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More accidental video

In processing Seasons 5 and 6, I recently stumbled upon a bunch of video files amongst the stills. You may recall that while we have our cameras set to take still images, every once in a while a camera gets accidentally switched to video mode. Then it takes 10-second (silent) clips. Most of these are “blanks” triggered by grass waving in the wind. But every once in a while, we get ten seconds of animal footage. Here are some from Season 5.


Giraffe (peek-a-boo!)


And, what do you think this is?

Faulty Cameras (video-style)

Ali has written about the beatings that the cameras take, and you’ve likely seen Snapshot Serengeti images tilted at odd angles, or at the sky, or face-down in the dirt.

Every once in a rare while, a camera suddenly switches from “snapshot” mode to “video” mode and instead of taking three pictures, takes ten seconds of video. This video “feature” eats up camera memory very fast and so isn’t good for our research, as we end up running out of memory before we have a chance to re-service the camera. It also doesn’t record any sound.

But the resulting video can be amusing. Here is a series of ten-second clips taken on May 6, 2012. I think I know how the camera got flipped to video mode! Do you?

Season 8 Movie Time

Looks like everyone is sinking their teeth into Season 8! As a reminder, feel free to ask questions or chat with us through the Snapshot Serengeti Discussion board or in the comments of any of our blog posts.

Now, there’s some data from this new season that hasn’t made it online — sometimes, instead of taking pictures, our cameras accidentally switch into “video” mode and capture 10-second clips of animals doing their Serengeti thing. While this isn’t very good for us in terms of data collection (although we’ve been tossing around the idea of setting up a Snapshot Serengeti: Video Edition!…), it gives you a unique perspective on the lives of these animals.

(Okay, so it’s mostly animals eating grass. They eat a lot of grass. Perhaps not the most “unique” insight on their behaviors, but they’re still pretty fun to watch). Here’s some of my favorite accidental movies from our new Season!


(If you want more videos, Margaret has blogged some of her favorite movie clips from past seasons here and here)

Good news, bad news, good news, 2015 edition

It’s been quiet here on the blog, but we’ve been busy behind the scenes. In 2014, we revamped our data management procedures and structures. Season 7 — the one you finished classifying most recently — was the first where images and metadata were fully pre-processed and vetted before being sent to the Zooniverse. This pre-processing makes things much easier on us after we get all your classifications back from Zooniverse. But it does add some lead time.

Season 8 is the first good news. We’ve been pre-processing all December, finding weirdnesses like 84 images in a row all with the same timestamp, miscellaneous video files, timestamps from the future, and so forth. We are just about to start sending the images to Zooniverse, a processes which takes a few days. You should see Season 8 up within a couple weeks. We’ve also tweaked the interface a tiny bit. More on that soon.

The bad news is bad. After waiting since August for a reply from the National Science Foundation about our most recent grant proposal, we finally got it at the very end of December: declined. That means that we are again scrambling to find funds to keep the cameras rolling for 2015. And this time without much warning.

Season 8 is the first half of 2014 and Season 9 is the second half of 2014. Those are already in the bag. The cameras are rolling right now, and so there will be at least something of a Season 10. Worst case scenario is that we have to shut everything down for a while until we get more funding. But Craig is working hard to find interim funds.

The other good news is that we’ve been talking with some other Serengeti researchers who have set up a small camera trap survey in the western part of the ecosystem. They have tons of images and we’re talking with them about putting their images up on Snapshot Serengeti for classification. These images would be of new locations in the Serengeti and potentially a few new animal species. Could be a lot of fun. So even if there’s a pause in our image collection, hopefully we’ll have these other images to classify from the Serengeti that will be useful for ecological research.

Giraffe battle

I thought I would share these video clips from my camera trap with you. During my research using camera traps in South Africa I mostly used the picture mode but in the early days when I was trying to figure out what the camera trap was capable of and what was most valuable from my research point of view I messed around with the video option.
From my research perspective it wasn’t that great, I found that the camera was slower to trigger in video mode and so particularly at night I was left with lots of footage of nothing. But from pure interest value it sometimes proved very interesting.
On this occasion I had set up the camera on a sand road hoping to capture the leopard who frequently passed that way leaving its pug marks for all to see. I was pretty sure of capturing the leopard. What I didn’t bank on was getting a full 17 minutes of footage of two giraffe battling it out. Nor was I expecting the unique perspective from which the camera shot the footage. Oh and the leopard never showed. Typical!

