“Hello, my name is __”… Those crazy annoying stickers that we’ve all had to wear at one time or another. Whether those stickers are worth the trouble or not is debatable, but they do bring to light an idea that’s not so strange -keeping track. We could complain about the growing trend of being treated as a number, (you know, that unfortunately long one that you’re supposed to be able to recite perfectly on every conceivable occasion) but just remember we could go back to the stickers…
Names, numbers, stickers -whatever, they all do the keeping track thing and it can be important especially when it comes time to get your paycheck or medicine. The same holds true when your working with animals -determining who’s who is sometimes very critical information. It’s not so hard you think… ever seen a cow with an ear tag?… But what if the animal you’re working with weighs 6 grams? or 2 grams? What if it’s federally endangered and you want to be especially sure that the animal’s behavior or health is not affected? These are questions researchers face all the time and a new way to keep track of individuals can be a huge step forward.
How do you keep track of 2 gram slimy little salamanders? Well you can give them florescent tattoos. No really, I’ve given hundreds the little marks. Just mix up a little bit of elastomer and inject it just under the skin with insulin syringes… Oh, and make sure you get the right color in the right place. It’s definitely an art.
This is number 229… just after injection (sitting on a piece of Plexiglas). The marks are permanent and they have no effect on growth or reproduction (Bailey 2004). They also fluoresce under UV light -the tiniest mark glows brightly if you shine a portable UV light on it.
What about the bats? They get a tiny arm band. The band is engraved with numbers and letters and fits loosely on the arm allowing for growth and movement.
The above picture shows the band size for Indiana and other small bats.
If you ever find dead animal with a tag or mark of some kind report it to your local Fish and Wildlife department. The information may be very useful to someone who’s trying to keep track.
Bailey, L. L. 2004. Evaluating elastomer marking and photo identification methods for terrestrial salamanders: marking effects and observer bias. Herpetological Review 35:38-41.