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‘Citizen scientists’ helping researchers learn about animals in NC

You know they’re out there – you can sometimes hear them – but how do you know how many are out there, and where?

You set a trap, of course. A camera trap.

That’s what the North Carolina Museum of Natural History, along with the NC Wildlife Commission and NC State University, are asking citizens to do – citizen scientists, in this case. They can check out what is called a camera trap from their local library and, with instructions from the experts, help capture the hundreds of thousands of photos the organization hopes to collect, over the next three years.

“For the common animals, we know about where they're located in the state but we don't really have a good sense of numbers,” says Stephanie Schuttler, a scientist at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. “So what the camera traps let us do is compare locations. So you can look at one site and say, 'We have a lot more deer detections in this are compared to another area.'”

When they put their idea online, it didn’t take long for Molly Tuttle to buy in.

“I went, awww, this is cool!” says Molly.

She teaches science to students at Winston-Salem’s Old Town Global Academy.

“I had thought, 'Oh, what a great opportunity to put these cameras out there,' because I live close to the school, put the camera traps on the school grounds or in my neighborhood,” says Molly.

“Everyone always wants to know what's in their backyard,” adds Dr. Schuttler, “and when they set up a camera trap, they'll find that lots of different animals that they never knew were there come out. We get raccoons, deer, lots of foxes, coyotes in unexpected places.”

“The coyotes we saw were pretty exciting,” admits Molly.

The program is called, “Candid Critters.” The museum and its partners get a lot of excited help for their big project, since, as Dr. Schuttler explains, “The citizen scientist identifies their species. They'll go through the photos and says, 'This is a grey fox, this is a red fox,' and then if they're not sure, that's OK because all of their photos are verified by an expert like myself.”

And Molly Tuttle gets a great lesson to teach her kids at Old Town Global Academy.

“I want these kids to know that this world is not going to be around forever and we've got to take care of it,” she says.