ArticlePDF Available

An Inexpensive Video Surveillance Technique for Wildlife Studies

54 Herpetological Review 37(1), 2006
Acknowledgments.—We thank T. Madsen for demonstrating his sys-
tem for marking ventral and lateral scales on snakes. We thank X. Glaudas
and C. A. Young for capturing and processing some of the snakes. The
procedures used in this study were approved by the University of Geor-
gia animal care and use committee (A2003-10024) and the South Caro-
lina Department of Natural Resources (Collection permits: 56-2003, 07-
2004). Research was supported by the U.S. Department of the Interior
(Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Scientific Authority), and manu-
script preparation was aided by the Environmental Remediation Sciences
Division of the Office of Biological and Environmental Research, U.S.
Department of Energy through Financial Assistance Award no. DE-FC09-
96SR18546 to the University of Georgia Research Foundation.
BROWN, W. S. AND W. S. PARKER. 1976. A ventral scale clipping system for
permanently marking snakes. J. Herpetol. 10:247–249.
CLARK, D. R., JR. 1971. Branding as a marking technique for amphibians
and reptiles. Copeia 1971:148–151.
EHMANN, H. 2000. Microbranding: a low impact permanent marking tech-
nique for small reptiles and frogs as an alternative to toe clipping.
ANZCCART News 13:6–7.
FERNER, J. W. 1979. A review of marking techniques for amphibians and
reptiles. SSAR Herpetol. Circ. No. 9.
GIBBONS, J. W. AND K. M. ANDREWS. 2004. PIT tagging: Simple technol-
ogy at its best. Bioscience 54:447–454.
LEWKE, R. R. AND R. K. STROUD. 1974. Freeze branding as a method of
marking snakes. Copeia 1974:997–1000.
Permanent marking of a fossorial caecilian, Gegeneophis ramaswamii
(Amphibia: Gymnophiona: Caeciliidae). J. South Asian Nat. Hist.
SHINE, C., N. SHINE, R. SHINE, AND D. SLIP. 1988. Use of subcaudal scale
anomalies as an aid in recognizing individual snakes. Herpetol. Rev.
WEARY, G. C. 1969. An improved method of marking snakes. Copeia
WOODBURY, A. 1956. Uses of marking animals in ecological studies: Mark-
ing amphibians and reptiles. Ecology 37:670–674.
Herpetological Review, 2006, 37(1), 54–56.
© 2006 by Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles
An Inexpensive Video Surveillance Technique for
Wildlife Studies
School of Biological Sciences and Institute of Wildlife Research
Heydon-Laurence Building (A08), The University of Sydney
NSW 2006, Australia
Most wildlife behavioral studies require time consuming direct
observations of animals (Altmann 1974) or the use of expensive
closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and time-lapse video
equipment (Wratten 1994). Direct observation of animals is lim-
ited by how practical observations are of the species and how eas-
ily the species is habituated to an observer (Stewart et al. 1997).
The use of video applications in wildlife research has been well
documented as a useful technique (Pulliainen 1971; Stewart et al.
1997; Sykes et al. 1995; Wratten 1994) and video surveillance
equipment has been used increasingly in studies (Hughes and
Shorrock 1998; Jury et al. 2001; McQuillen and Brewer 2000;
Roberts and Anderson 2002; Shivik and Gruver 2002; Stevens
2002). However, the technique has not been exploited to its full
potential by biologists, due primarily to the high initial cost and
length of time to extract data from cassettes (Stewart et al. 1997;
Sykes et al. 1995). Time-lapse video is widely used by develop-
mental biologists (Kulesa and Fraser 1998; Peppo et al. 2001;
Rezaie et al. 2002) but has enormous scope in applications for
wildlife research and until recently has been cost prohibitive. The
advantages of a video surveillance system include gaining a per-
manent record of events that can be replayed as many times as
necessary to retrieve data, reduction in observer bias and missed
observations, easy habituation by the study animal and the ability
to document events that are not easily detected using direct obser-
vations. Video surveillance can be used to record activity at a fo-
cal site (such as entrance or exit to a shelter site or burrow, the
removal of baits by target and non-target species), identify indi-
viduals, document predation events, and detect nocturnal, crepus-
cular or elusive species (Brown 1997; Deufel and Cundall 1999;
Stewart et al. 1997; Tobler and Schwierin 1996).
