Introducing Project RattleCam, a community science project on denning rattlesnakes


Taylor, Emily N.

etaylor@calpoly.edu

Department of Biological Sciences

California Polytechnic State University

San Luis Obispo, California, USA

Boback, Scott M.

Department of Biology

Dickinson College

Carlisle, Pennsylvania, USA



Documenting animal behavior can be expensive, arduous, and labor intensive. This is especially true for secretive animals inhabiting hard to reach areas. To overcome these obstacles, ecologists are increasingly relying on remotely deployed devices to detect and document populations. Digital camera traps have massively impacted wildlife monitoring and hold tremendous opportunities for the behavioral ecologist. We have been deploying time-lapse cameras to monitor Prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) behavior near hibernacula and rookeries at a site in northwestern Colorado. These cameras amass tens of thousands of images within an active season, that require new approaches for processing. In summer of 2021 we developed a community science project, Project RattleCam, using the Zooniverse web platform (Zooniverse.org). Community scientists answer questions about each photo to create a database that we can analyze to study snake behaviors, while simultaneously involving the public in data collection. In addition, we deployed the first ever live-streaming camera on a rookery of Southern Pacific rattlesnakes in California in summer 2021, where people watched rattlesnakes interact live on YouTube. Camera projects like Project RattleCam have the potential to reach many people and impact their perceptions of rattlesnakes in a positive way, while also assisting scientists with data collection.