The Natural Tag, or as we call it, TNT, is the next advancement in the technology of animal marking. It was conceived of and designed to replace the 100-year-old-technology of physical tags. In a world increasingly sensitive to the treatment of research animals, TNT provides a non-invasive method for assessing all the same sources of information available from physical (mutilation) tags. It also provides much more information, such as growth, weight, gender, growth rates, etc. and it does it all in microseconds and without human subjectivity or transcription errors.
TNT allows “tagging” of many, many animals that otherwise could not be “tagged” at all.
For example, consider the newly listed endangered California Tiger Salamander.
Besides the restrictions constraining the use of mutilation tags on federally endangered species,
amphibians in general, and salamanders specifically, present real challenges to traditional mutilation tagging methodology.
A common practice for “tagging” amphibians is “toe-clipping”. Scientists that employ this method
cut one or more toes from the animal representing a unique identifier. Unfortunately (scientifically speaking),
salamanders have an annoying habit of regenerating amputated digits (fingers).
Other more modern methods such as Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags can also be problematic for amphibians as they cause elevated rates of infection at the injection site, and again some amphibians have a knack for “ejecting” internal tags.
Consider animals like insects, (monarch butterflies for example), for which there is very little in the way of offerings among the traditional methods of tagging. A simple picture taken by an interested volunteer could provide valuable information regarding habitat usage or migration timing and routes.
That brings us to the truly revolutionary aspect of TNT that has nothing to do with technology – The involvement of everyone in natural resource management. TNT provides a very realistic tool for participation in the science and management of our natural resources, to everyone. There is nothing more needed than a digital camera, access to The Web, and a willingness to "get out there and take some pictures".
As this is written, there are volunteers in Colorado, Washington, California, and Alaska taking pictures of the fish they catch as part of their normal sportfishing activities. A fellow and his 16-year-old daughter have been taking pictures of the endangered Colorado greenback cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki stomias) they have been catching for the past two years. Last fall, they caught the very first ever wild recapture of a TNT photographed fish. It was an historic moment. A community of anglers is growing in which one can not only share information among a group – say the Stanislaus Fly Fishers – in which you will find out if you caught a fish caught earlier by one of your fellow anglers, but also be helping the management agencies in California collect critical information regarding the fisheries in which you participate.
Truly, the potential for information gathering and processing is practically limitless, and you can participate fully and freely. Check out our site, wander around the Forum, and find out how you can become part of what we hope one day to be a world-wide community of “regular folks” collecting, sharing, and analyzing natural resource data from all over the world.