Equipment and set-up.—I used inexpensive miniature mono-
chrome (MINI-M20A) video surveillance cameras attached to an
existing PC computer via a 4 channel PC digital surveillance re-
cording system (Go Video DVR4, PCI PC capture card and soft-
ware) available from Allthings Sales and Service (Kelmscott, West-
ern Australia; Allthings Sales and Service
economically and reliably ship worldwide via airmail or EMS
speed post, with typical airmail rates to the USA for a 0.5–2kg
package ranging from $US 8 to $27 depending on weight. The
entire system can be purchased as a complete package and attached
to an existing IBM compatible computer from as little as $US
210; the system (discussed below) consists of a 4 channel PCI PC
capture card, software, 4 monochrome cameras, and a Plug-in DIY
AV 20 meter cable/adaptor set for 4 cameras. Several optional color
camera upgrades are also available from $US 60 to $140. Alterna-
tively, each component can be purchased separately and a system
FIG. 1. Snapshot image of experimental enclosure showing camera iden-
tification, date and time display.
Herpetological Review 37(1), 2006 55
built to suit individual or experimental needs. By comparison,
quotations supplied by closed circuit television and surveillance
system specialists for the identical system ranged from $US 1,782
to $4,048.
Equipment details.—Go Video-DVR4 consists of a PCI PC cap-
ture card and Grand Guard Anywhere software (Grandtec, Tai-
wan) that allows connection of up to four video cameras (capture
cards are also available for up to 16 cameras) to display/record
simultaneously on a IBM compatible PC computer. The surveil-
lance system is motion sensitive, with adjustable detection sensi-
tivity for each channel (if continuous recording is required motion
detect sensitivity is set at 100%). Areas not to be observed or dis-
regarded for motion detect can be defined by masking an area
onscreen and audible warnings can be set for each channel to no-
tify of movement. Each video input can be adjusted for bright-
ness, contrast, saturation, hue, image quality and configured to
record camera identification, date and time. The system allows
high resolution recording [384 lines (H) × 288 lines (V) resolution
or 110,592 pixels per camera] in comparison to conventional 4
channel quad/VCR recording system [VHS VCR: 160 lines (H) ¥
288 lines (V) resolution or 46,080 pixels per camera; SUPER-
VHS VCR: 265 lines (H) × 288 lines (V) resolution or 76,320
pixels per camera]. Video capture rate is 3–5 frames/sec and is
dependent upon computer hardware, number of channels in use,
and image size. The frame rate can be increased when being re-
played to speed up data gathering. Video is captured as AVI files
that can be compressed and saved on the computer hard drive for
later analysis. A snap shot option captures still images that can be
saved as BMP or JPEG images (Fig 1). The system requires a
Pentium 200 microprocessor or faster (Pentium 500 or above rec-
ommended by manufacturer), PCI 2.1 compliant mother board, at
least 64 MB RAM, Microsoft windows 95 or 98 operating system
(capture cards are also available for other Windows operating sys-
tems, e.g., ME/2000/XP), one PCI slot, and at least 1GB hard disk
space per camera.
MINI-M20A cameras are 1/4-inch low smear image sensor
monochrome infra red sensitive surveillance cameras with wall or
ceiling mount. They come complete with a 3.6 mm lens but you
can choose the lens that best suits your application.
Plug-in DIY AV 20 m cable/adaptor set includes 20 m of audio-
visual cable with all the appropriate molded plugs and sockets
required for self-installation.
FIG. 2. On screen view of one camera (1–4 cameras can be viewed simultaneously) with set-up menu for motion detect.
56 Herpetological Review 37(1), 2006
I tested the video set-up using three separate temperature con-
trolled rooms with cameras mounted to the ceiling ca. 1.3 m above
experimental enclosures. I placed medium-sized scincid lizards
(Eulamprus tympanum, 130–150 mm total length) in 1 m diam-
eter enclosures and recorded the lizards’ behavior from 0900 to
1700 h on 95% motion detect (Fig. 2). To test the suitability of the
set-up for my purposes, I chose to record position of lizards at 5
minute intervals and estimate activity rate by dividing the enclo-
sures in half with a piece of string and recording the number of
times the lizard crossed this line (Fig. 2). The clarity of the picture
was more than sufficient for the purpose of this experiment. Each
AVI file was compressed (zipped) and saved on compact disc for
storage and later analysis. The software included with the surveil-
lance package (Presto! Video Works, Newsoft®) was used for video
replay and data collection. During replays, the video frame rate
was adjusted to 10 frames per second to speed up the scoring pro-
Discussion.—The use of miniature cameras and video surveil-
lance software has wide applications for wildlife and behavioural
research. Previously, the major disadvantage with this technology
has been the initial set-up cost and the time required to playback
video tapes for data collection. New technologies have developed
inexpensive cameras and computer software equipped with mo-
tion detect sensing to eliminate periods of no activity that in turn
speed up data retrieval upon playback. A compact disc burner is
recommended to burn all compacted (zipped) AVI files for stor-
age and later data analysis to reduce storage requirements on the
hard drive and to ensure a safe back-up should a different analysis
or further analysis be required.
