University of Missouri Extension

Robert E. Thomas
Information Specialist

Published: Oct. 20, 2005
Story Source: Josh Millspaugh (573) 882-9423

‘DeerCam,’ like a new video reality show,
reveals the world as seen by Missouri deer
Study nets $1 million grant

COLUMBIA, Mo.- With the opening of firearms deer season next month, thousands of hunters will be taking to the woods, eyes peeled for that trophy buck.

But in a first-of-its-kind study by a University of Missouri researcher, the deer are doing all the looking.

Researchers have successfully mounted tiny, unobtrusive wireless video cameras on a male and a female white-tailed deer. The resulting two weeks of real-time, "deercam" video is like a reality show for the ungulate world.

The cameras have given Josh Millspaugh, MU assistant professor of natural resources, and his group an up-close and personal look of not only how deer see their world, but how they behave when we aren’t looking and how they perceive each other.

His work also caught the eyes of the National Science Foundation, netting a $1 million grant for more advanced deercam studies.

So far, two hundred hours of video were collected showing feeding, bedding, mutual grooming, sparing matches between antlered deer and breeding activities.

"Until now we have had to use remote techniques such as radio transmitters or Global Positioning System collars to study wildlife behavior, but with these we still do not see what the animal sees," Millspaugh said.

"Not seeing what the animal sees limits our inferences. We don’t see what the animal is doing and why. Knowing that ‘why’ is critical to our understanding," he said.

"We don’t know what plants they are eating or how they respond to humans or other animals," he said.

The study, conducted in partnership with the Missouri Department of Conservation, took place at the Charles W. Green Memorial Conservation Area near Ashland, Mo. This fenced, 10-acre area contained 11 deer including three adult males, one male fawn, five adult does and two female fawns.

Deer were tranquilized. The battery-run cameras with miniature transmitters were mounted in the antlers of two male deer. A female deer wore a specially designed neck-mounted camera. Images were collected by electronic signal on a VHS tape.

Study findings could be helpful in determining the state’s deer population management methods. Information also may be gained about how deer perceive and react to vehicles to avoid collisions or how often they interact with livestock.

Millspaugh said he was surprised by the degree of interaction among the deer. "They were in constant contact with one another," he said.

The camera angles were adjusted to view the deer’s mouths to better learn what plants they were eating.

"Our observations suggested that deer behavior was not affected by the video package or battery pack," Millspaugh said.

Much of the National Science Foundation grant will be aimed at developing smaller, longer lasting, higher resolution cameras. The cameras will have improved remote control devices that can adjust camera angles, widening the field of vision.

Plans also call for placing the deercam videos on an Internet website for public viewing.

Photo available for following caption

This Missouri white tail was one of two bucks fitted with wireless video cameras that are giving MU researchers an up-close and personal view of a deer’s world.
Photo credit: Missouri Department of Conservation

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