife in their community.

Want to know more about the eMammal project? Go to

Arielle Parsons is eMammal project coordinator for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.