The entire set-up could be modified or components upgraded to
collect field data by running on a computer in weather proof hous-
ing or a laptop computer with a USB video capture box using a
portable power source (generator, batteries, or solar power). Cam-
eras can be placed in weatherproof housings or upgraded to out-
door surveillance cameras. There is also the option of wireless
cameras and receivers.
A video surveillance technique for wildlife has not been ex-
ploited to its full potential in behavioural and ecological studies
despite a history of documented use in such studies (Sykes et al.
1995; Wratten 1994). Rapid improvements in low cost equipment
have made the technology readily accessible to biologists, and may
result in more widespread application of the technique.
Acknowledgments.—I thank Kevin Forknall from Allthings Sales and
Service for technical advice and R.N. Reed for providing useful comment
on the manuscript. Lizards were collected under scientific licence from
the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service (B2082) and
research was approved by The University of Sydney Animal Care and
Ethics Committee (L04/11-99/3/3042). The project was supported in part
by an Ethel Mary Read Research Grant from the Zoological Society of
New South Wales and a Joyce W. Vickery Scientific Research Grant from
the Linnean Society of NSW to K.A. Robert.
ALTMANN, J. 1974. Observational study of behaviour: sampling methods.
Behaviour 49:227–267.
BROWN, K. P. 1997. Predation at nests of two New Zealand endemic pas-
serines; implications for bird community restoration. Pacific Cons. Biol.
EUFEL, A., AND D. CUNDALL. 1999. Do booids stab prey? Copeia
UGHES, A. G., AND G. SHORROCK. 1998. Design of a durable event detec-
tor and automated video surveillance unit. J. Field Ornith. 69:549–556.
URY, S. H., H. HOWELL, D. F. O’GRADY AND W. H. WATSON. 2001. Lob-
ster trap video: In situ video surveillance of the behaviour of Homarus
americanus in and around traps. Mar. Freshwater Res. 52:1125–1132.
ULESA, P. M., AND S. E FRASER. 1998. Segmentation of the vertebrate
hindbrain: a time-lapse analysis. Int. J. Dev. Biol. 42:385–392.
CQUILLEN, H. L., AND L. W. BREWER. 2000. Methodological consider-
ations for monitoring wild bird nests using video technology. J. Field
Ornith. 71:167–172.
EIPPO, J., M. KURKILAHTI, AND P. BREDBACKA. 2001. Developmental ki-
netics of in vitro produced bovine embryos: the effect of sex, glucose
and exposure to time-lapse environment. Zygote 9:105–113.
ULLIANINEN, E. 1971. The use of TV techniques in the study of game
animals in the field. Int. Cong. Game. Biol. 12:175–177.
2002. Motility and ramification of human foetal microglia in culture:
an investigation using time-lapse video microscopy and image analy-
sis. Exp. Cell Res. 274:68–82.
ROBERTS, J. M., AND R. M. ANDERSON. 2002. A new laboratory method for
monitoring deep-water coral polyp behaviour. Hydrobiologia 471:143–
SHIVIK, J. A., AND K. S. GRUVER. 2002. Animal attendance at coyote trap
sites in Texas. Wildlife Soc. Bull. 30:502–507.
STEVENS, B. G. 2002. Molting of red king crab (Paralithodes
camtschaticus) observed by time-lapse video in the laboratory. Alaska
Sea Grant Report. 29–37.
video-surveillance of wildlife: An introduction from experience with
the European badger Meles meles. Mammal Rev. 27:185–204.
24-hour remote surveillance system for terrestrial wildlife studies. J.
Field Ornith. 66:199–211.
TOBLER, I., AND B. SCHWIERIN. 1996. Behavioural sleep in the giraffe
(Giraffa camelopardalis) in a zoological garden. J. Sleep Res. 5:21–
WRATTEN, S. D. 1994. Video Techniques in Animal Ecology and Behaviour.