I hope you enjoy the following three short clips.

A change of scene; jungles

I have just got back from a short (too short!) trip to Costa Rica. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this world famous eco destination but I decided to bring my camera trap with me on the off chance I would be given permission to set it up and capture something new, for me anyway.

My time was split between two distinct ecosystems, lowland rainforest of the Caribbean slope and dry forest of the Guanacaste/Nicoya peninsular. I stayed in protected areas and reserves so the chances of mammal activity was there, unfortunately I had only two or three days in each place which limited the chances of capturing anything somewhat. Hardly scientific I know but I was curious to see what might be out and about after I was tucked up in bed.

Now I am used to the African bushveld, a dry-ish, semi wooded, semi open grassland environment with a sandy substrate. It is easy to see where animals are frequently passing from trampled vegetation and tracks. Placing camera traps and getting results was not too hard. Costa Rica’s rainforests on the other hand was a challenge. The vegetation was thick, lush and resilient to animal passage and finding tracks in the dense leaf litter was impossible. Costa Rica’s dry forests where just as bad. It was the dry season and the trees had lost all their leaves…big leaves that made a thick carpet on the ground covering any tracks and trails.

Needless to say I did not get too many results but taking my time frame and lack of local knowledge into account it is amazing that I got anything. All the animals were at least new to me so gave me a great buzz.
Of the animals I captured peccaries, a type of pig where the most common in the rainforest followed by crab eating raccoons in the dry coastal forests. I captured 1 agouti, 1 paca, 1 probable grison devouring my camera and the most exciting of all an ocelot. Typically the ocelot was the very first capture on the first night. Staying at the Selva Verde lodge I had the help of the resident guide, Ivan and we placed the camera near to the river. I think he was just as thrilled as I was to get an ocelot despite their being the most common of the neo tropical cats.
I hope you enjoy this short video clip, you can see if you look closely that the ocelot is carrying something in its mouth, prey?

Reptile Death Match

Have you guys seen this  amazing new YouTube video that’s just come out?

Read more…

Pholidota is in the air…

I hope you kids didn’t get too crazy celebrating the holiday last weekend. It’s so easy to go overboard with the flowers and the chocolates and the small armored African mammals…

Because you all were celebrating WORLD PANGOLIN DAY last Saturday, right? Of course you were. Pangolins! Now, if you don’t know what a pangolin is, you obviously haven’t been looking at enough Snapshot images! Shoo, get back out there and ID some more.

Just kidding, we never really see these guys. This is what they look like:

The one and only awesome pangolin picture our camera traps have ever taken

I have friends living on reserves in South Africa who have only seen on of these guys in there entire life, so it’s neat that we do get to see these guys through out cameras. The pangolin (or “scaly anteater”) is a small insectivorous mammal coated in thick keratinous armored plates. Why would you want to be coated in armor made of finger-nail material? Well, every once in a while it appears to come in handy..

(This video is extremely silly and dramatic. But dang, that is a lot of lions)

Anyhow, I was a little slow on the draw for this one, so we’re going to have wait an entire year for this epic holiday to roll around again. To keep you busy in the meantime, here are some neat pangolin videos for your enjoyment: 




Have you watched your television lately?

As I happen to be an impressionable first year student, many of my introductory courses are focused on molding us younglings not only into insightful and profound scientific geniuses, but also on instilling within us a sense of scientific responsibility, particularly when it comes to sharing our work with others. It’s important to be able to convey how freakin’ awesome the research that we do is to people outside of science, which can be really hard when our most exciting result happens to be a string of numbers that popped out of an evil-looking matrix swimming in a sea incomprehensible code.

Most of what we cover in these types of classes is science writing – and there are true gems out there, people with a real talent for sitting down with a biologist who only talks in “ontology” and “heteroscedasticity” and translate all that jargon into an informative, enjoyable piece of literature. You can pick up these pieces in a variety of places – newspapers like The New York Times can have very comprehensive science news articles. Peruse the magazine rack of any book store and, although you may have to dig behind the “Cosmo”, there are popular science magazines covering every disciple under the sun (and beyond!). You’ve already entered the blogosphere, where very passionate people are writing about the discoveries they and others make and the questions, queries, and quandaries still to be explored. Shout out to two of my favorites bloggers – after all of us here at Snapshot Serengeti, of course – Carl Zimmer and Ed Yong, who discourse on all sorts of topics over at National Geographic. And I won’t even start on the wealth of science literature, because I actually do have some stats to run and if I get sucked into this, we’ll be here all night.

