What Are We Looking At, Anyway?

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A small mammal in the cloud forest of southeast Peru.

Russ has been doing field research in various parts of Peru (see previous post Who’s Watching Whom?) to study Andean (spectacled) bears.

Even after looking at hundreds of remote camera photos, it’s amazing how difficult it can sometimes be to see which animal triggered the camera to take a photo. Sometimes I can only see the animal by looking at the sequence of photos in rapid succession and observing what moves or changes from one picture to the next. Other times, it’s easy to see the animal, because eyes often shine in the reflection from the infrared flash.

Even when the animal is easy to see, though, it’s not always obvious what I’m looking at. Many small mammals, in Peru and throughout the world, are hard for humans to tell apart from their exterior appearance. There’s no doubt they can tell each other apart, but we have to look at inconspicuous details, like how many cusps they have on a particular tooth. Since we’re not live-trapping small mammals, until I can find an expert to help me identify some of the species in the photographs, they’re going to remain mysteries. Perhaps you can help?

Russ Van Horn is a senior researcher with the .San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.