Chapman and Hall, London.
Full-text available
Chemoreception is a common mechanism used by many species to detect the presence of a potential predator and subsequently respond to it. The perceived risk of predation may force retreat to suboptimal conditions, forcing a trade-off between the risk of predation and the ability to acquire resources. Responses to chemical cues of predators vary as a result of past experience, ontogeny, or reproductive state. The basking regime maintained by gravid females of the viviparous skink, Eulamprus tympanum, may directly alter sex ratios of offspring produced through temperature-dependent sex determination. The avoidance of predator scents may restrict basking ability and, in turn, alter the sex of offspring produced. We measured responsiveness to chemical cues using tongue flicks as an indicator of chemical discrimination in adult females and neonates and in females of different reproductive condition. We then measured activity rates and basking behavior of females in experimental enclosures in the presence of various chemical stimuli to determine whether basking opportunity is compromised by the presence of a predator scent. Neonates respond significantly more than nonreproductive adult females to all chemical stimuli suggesting an age-specific shift in response, whereas adult females respond differently depending upon reproductive state. Under laboratory conditions, gravid females modify their behavior and forego the opportunity to bask when there is a perceived predation risk. However, further experimentation conducted under field conditions would be necessary to test fully the hypothesis that basking opportunity is compromised by the presence of a predator stimulus and, in turn, could alter offspring sex ratios.
Full-text available
A lobster-trap video (LTV) system was developed to determine how lobster traps fish for Homarus americanus and how behavioural interactions in and around traps influence catch. LTV consists of a low-light camera and time-lapse video cassette recorder (VCR) mounted to a standard trap with optional red LED arrays for night observations. This self-contained system is deployed like a standard lobster trap and can collect continuous video recordings for >24 h. Data are presented for 13 daytime deployments of LTV (114 h of observation) and 4 day and night deployments (89 h of observation) in a sandy habitat off the coast of New Hampshire, USA. Analyses of videotapes revealed that traps caught only 6% of the lobsters that entered while allowing 94% to escape. Of those that escaped, 72% left through the entrance and 28% through the escape vent. Lobsters entered the trap at similar rates during the day and night and in sandy and rocky habitats. Lobsters generally began to approach the trap very shortly after deployment, and many appeared to approach several times before entering. These data confirm the results of previous laboratory-based studies in demonstrating that behavioural interactions in and around traps strongly influence the ultimate catch.
Full-text available
Deep-water corals are found along the oceanic margins world-wide and in the north east Atlantic the most abundant species is Lophelia pertusa (L.). There is now growing evidence that deep-water reefs formed by such species are coming under increasing pressures from resource exploitation, principally deep-sea trawling and hydrocarbon exploration. Here a novel and unobtrusive method of recording deep-water coral behaviour in the laboratory is described using time-lapse video to record silhouettes of the polyps under infrared illumination. The polyps of L. pertusa behaved asynchronously and did not show any clear diurnal patterns over a three-day observation period. Conceptually, sessile benthic suspension feeders appear to be vulnerable to smothering by sediments disturbed by bottom trawls or sub-seabed drilling. This method allows deep-water coral polyp behaviour to be continuously monitored in the laboratory and, therefore, the responses of coral polyps to environmental perturbations such as sedimentation can be recorded. Further work is necessary to resolve the sensitivity of deep-water corals to short-term environmental change and the combined approach of in situ monitoring and subsequent laboratory experimentation has great potential to address these issues.
An automated video monitoring and surveillance system was developed that is capable of operation in hostile environmental conditions with a minimum of maintenance. Covert deployment, rapid installation, and a 3-mo operating life without battery change are features of the system. It provides real-time continuous video filming of events of interest. The power requirements and finite tape length dictated that it only film for short bursts, whenever an event of interest occurred. A reliable event detector using combinations of geophones and Passive InfraRed sensors is described. Such a video system has many applications in ornithological research and covert surveillance where it is not possible to have a person on site continuously. A number of problems have been overcome which are of general concern in such applications.
