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Want to know what wildlife is moving around your house? Well, you could sit on the porch or hide under a bush and try to patiently wait to see rabbits, squirrels and maybe the occasional deer wander past.

The other option is to talk your parents into buying what’s known as a trail camera. These cameras can be mounted to a tree or fence post. The camera takes a picture automatically when something passes in front of it, including your neighbor or your neighbor’s cat.

Lots of hunters and wildlife watchers hang trail cameras at their cabins, hunting camps or along creeks or trails to capture photos of elk, deer, bears and mountain lions. The cameras can provide some pretty unusual photos, like a bobcat and coyote meeting at night, or two male deer fighting.

Because they are relatively inexpensive, starting at about $35, scientists are now using them to collect information on different animals.

“Trail cams have revolutionized the study of carnivores,” said Courtney Davis, a Penn State ecology student who co-wrote a recent study on large carnivores.

“With the very low density of carnivores on the landscape and wide territories, monitoring their movement and behavior previously had been difficult and expensive. Researchers around the world often use the same models of cameras used by hunters and sportsmen,” the Penn State press release added.

To better understand how carnivore communities behave, Davis’ team used cameras for 108,087 days across 12 countries spanning five continents to study meat-eating mammals ranging from weasels to polar bears. That’s a lot of photos to look at, but it helped them understand what animals were where and what they were up to. Maybe you can learn something interesting, as well.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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