Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Can a predator see ‘invisible’ light? Infrared vision in ferrets (Mustela furo)

Haylie G. Newbold A B and Carolyn M. King A B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Biological Science, University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton, Waikato 3200, New Zealand.

B Corresponding authors. Email: haylie.stevens@gmail.com, cmking@waikato.ac.nz

Wildlife Research 36(4) 309-318 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR08083
Submitted: 28 May 2008  Accepted: 19 February 2009   Published: 1 June 2009

Abstract

Infrared (wavelengths >750 nm) light-emitting equipment is commonly used worldwide to monitor nocturnal predator and prey behaviour. However, it is possible that the infrared (IR)-light wavelengths emitted from the equipment are so close to the spectral threshold of some key species that the light may be detected. An operant procedure was used to test whether five male ferrets (Mustela furo) could see an IR light with peak wavelengths of 870 and 920 nm. First, the ferrets were taught to press a lever under a lit white light for food reinforcement (overall mean response accuracy was 89%). Changing the properties (wavelength and intensity) of the light did not disrupt the ferrets’ abilities to perform the learned task. When the light was changed to IR (870 nm), four of five ferrets responded to the light at levels significantly higher than chance (mean = 68%, n = 4188, P < 0.01). When glare from a red trial-starting light was removed, two of the five ferrets (S3 and S4) showed strong evidence (response accuracies of 84% and 78%, respectively, P < 0.01) that they could see IR at 870 nm; however, S3 definitely could not see IR at 920 nm (n = 124, mean = 47%, P = 0.53). We conclude that at least some ferrets can see the light emitted from standard monitoring equipment that uses IR wavelengths of ~870 nm. To ensure nocturnal predator and prey behaviours are not altered by IR surveillance, field programs should use only high-wavelength IR diodes (at least 920 nm).


Acknowledgements

The authors thank Bill Temple and Jennifer Chandler for their technical help, wealth of knowledge on behavioural studies involving animals and computer programming skills. We also thank Dun-Edin Farm Ltd for their time and commitment, and for entering the very lengthy and complex process of obtaining a ferret exemption permit with us, and Ray Littler for statistical advice. And finally, thanks go to Gavin Ng, Amy Tanahil and Bevan Newbold for their share in caring for the ferrets. This project was the first in New Zealand to involve captive ferrets since they were declared Unwanted Organisms under the Biosecurity Act 1993. It is now unlawful to keep, sell or release ferrets, either live-trapped or captive-bred, without an exemption permit from The Chief Technical Officer of the Department of Conservation, Wellington. We began this process in September 2004, and received our permit on 1st May 2005; the suppliers, Dun-Edin Farm Ltd, Dunedin (one of the last establishments still licensed to breed ferrets for export), also had to apply for permission to sell to us. Ferrets were received from them on 8th August 2005. Ethics permission (Protocol 621) was granted by the University of Waikato Animal Ethics Committee in February 2005 and extended until February 2007.


References

Ali L. M. , and Klyne M. A. (1985). ‘Vision in vertebrates.’ (Plenum Press: New York.)

Alterio, N. , and Moller, H. (1997). Daily activity of stoats (Mustela erminea), feral ferrets (Mustela furo) and feral house cats (Felis catus) in coastal grassland, Otago Peninsula, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 21, 89–95.


Apfelbach, R. (1986). Imprinting on prey odours in ferrets (Mustela putorius f. furo L.) and its neural correlates. Behavioural Processes 12, 363–381.
CrossRef |

Blough D. , and Blough P. (1977). Animal psychophysics. In ‘Handbook of Operant Behaviour’. (Eds W. K. S. Honig and V. E. R. Staddon.) (Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ.)

Boynton R. M. (Ed.) (1979). ‘Human Colour Vision.’ (Holt: New York.)

Braekevelt, C. R. (1983). Photoreceptor fine structure in the domestic ferret. Anatomischer Anzeiger 153, 33–44.
CAS | PubMed |

Brown, K. P. , Moller, H. , Innes, J. , and Jansen, P. (1998). Identifying predators at nest of small birds in a New Zealand forest. Ibis 140, 274–279.
CrossRef |

Burkhardt, D. (1972). Electrophysiological studies on the compound eye of a stalked eye fly, Cyrtodiopsis dalmanni (Diopsidae, Diptera). Journal of Comparative Physiology 81, 203–214.
CrossRef |

Burkhardt, D. (1973). Wavelength perception and colour vision. Symposia of the Society for Experimental Biology 36, 371–379.


