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What pests do I have? Chew cards vs Cameras?

In our 4 P’s of trapping we talk about “knowing thy pest”. It’s easy to get enthusiastic about trapping, but you have to know what pests you have, and where you have them, to actually achieve results. You might have already experienced this, you bought a rat or possum rap, set it for a few days or a week and got … nothing! We did!

So an important first step is to understand your enemy. A traditional approach is to use chew cards to help define what pests you have. Possums are inquisitive, so they’ll have a go. Rats are wary of new things, but they will eventually have a go. But, this method is entirely dependent on pest actually interacting with something you’ve physically placed.

Chew cards or tracking tunnels are cheap and are indicative of pests (and trends), but they don’t tell you the real story. It’s kind of like polling 10% of people (or pests) who hang out in a bar, and expecting those results to be representative of the overall population. They are inherently biased and limiting.

In comparison, cameras can provide a definitive view on what is happening, no interaction required. But there are a number of choices.

  1. The Basic Trail Camera. There are many many options here, but the key factor is that they typically are not internet connected and record onto a SD card.  Often they are rated on sensitivity, but the big problem is not sensitivity, it’s that you have to download the images and then manually process them, Think painful! However, ZIP has recently brought out some free software to do this for you, we’re about to test it. Often these cameras only give you one choice, video OR still images. You have to use images to use the ZIP software. If you take this option, don’t buy a cheap camera, especially off AliExpress (been there, done that!). Buy something decent quality, think about $3-400’ish, like this one from Viewtech.
  2. A “Security” camera. For us in Wainui, especially if you’re “residential” you might have wifi available near to your house, In which case, an Arlo Essential is your camera of choice. Affordable, internet connected, and with a relatively cheap subscription you get alerts and recordings of all those pesties! Not the most sensitive, but it will easily pick up rats, hedgehogs and definitely larger pests such as possums or feral cats, all in HD! Think around $200, plus a subscription.
  3. The Rolls Royce. If you are a true geek, have too much money, or a big government fund, your obvious choice would be an infrared camera powered by AI. And that would be a Cacophony camera. These are currently the best cameras available, as they not only detect every pest, but the footage is uploaded to the cloud and processed to provide meaningful stats of what visited and when. Very little manual processing, saving hours and hours and hours of viewing. At several thousand dollars however, not cheap.

The reality is that in Wainui we have tons of pests. Most are nocturnal, so we don’t see them, but they are there! So we don’t specifically need to test if pests are there, but instead understand the volume and population we’re dealing with.

We’re seeking some funding for some more Cacophony cameras, but for our more residential areas, with Wi-Fi, the Arlo Essential is your go. Yes, a bit geeky, but so much fun!

Any while we’re on the topic of cameras, they do serve two key roles:

  1. Pest identification. Expect when you get a camera to move it around. Pests typically follow “highways” and once you identify one, expect more than one weary traveller to take advantage of your newly positioned “pest stop”. Ideally it’s a one way journey …
  2. Behavioural analysis. Pests do generally do follow behavioural patterns. Possums are inquisitive, rats are not. Cats, well a whole different story, think cunning! So a camera will help you understand the behaviour of the pests in your area. Know thy pest, and then trapping becomes way easier!

Finally, if you get a camera, should you record video or images? This is obviously very dependent on the camera, some only do video, some will do both (but not at the same time), so you end up having to decide on what you want to achieve. If you want AI to “count” pests for you, then it’s the Cacophony camera or a Trail camera (recording images) and the ZIP software. However, video is more useful to understand how the pest is interacting with your trap and lure.

In 2023 we’ll see a few changes in this space. Critter Solutions will hopefully be bringing out a new camera, that possibly will be internet connected, record pest interactions via AI, have a longer battery life, and be cheaper than the only current option, the Cacophony camera. You can lean more about it on this great video.