I think, however, that one of the most easily accessible types of science dissemination, and the kind likely to reach the further-ranging audience (I know I’m always the only B&N browser with my face in the latest issue of “Scientific American”), is television. Now sure, there is a LOT of bad television out there, I think it goes without saying. Even some purported “educational” channels are going a bit off the deep end (case in point: Animal Planet and their mermaid “documentaries”). But when you’ve just dragged yourself home from a long day in the office and can’t bring yourself to pick up your latest science tome, flip on the tube, find a documentary, and learn a little something.

Particularly for kids and young people, science television is an important inspirational medium. As corny as it sounds, Bill Nye the Science Guy was HIGHLY instrumental in my own scientific development (I still watch an episode every now and again to remind myself that “science rules!”). This type of television shares not only information, but conveys enthusiasm about science, humanizing and breaking down topics which people may have considered beyond their understanding. Speaking of Bill Nye and his science outreach, did people watch his debate with Creationist Ken Ham the other week? It was streamed live by 520,000 people and subsequently downloaded by over a million. Talk about far-reaching, and being picked up by an audience that wasn’t necessarily science-inclined.

Another aspect of science television (and I’m starting to sound a bit like a TV junkie at this point, aren’t I?) that was important to me at least was exposure to fantastic places and creatures. I’m probably not making it to Madagascar anytime soon – are you? But we can learn all about the bizarre and beautiful endemic wildlife, courtesy of everyone’s favorite Sir David Attenborough. I feel like I can practically use ‘Attenborough’ as a synonym for ‘nature documentary’. And remember the sensation when BBC came out with ‘Planet Earth’? Or ‘Life’? Or ‘Human Planet’? You can find them on the channels, you can find them on the internet. Always a winner are the PBS NOVA specials  — be sure to scroll down and check out “Poop-Eating Sloth Moths,” because you know you want to. Also, it’s a neat new discovery about a highly entwined natural system. Would have known otherwise? And when you exhaust all those links, here’s another 300 “mind-expanding” documentaries for your enjoyment:

So veg out and watch some science!

What does the fox say?

By now, you have probably heard of this silly (but hilarious) video that’s been making the rounds of the interwebs lately:

It’s pretty catchy, not just because it’s ridiculous, but because it’s a pretty good question.  I mean, how many of you out there have actually ever heard a fox?

The sounds of the bush are one of the many, many things I miss being back here in civilization. From my slightly sketchy corner of Saint Paul, I hear fire crackers and unmuffled engines roaring. Occasionally I get chattered at by an angry squirrel in the back yard. But that’s about it. Nothing like the otherworldly chorus of the Serengeti savanna that Lucy so beautifully described.

The sounds really are incredible and often unbelievable, and I thought I’d share some of them with you. I couldn’t actually figure out how to upload audio files, so I scoured Youtube for the best audio clips I could find and embedded them as videos here.

Zebras: Nothing like horses, these stripy equids sound something like a braying donkey crossed with a barking dog.

Wildebeest: I believe that somewhere in the annals of Zooniverse blogs, there is an audio or video clip of me doing a wildebeest impression. This is better.

Hyenas: Despite being hell-bent on devouring all of my camera traps, these guys are pretty cool. They have a rather large repertoire of very…unusual…vocalizations that are used to communicate in a number of situations. The whoop, which you hear at 0:05 and 0:55, is a long-distance call often used to rally scattered clan members. The laugh at 2:33 is a sign of nervousness or submission. Similar to human voices, hyena vocalizations are individually recognizable to clan-mates. To learn more about hyena vocalizations, check out this blog by hyena expert and director of Masai Mara’s long-term hyena project, Kay Holekamp.

Lions: And finally, for the best, non-hollywood lion roar, scroll about halfway down through our lion research center’s page. This is what they really sound like.

I’ll take any of these noises over the sounds of the city any day.