Spring Hill, Tenn.
Dalton Smith, a senior from Spring Hill, is using his last year at the University of Tennessee at Martin to gain hands-on experience in wildlife research through the tracking of 12 raccoons on and around the UT Martin campus.
The raccoons, who wear radio collars, are located each week using a method called telemetry. To locate each animal, Smith uses a one-way radio antennae and a receiver to listen for the unique radio frequency from its collar. He takes readings from at least three locations, and wherever his data lines cross is the likely location of the animal at that moment.
“I try to get at least one location for each raccoon every week,” said Smith. “I can look at where they’re going and where they’re staying during the day – their den sites. ... I will use the data I’ve been collecting to figure out why raccoons sometimes den in the barns on the farm as opposed to in trees or ground dens and see if there’s a temperature correlation or a time of year correlation.”
This project, which began in the late summer of 2016, not only gives Smith an experience he needs to stand out in graduate school, but will also provide information useful to farmers and wildlife managers in the area.
“It could be (that) there’s not enough tree dens or ground dens in the area to support the raccoons, so they have to turn to the barns for den sites. Or it could be something completely different,” said Smith. “Whatever we find out could be used in agriculture or even by urban wildlife managers to fix the problem of raccoons using the buildings.”
Smith hopes to attend graduate school after graduating from UT Martin this spring and plans to become a wildlife biologist. He is particularly interested in working with ducks and geese, and has applied to research assistantships through South Dakota State University and Auburn University.
“I think doing undergraduate research really (puts) you ahead when you’re going to grad school or starting your career,” said Smith. He encourages his fellow students to find a project they are passionate about and make it a learning experience as well.
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