Predation at North Island Robin Petroica australis longipes and North Island Tomtit Petroica macrocephala toitoi nests was studied in New Zealand over the 1993/94 breeding season to determine impacts of predators. Infra-red, time-lapse video photography and sign left after predation were used to identify predators at nests. Accurate estimates of predation rates depended on early detection of nests. Previous studies of predation may have greatly under-estimated predation rates and therefore predation impacts. Predation was patchy and intense, resulting in failure to produce young in some territories despite up to ten nesting attempts. A maximum of 82% of nests were preyed on (n = 65; 95% confidence interval 72.4%-90%) and Ship Rats Rattus rattus were probably responsible for at least 72% (95% confidence interval 57.4%-84.4%) of predations. Nine of 24 territories lost breeding females, mainly to Ship Rats, which significantly impacted on population productivity. Ship Rat predation was equally intense at exposed and concealed nests (at the site and patch levels). Predation attributed to avian predators was strongly correlated with exposed nests (at the patch level). Restoration of New Zealand's threatened forest bird communities is dependent on a commitment to further research into the significance of different predators and predation impacts on bird populations.
While testing a commercially manufactured wildlife video system, we developed a method for using this technology to monitor continuously the reproductive behaviors of wild birds during the nesting period. Two passerine bird nests, Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) and Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), were monitored using miniature video cameras at the nests. Cameras were connected to a 24-h time-lapse video recorder located up to 18 m from each nest. System installation required approximately 20 min and nests were monitored for 20 and 15 d, respectively. Significant events recorded on videotape included: egg laying, incubation, egg hatching, nestling rearing, fledging, mammalian depredation of inviable eggs after fledging, and reptilian depredation of nestlings prior to fledging. This technology reliably provided a highly detailed, non-intrusive means of observing nesting behavior and predation events equally well during day and night operations and under extreme environmental conditions. Each commercially manufactured video system and associated equipment used in this study cost approximately US $4000.
Measurements of anterior maxillary tooth form combined with video analysis of predatory strikes show that booid snakes do not stab their teeth into prey as previously proposed. The recurved shape of the teeth combined with the direction of travel of the upper jaw at prey contact cause the teeth to slide over the prey. Maxillary tooth penetration normally occurs as the prey recoils against the tooth tips. Snaring is a better descriptor of maxillary tooth function in booids.
There is a need to develop alternative selective capture systems for coyotes (Canis latrans) and to generate information on the quantity and identity of species that visit locations where coyote traps are set. We used 24-hour video surveillance equipment to monitor coyote trap locations. We observed 564 visits by 20 vertebrate species during 2,822 hours of observation in 144 trap nights at 31 locations. Species other than coyotes were >16 times as likely to enter the area of observation (the trap area), but did not enter the area immediately proximal to the trap (the trap site) as frequently as coyotes. Current trap and lure systems may be more selective than published reports indicate because of the relatively higher abundance and activity of other species in areas where coyote traps are set. Coyotes and noncoyote species visited at different times of day; in the future, diurnally inactivated capture systems could mechanically exclude most noncoyote species and further increase capture-device selectivity.
Seven major types of sampling for observational studies of social behavior have been found in the literature. These methods differ considerably in their suitability for providing unbiased data of various kinds. Below is a summary of the major recommended uses of each technique: In this paper, I have tried to point out the major strengths and weaknesses of each sampling method. Some methods are intrinsically biased with respect to many variables, others to fewer. In choosing a sampling method the main question is whether the procedure results in a biased sample of the variables under study. A method can produce a biased sample directly, as a result of intrinsic bias with respect to a study variable, or secondarily due to some degree of dependence (correlation) between the study variable and a directly-biased variable. In order to choose a sampling technique, the observer needs to consider carefully the characteristics of behavior and social interactions that are relevant to the study population and the research questions at hand. In most studies one will not have adequate empirical knowledge of the dependencies between relevant variables. Under the circumstances, the observer should avoid intrinsic biases to whatever extent possible, in particular those that direcly affect the variables under study. Finally, it will often be possible to use more than one sampling method in a study. Such samples can be taken successively or, under favorable conditions, even concurrently. For example, we have found it possible to take Instantaneous Samples of the identities and distances of nearest neighbors of a focal individual at five or ten minute intervals during Focal-Animal (behavior) Samples on that individual. Often during Focal-Animal Sampling one can also record All Occurrences of Some Behaviors, for the whole social group, for categories of conspicuous behavior, such as predation, intergroup contact, drinking, and so on. The extent to which concurrent multiple sampling is feasible will depend very much on the behavior categories and rate of occurrence, the observational conditions, etc. Where feasible, such multiple sampling can greatly aid in the efficient use of research time.
List of contributors. Preface. Flying insects in the field. Flying insects in the laboratory. Parasites and predators. Terrestrial molluscs. Marine video. Wild birds. Farm animals. Companion animals. Video and microorganisms. Index.