Catching Critters in the Creek

Written by: Amy Unruh

After weeks of logistical issues, we were finally able to get ahold of the Sherman traps from the biology department that we would be using to capture and analyze the small mammals along Copeland Creek. With the guidance of Biology professor Wendy St. John, we set out on a frigid Sunday evening to set our traps. Because the features of the creek change so drastically as you walk from one end to the other, we knew we had to spread the traps out along the length of the creek so that we could capture the full spectrum of habitat types. Screen Shot 2016-12-12 at 10.43.38 AM.pngWe placed two traps in each zone, and four traps in zone one, which is the largest.

In order to assure that our friends would have somewhere pleasant to stay for the night, we arranged each Sherman trap with an irresistible helping of Nature Valley granola and a good-sized wad of cotton to make a bed with. We sought out places along the creek that were fairly inconspicuous— so that passersbys wouldn’t be able to find them without looking around a little bit (this backfired on us the following morning). We hid the traps under shrubby plants, in blackberry bushes, and in small divots along the bank. It didn’t take very long to set up- after about an hour we were done; all we could do was wait patiently for the following morning.

7:00 A.M. on a Monday and we had all gathered at the base of the creek, eager to see what we found. We were in high spirits as we walked down the creek bed and searched for our first two traps that we’d left in the first zone. It didn’t take long to realize our mistake– we had never taken photos of where exactly we left the traps. The first ones were the hardest to find. When we finally found the traps in the first zone, we were eager to see some critters. As Beverly picked up the trap- ready to dump its contents into the plastic bag, the rest of us waited anxiously. Then we watched as Beverly’s face sprouted a look of disappointment and we unanimously understood without words that we hadn’t caught anything.

We continued along the length of the creek, searching for our remaining traps. One by Screen Shot 2016-12-12 at 10.46.27 AM.pngone, we found the traps, picked them up, and accepted we hadn’t caught anything. With each empty trap, we increasingly understood that the likelihood of catching any mammals was very low. When we got to the last trap, we looked at one another in defeat and exited the creek bed.

We walked back to the supply room to return the traps and pondered why we hadn’t caught any animals. Perhaps it was too cold? Maybe the traps weren’t sensitive enough?

Nonetheless, our group learned about the complications that are inevitable when it comes to live animal traps. We had a good time overall and were each able to pick-up a new technique, which will be really valuable in the future.

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