Has anyone ever studied the long-term effects of tagging wild animals?
August 30, 2013 10:55 AM   Subscribe

I am just wondering what the long-term affects are in regards to tagging mammals & animals in the wild? Does anyone ever analyze or study what effects the tag itself will have on that particular animal or the nearby respective animal community that has not been tagged? Do other animals recognize the tags as foreign objects or do most species accept the tag as a normal bodily feature after it has been attached? Is there a species where the tags were deemed "wierd" or foreign enough to cause that animal to be ousted by others?

I imagine that over time (since the tag hasn't changed or harmed the animal and has become a normal part of everyday life) that the tag will be accepted.

Most of the ID tags that are fastened around the limbs, ears, or wings of wild animals often seem very large and uncomfortable for the poor animals... And it seems obvious that other un-tagged animals would notice the object and perhaps act differently toward that particular animal.
posted by dope_feeny to Pets & Animals (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Most of the ID tags that are fastened around the limbs, ears, or wings of wild animals often seem very large and uncomfortable for the poor animals

What makes you say that? All of the tagged animals I've ever seen don't seem to act like the tags are even there. I've put collars on cats and dogs, been to numerous zoos and wildlife preserves, and seen hundreds of cows with tags in their ears, and none of the animals seem to even know they've been tagged/collared. They're not favoring limbs, scratching themselves, there's no evidence that anything has been rubbed raw, bitten, etc. They may not like tags for the first few minutes, particularly if they're implanted, which does create a minor wound, but they get used to them pretty quick. If there were a continued unpleasant sensation, the animals would continue to worry the offending tag. They don't really seem to, or at least none of the dozens of tagged animals that I've ever seen have done so.

Further, I think you're overestimating the brain sophistication of most animals. Most animals fail the mirror test, and even fewer demonstrate object permanence. They just don't seem to have a working mental concept of their own body. They have sensation, to be sure, and the same kind of subconscious mechanical knowledge that allows us to move our limbs, but I really don't think that there's any evidence that if a dog looked at its paw there would be any concrete mental perception of the idea "This is my paw." They seem to function a far more instinctive level, one which doesn't seem to be sophisticated to contemplate things like tags.

So no, I don't think anyone's ever studied this in detail. But I think the above reasons are why.
posted by valkyryn at 11:13 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Apologies for a link drop but I am on the run - here is a study that takes on some of what you asked, for some animals.
posted by faineant at 11:13 AM on August 30, 2013

This USDA site has a lot of good information about the way that wild animals must be treated in field research - the specific guidelines vary depending on what kind of animal you're interested in.

Every university that does field research like this should have some sort of animal care & research ethics committee that must approve wildlife studies for ethical treatment and scientific value (here is the link to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee at my alma mater, for example) - your local university's committee might be a good place to start if you have specific questions. Certification courses are nearly required to be approved to ethically band birds, at least, though I'm less familiar with the process for mammals.

More germane to your question, there are very specific regulations on the relative size of the tags/transmitters (e.g. the transmitter must be no more than 3% of the animal's body weight for hummingbirds), and those limits have been based on at least cursory research into the way that animals respond to being tagged. In any event, to give you links to primary literature, I'd need to know more about what kind of animals you're interested in, since field methods differ for different species and the animals' responses will also be different.
posted by dialetheia at 11:57 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is frequently looked at for studying wild animals (100's if not 1000's of journal articles exist on this subject in various forms), as using tags that result in harm/death can be counter productive to scientific studies and researchers need to know if the use of tags is going to bias results. There are also rules and regulations that try to govern what kinds of tags/devices are appropriate for different species to reduce harm/stress to the animals and this is often part of an IACUC protocol at a university or research facility. If you do a google scholar search using the terms "effect of pit tags" (these are frequently used in wildlife research, as they are small and easy to insert) or "tagging animals mortality", you will get lots of results of peer-reviewed research on this subject. Here are a few links I came across very quickly about this subject:





posted by PinkPoodle at 12:02 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I see that dialethia beat me to it above with respect to IACUC (and even better provided a link)!
posted by PinkPoodle at 12:04 PM on August 30, 2013

I know when I worked at a Little or Fairy penguin colony as a guide, the local rangers etc monitoring the colony were worried as they tagged the penguins and some research had shown that tagged penguins had a higher mortality rate. There were also problems as leg tags could get in the way of their very short legs when walking and climbing, and so wing tags were prefered but it was suspected could interfere with their swimming. Having said that some tagged penguins have lived to 20 years in the wild, when the average life expectancy is 8 years(skewed some because of high mortality rate of chicks) so make of that what you will.

Sorry I can't offer any citations but this discussion was in a break room several years ago now and I can't remember exactly what studies they were talking about.
posted by wwax at 12:22 PM on August 30, 2013

Others above have covered the academic/government issues so I'll offer two stories. First, my friend studied survival of neck-collared geese using different coloured collars (the birds were also banded with small metal leg bands). The birds with white collars, the colour that most blended in with their feathers (being Snow geese), survived a lot better than those wih brightly coloured collars. Turns out hunters targeted the collared birds. The same thing was found with nasal-marked scoters (duck species) including list serves discussing these awesome new markers and how everyone was going to try and get one for themselves!

The other story is about a finch species who were individually banded with colour bands to help a behaviour study. The researchers found out the red-banded males were much more successful (i.e. more females and chicks) than those males banded with any other colour. Turns out that leg colour is a quality signal in this species and the researchers had inadvertanly made a bunch of males extra sexy.
posted by hydrobatidae at 5:36 PM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

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