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A Word With The Catawba Squirrel Catchers

Jeremy Gardner, Writer
November 11, 2010
Filed under Student Life & News, Top Stories

You may have seen a few people around campus with binoculars looking in every which way. Those people are science students who are on the hunt for the infamous Catawba squirrels. In an experiment for their Ecology class, Jennifer Goble, Sarah Moore and Kyra Thurow are trying to catch twenty squirrels, ten on campus and ten in the preserve.

When asked about how the experiment originated, Jennifer Goble mentioned that the whole idea was from Sarah Moore’s nieces. They were talking one day and her nieces mentioned squirrels. “Our project was born,” says Goble.

The project has been going on for several weeks now, and they are just short of half way. They have caught ten squirrels on campus, but one got away before they could collect the data needed for the project. The actual purpose of the experiment is to see if a squirrel’s fitness is impacted by human interaction (people on campus) versus little human interaction in the preserve.

For the project, they have placed squirrel catchers in several spots on campus. They sit in front of Barger-Zartman Residence Hall and wait for a bite, or in this case, a squirrel in the cage. When one takes the bait and goes in the cage, they transfer it to an air-tight box where they can measure oxygen consumption for two minutes, which tells them the metabolic rate of the squirrel. After that, they tag the squirrel and release it. For the animal lovers out there, the cages are humane (called have-a-heart traps) and they are releasing them within five minutes of capture.

The goal of the project is the see if human interaction alters the fitness of squirrels. Aside from that, they are learning about other things, such as squirrel behavior, how they feed, how they mark their territory, and behavior with and without people being present. It is also providing a  realistic field experience for the researchers, who are now able to gather data and draw scientific conclusions.

With the squirrel catchers being extremely visible on campus, Goble said that many students are asking about how many squirrels are being caught and are genuinely interested in the project. “It is great how our students want to know what we are doing and how,” said Goble.

Goble mentioned that along with her fellow researchers, Dr. Baranski, Dr. Calcagni, Dr. Lowery, Dr. Miderski and Dr. Poston are being very helpful with the experiment. She also mentioned that Maggie Keeble, Amanda Williams, Sarah Robinson and Ashley Wheeler are helping immensely during the project.

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