Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Microchips Identify an Island Fox For Life

microchips or PIT tags beside a penny
What's smaller than a penny and vital to island fox conservation? Microchips or passive integrated transponder tags (PIT tags).

Unlike a radio tracking collar that monitors the location and activity of an island fox, and has a 1-2 year battery life, these tiny microchips provide individual identification for the life of an island fox.

This technology is called "passive" because there is no battery involved. The tiny capsule is placed under the fox's skin using a hypodermic needle. The microchip stays in place between the shoulders and under the skin throughout the animal's life. When a biologist scans the island fox with a handheld radio-frequency reading device, the circuitry in the microchip sends an individualized code back to the reader.

The code in each microchip is different, enabling each individual island fox to have its own unique identification number. These microchips are similar to those used in pet dogs and cats. They were first used in fish like salmon, so that individual salmon could be counted as they swam past a submerged reader. The animal just has to come in close proximity to the reader for the information to be transferred.

Microchips not only identify each individual endangered island fox, they provide the ability to track data on individual animals as they mature, produce offspring and age. Not all island foxes wear radio collars and it is impossible for biologists to physically identify all of the individual island foxes. Island foxes are like people and they change in appearance over time. See if you can identify an individual island fox. 

When an island fox is caught during its first fall counting, it receives a health check and a microchip. From that moment on, it is known as an individual. For example: A female island fox was caught in September 2012 on the east end of Santa Catalina Island. She had numerous bite wounds from another island fox. Her injuries were treated topically and she was released. 

A month later in October 2012 a female island fox was caught on the west end of the island. The microchip ID revealed it was the same female. She was the first female island fox known to have traveled across the narrow isthmus since the foxes on Catalina became endangered. She traveled over 10 miles to get away from the territory of her aggressor.

Channel Islands National Park biologists have challenged FIF to:

Fund microchips for 250 island foxes in 2013
Each microchip costs $10 

Most of the foxes to be microchipped in the fall will be pups born this month. We made our goal last year

You can help us reach our goal of $2,500 for 250 microchips in 2013 by donating today.