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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Building a better mousetrap

Last week neighbor Richard asked to borrow a camera trap. An illegal immigrant had taken up residence in his shop. It's droppings were on the work bench, and scattered here and there were bits of insulation. The little squatter was obviously building a first class nest. Though a man of uncommon generosity and hospitality, Richard draws the line at mice in the shop and gophers in the garden. He planned to trap the "wee sleekit mousie" and release it outdoors, but first he wanted to photograph it with my camera trap.

In view of the embarrassing number of times Richard has helped me repair things around the house, I was pleased for a change to be able to offer a lending hand. Truth be told, many biologists are a bit challenged when it comes to practical skills. When somebody like my neighbor -- who can fix and make anything -- wants to tap into your impractical skills and useless knowledge, well it’s a tremendous boost to the ego.

I took the camera trap and sunflower seeds to his shop that afternoon.
"Tonight I just want to get his picture," he said popping a peanut into his mouth.
"Okay, we'll pre-bait the area with peanuts", said I. "We'll leave the sunflower seeds in the trap--they love sunflower seeds--and when we set the trap tomorrow he'll be more than ready for them."
Like a couple of doddering Hollywood directors we arranged the props on the work bench into a mouse-friendly studio.

Richard called me on the phone the next morning--the mouse (a deer mouse) made a brief cameo appearance.

As planned, Richard set the trap that afternoon. The next morning the seeds were gone, but the trap was still open. The mouse had entered the trap several times and eaten the sunflower seeds with impunity.

And that wasn't all. It had jumped in and out of a 5-gallon plastic bucket to get the peanuts at the bottom!

"Now that's quite a feat, I remarked.
Richard took his measuring tape to the bucket, "14 inches high".
"Let's say the mouse is 4 inches long," I mused.
Richard followed through, "He's jumping three and half times his length."

Then he turned to the Victor live trap.
"I don't like this trap. It's too short!"
"This is a Victor live trap, Richard. Victor's been making mousetraps for over 100 years. They're experts in an ancient craft!"
"It's too short", he insisted. "I'm going to cut off the back and hot glue an extension. Then I'm going to move the fulcrum back. That way he has to go further in. This trap's too short!"

And that's exactly what he did.

I emailed him the next morning: "What's the score on the mouse trapping? Any pics last night? Do you need sunflower seed? Batteries? Lemme know."

Richard: "Well, he came back last evening but wouldn't go into the trap with the revisions. The batteries went dead in the camera and I didn't get many pictures."

Chris: "You're hooked! Hah hah! I'll give you a couple of rechargeables in exchange for the dead ones. (We forgot to change them). We should try a different trap too. You need to design the Chaddock Smart-Mouse trap. See you soon."

As a mouse hunter and camera trapper I found Richard's determination highly amusing. He normally reserved this kind of enthusiasm for his various mechanical engineering projects around the house. He was getting hooked. Maybe not hopelessly hooked, like me. But hooked nonetheless.

"You won’t believe it!" I told my wife.
"Believe what?"
"Richard is totally into trapping the mouse, and is designing new mousetraps. He even wants me to make him a camera trap!"
She paused thoughtfully, and said, "His poor wife."

(To be continued)

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