Drexel University Studies Northern Pine Snakes. by Kevin Smith

We thank Kevin Smith of Drexel University for this guest post:


The Northern pine snake (Pituophis melanoleucus) is a state threatened species in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Due to the cryptic and fossorial nature of this species, there is a lack of data on their early life behavior and dispersal.  An understanding of first season life history traits from hatching to ingress is particularly difficult to monitor.  

Without field observations it is difficult to elucidate key developmental processes, such as shedding rate, feeding rate, diet preference, habitat preference, dispersal patterns, and the spatial ecology after leaving the nest.

The Laboratory of Pinelands Research, under the direction of Dr. Walter F. Bien at Drexel University, has been studying the Northern pine snake for over a decade in collaboration with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, and the New Jersey Air National Guard at Warren Grove Gunnery Range.

Dr. Ron Smith and Dane Ward have collectively implanted and radio tracked over 70 individuals, investigating their spatial ecology and distribution. Until recently, the use of implanted radio transmitters was only applicable for fully grown adults, and external transmitters are not appropriate for semi-fossorial constrictors as they interfere with normal snake behaviors and readily fall off this active species.

Last year, however, as part of Kevin PW Smith's doctoral thesis, we performed the first surgical transmitter implantation in eight P. melanoleucus neonates using six ATS model R1635 and two model A2414 transmitters.  

Both models were successful in tracking pine snakes in the first stages of life. In collaboration with the New Jersey Conservation Foundation at the Franklin Parker Preserve,  we monitored neonate activity daily, and recorded environmental and behavioral data. This season, an additional ten neonates will be implanted with ATS model R1635 transmitters and tracked daily.  

Being able to make daily observations on a previously secretive and understudied life stage in situ has given us insight to a wide range of behaviors, including dietary patterns, shedding schedules, and micro-habitat usage.  

Each day of new data has helped fill in vital gaps of the life history of this species. This research facilitates our ability to better plan, recommend, and execute more conservation strategies for this threatened species.


 Photo credit: Kevin Smith

What Can You Do About Frequency Congestion?

If you are coming up short on usable frequencies in your field studies, there is an answer. At ATS we've developed a coded tracking system that will allow you to track 100’s of terrestrial animals, using the fewest frequency channels. In addition to using fewer frequencies, tracking work can be accomplished more accurately, faster, and with better range than with standard VHF tracking systems.

For many years fish researchers have used coded tagging schemes in their studies, allowing them to track thousands of fish in a compact area, such as a river. Realizing that terrestrial researchers were facing a limitation on the number of frequencies available in the spectrum, ATS engineers set out to develop a system to utilize a coded ID system to track animals on land.

At the heart of the system is ATS' proprietary coding scheme and R4520C Receiver-Datalogger, which enables the researcher to track and identify up to 25 tags sharing a single frequency. While tracking in the field, whether on the ground or in an aircraft, one is able to choose an individual animal within the group, hear only that tag, and locate it with pinpoint accuracy. This receiver features digital signal processing algorithms and so provides excellent sensitivity, allowing target detections faster and at twice the range of other receivers. 

This model is much different then the standard models that make up the R45xx series of receivers. Below is a portion of the receiver's control panel, which shows a view of the keys used to hear or silence certain transmitter ID's. Not shown is the LCD display which will show up to nine of the frequencies within range. 

The other component of the system is the VHF encoded transmitter(s). Each transmitter is assigned a discrete code, (e.g. C-31), but will be assigned the same frequency (e.g. 164.100) on up to 25 other transmitters.

If you'd like a more in depth explanation of coded tracking systems for terrestrial applications, a white paper is available on the ATS website.

To learn more about how ATS can help you meet your research objectives, call your ATS Consultant, or go to the ATS website and request a same day quote today!

 R4520C Receiver being used in aircraft cockpit.

ATS Visit to Conservation Biologists Conference a Success


Entrance to the Baltimore venue of the ICCB

ATS attends from twelve to fifteen or more conferences and meetings throughout the world every year. For us, it’s one of the best ways to get in front of and interact with the most important people we work with: our present and future customers.

Our latest conference, the ICCB, International Congress for Conservation Biology, took place in Baltimore in late July. Jon Adsem, ATS Consultant, and Peter Kuechle, ATS’ President, attended this conference, which included almost 1500 registered participants and over twenty exhibiting vendors; one of the largest conferences we attended this year. 

Also present at our booth was our South African representative, Pharm4Game Company. Yolanda Blacquiere and Marna Van Der Walt (Broekman), made the long voyage from Pretoria, South Africa to join us at the conference.

Researchers and students from all over the world visited the conference, and all seemed very excited with the opportunity to mingle and learn from like-minded individuals. The ATS booth was quite busy for the duration of the conference. We spoke with a large number of researchers who were studying animals ranging from elephants to bats, whale sharks to dragon flies, and mountain sheep to snakes!

View of the ATS booth at the ICCB Conference.

For this conference we decided to have a little fun by using a more interactive component! All who visited our booth got a chance to enter our “Spin-2-Win” contest using the booth’s iPad. Congratulations to our winners:

  • Barb Wolfe – Ohio
    $50 Cabela’s Gift Card
  • Meghan Jensen – New York
  • Julieta Benitez-Malvido – Mexico
    Multi Tool
  • Gabby Ahmadia - Virginia
    Head Lamp

Below, Peter Kuechle, ATS President, with Spin 2 Win winner
Meghan Jensen.

Is there a conference you go to that you think could benefit by having a telemetry provider like ATS there? Let us know please!