Teacher resource: Studying small land animals

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1 Teacher resource: Studying small land animals This resource is intended to help teachers to develop a unit on how to study small land animals in a local environment. Use the information provided to help you develop an investigation to uncover as much animal life as possible. Animal tracking techniques, equipment, recording forms, and useful web links are included. Activities are practical and cost effective and can be adapted to suit the environment, whether it be a forest reserve or school grounds. Target audience: Primary, secondary or adult students. Subjects: Science, Biology, Social Science. Topics covered include: Before You Begin: background information Techniques for studying small land animals Survey forms Further information Focus Questions: What animals live in the school grounds or nearby forest? How do I develop a hands-on science based unit? Do we have any endangered animals living near the school? Do we have any pest animals living near the school? 60 Springs was a programme run in partnership by Puke Ariki, Shell NZ and Taranaki Regional Council from It provided opportunities to inspire young people to develop innovative solutions towards a sustainable Taranaki. For further information on 60 Springs visit

2 1. Before you begin: background information Studying animals is harder than people think. It is a good idea to learn in advance about the animals habitat and habits (eg is it nocturnal?) prior to student involvement. Researching the environment will help you become familiar with the area and the animals you might encounter. Animals have different strategies to avoid being detected, caught or eaten. Most will take flight rather than fight, regardless of size. Some of the common avoidance strategies used by animals when they encounter a potential predator include: Freeze, hide, play dead Make a noise, click body Emit a smell Roll into a ball Uses camouflage or display Attack 2. Techniques for studying animals It is important to understand the process of taking a representative sample, and how this sample can be taken. This section discusses sampling methods and gives four examples of techniques to use. To discover what kinds and how many animals live in a particular habitat it is often impossible to count each and every one. To address this problem, you can take a variety of samples from around the habitat, to ensure that these samples are representative of the habitat in general. The sampling method will depend on the animal or habitat sampled. The greater the number of animals and habitats sampled the greater the likelihood of obtaining an accurate representation.

3 Suggested sampling methods include: Sampling frames or quadrats Sampling frames can be made out of wood, metal or plastic. The size of the frame should suit the kind of animal being sampled. A 1m by 1m frame is large enough for counting creepy crawlies. Several frames can be placed in sequence or randomly in an area to get a representative sample. Quadrats are mobile and get results quickly. However, quadrat sampling can be time consuming and only suitable for smaller, less mobile animals eg insects. Capture methods using traps and nets Animals can be captured alive or dead using a variety of traps and nets. Depending on the trap, they can be set and checked immediately or left out over a period of time. Traps and nets allow a close inspection of the animal, but may require setting and checking of the trap on a regular basis to ensure animals do not suffer unnecessarily. Capture methods include: Tree shake (collect foliage insects) - a large sheet or tarpaulin is placed on the ground under a shrub or tree. Give the tree a good shake, and the insects will fall onto the sheet for identification Light traps (night flying insects) a popular light trap is a malasie trap, which can be created using a tent or sheet and a portable light. Essentially, flying insects are attracted to the light, hit the tent/sheet surface and move towards a collecting chamber. Nets, traps (variety for catching animals alive or dead) insects are caught with handheld nets by sweeping the nets through vegetation in a figure eight movement. Pitfall traps (insects) easily constructed using a simple container, dug into the ground so the rim is level with the ground. Place sticks and stones across the top and weigh down with a stone. After time, insects will fall into the container. Example of a pitfall trap design

4 Observational methods Observational methods are the least invasive of all the survey methods. They do not harm or stress animals, and methods such as tracking tunnels are useful to detect night animals. However, observational methods are time consuming and often require practice to become familiar with what is seen, heard or uncovered. Observational methods include: Visual: binoculars, spot lighting simply looking for animals with or without binoculars is known as a visual technique e.g. bird watching. Animals that are more active at night can be seen using a powerful hand held spotlight e.g. geckos, frogs, hedgehogs and possums. Audio: listening devices Using sound as a means of identifying animals present in a habit is very useful and easy. A listening device to record and capture sounds can reduce the amount of time spent in the field and also be saved as a sound bite and replayed to experts later if help is needed to identify the animal. Surveys: night and day see attached survey templates Tracking tunnels small baited tunnels with an ink pad that reveal animal footprints. Different bait is used to attract different animals weasels, stoats, ferrets and cats are attracted to dried rabbit meat or similar, for insects, mice and rats peanut butter works well, or for lizards, a piece of pear. Most animals are creatures of habit so researching your habitat will help your success with this method. For further information and online resources visit Artificial homes/habitats Building artificial homes or habitats provides a home for an animal that would otherwise be absent from the area, and are a feel good activity that allows animals to be viewed more easily. However, the animal may take some time to move into an empty home or habitat, and the homes do not guarantee that animal populations will increase as many other factors affect animal numbers, such as pests. Artificial homes include Bird boxes (e.g. penguin) Lizard habitats Weta motels see links Wooden disks: sawn and dried untreated round sections of wood with grooves, placed on the ground. These disks simulate natural tree falls and provide habitat for insects in a regenerating bush area. Over time, the insect population will increase.

5 Recording Form Land Animals Using Tracking Tunnels Date: Location of study: Tunnels laid Bait used GPS Coordinates (or mark on a map) Results of footprints found: Tunnel Lizards (Skinks & Geckos) Mice Rats Hedgehogs Mustelids (Weasels, stoats, ferrets) Cat Other: Unknown Please note: Multiple samples taken over several days will give a broader idea of the species present.

6 Pitfall Trap Recording Form Date: Location of study: Traps laid GPS Coordinates (or mark on a map) Results of insects found: (Please record numbers trapped in each category and identify species if possible) Trap Insects Skink Gecko Beetles Weta Crickets Grasshoppers Flies Moths Butterflies Spiders and Other: Unknown

7 3. Further information Web links. Guide to New Zealand Soil and Litter Invertebrates - This site provides information on New Zealand soil and litter invertebrates, their diversity, biology, ecosystem role, and conservation status. What is this bug? Landcare Research has provided a useful site to help identify insects in English and Māori. Explore Insects and other invertebrates Te Ara The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand Build a weta motel Identification and information on New Zealand birds these sites include information on all New Zealand birds (land, sea and shore, wetland and river birds) and recordings of bird song. National garden bird survey - Landcare Research have established a garden bird survey to monitor the distribution and population trends of common birds in New Zealand. Survey form Tracking tunnels - Gotcha Traps Ltd are the inventors and distributors of Black Trakka tracking tunnels. This site includes information on everything related to tracking tunnels including a guide to identifying footprints and how to purchase tunnels. DOC shows you how to make your own tracking tunnels Case Study: Rimutaka Forest Park Trust A project undertaken by this Trust using trapping tunnels within the forest park. A footprint identification guide and PowerPoint presentation can be downloaded that shows the method and ongoing monitoring of this project. Pitfall traps - How to make a pitfall trap from the Kiwi Conservation Club website. New Zealand Lizards Department of Conservation guide to building a lizard habitat

8 to-your-garden/ Bio Blitz: New Plymouth Kete: a Taranaki online digital archive bringing together a record of local events, people, places and experiences. Includes publications and information produced through the 60 Springs Education for Environmental Sustainability projects. ketenewplymouth.peoplesnetworknz.info

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