Calderone, J. B. , and Jacobs, G. H. (2003). Spectral properties and retinal distribution of ferret cones. Visual Neuroscience 20, 11–17.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Carthew, S. M. , and Slater, E. (1991). Monitoring animal activity with automated photography. Journal of Wildlife Management 55, 689–692.
CrossRef |

Chowers, I. , Liu, D. , Farkas, R. H. , Gunatilaka, T. L. , Hackam, A. S. , Bernstein, S. L. , Campochiaro, P. A. , Parmigiani, G. , and Zack, D. J. (2004). Gene expression variation in the adult human retina. American Journal of Ophthalmology 138, 902.
CrossRef |

Clapperton B. K. , and Byrom A. (2005). Feral ferret. In ‘The Handbook of New Zealand Mammals’. 2nd edn. (Ed. C. M. King.) pp. 294–307. (Oxford University Press: Melbourne.)

Culter, T. L. , and Swann, D. E. (1999). Using remote photography in wildlife ecology: a review. Wildlife Society Bulletin 27, 571–581.


Domjan M. (Ed.) (2003). ‘The Principles of Learning and Behavior.’ 5th edn. (Thomson/Wadsworth: Belmont, CA.)

Emmerton, J. , and Delius, J. D. (1980). Wavelength discrimination in the ‘visible’ and ultraviolet spectrum by pigeons. Journal of Comparative Physiology 141, 47–52.
CrossRef |

Gewalt, W. (1959). Optical differentiation ability of some mustelids. Zoologischer Beobachter 5, 117–175.


Grace, M. S. , Woodward, O. M. , Church, D. R. , and Calisch, G. (2001). Prey targeting by the infrared imaging snake Python: effects of experimental and congenital vision deprivation. Behavioural Brain Research 119, 23–31.
CrossRef | CAS | PubMed |

Innes J. G. , Crook B. , and Jansen P. (1994). A time-lapse video camera system for detecting predators at nests of forest birds: a trial with North Island Kokako. In ‘Proceedings of the Resource Technology Conference’. pp. 439–448. (University of Melbourne: Melbourne.)

Innes, J. G. , Brown, K. , Jansen, P. , Shorten, R. , and Williams, D. (1996). Kokako population studies at Rotoehu Forest and on Little Barrier Island. Science for Conservation 30, 1–34.


Jacobs G. H. (1981). ‘Comparative Colour Vision.’ (Academic Press: New York.)

Jacobs, G. H. (1983). Colour vision in animals. Endeavour 7, 137–140.
CrossRef | CAS | PubMed |

Jacobs, G. H. (1993). The distribution and nature of colour vision among the mammals. Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 68, 413–471.
CrossRef | CAS | PubMed |

Jähne B. (2004). ‘Practical Handbook on Image Processing for Scientific and Technical Applications.’ 2nd edn. (CRC Press: Heidelberg, Germany.)

Kaiser P. K. , and Boynton R. M. (1996). ‘Human Colour Vision.’ 2nd edn. (Optical Society of America: Washington, DC.)

Kelly, J. B. , Kavanagh, G. L. , and Dalton, J. C. H. (1986). Hearing in the ferret (Mustela putorius): thresholds for pure tone detection. Hearing Research 24, 269–275.
CrossRef | CAS | PubMed |

King, C. M. , McDonald, R. M. , Martin, R. D. , Tempero, G. W. , and Holmes, S. J. (2007). A field experiment on selective baiting and bait preferences of pest mustelids (Mustela spp.). International Journal of Pest Management 53, 227–235.
CrossRef |

Laurance, W. F. , and Grant, J. D. (1994). Photographic identification of ground nest predators in Australian tropical rainforest. Wildlife Research 21, 241–248.
CrossRef |

Lomas, C. A. , Piggins, D. , and Phillips, C. J. C. (1998). Visual Awareness. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 57, 247–257.
CrossRef |

Lugton, I. W. , Wobeser, G. , Morris, R. S. , and Caley, P. (1997). Epidemiology of Mycobacterium bovis infection in feral ferrets (Mustela furo) in New Zealand. 1. Pathology and diagnosis. New Zealand Veterinary Journal 45, 140–150.
CAS | PubMed |

Meredith, M. A. , Clemo, H. R. H. , and Dehneri, L. R. (2000). Response to innocuous, but not noxious, somatosensory stimulation by neurons in the ferret superior colliculus. Somatosensory & Motor Research 17, 297–308.
CrossRef | CAS | PubMed |

Muntz W. R. A. (1974). Comparative aspects in behavioural studies of vertebrate vision. In ‘The Eye’. (Eds H. Davson and L. T. Graham.) pp. 155–226. (Academic Press: New York.)

Pollard, J. S. , Beale, I. L. , and Lysons, A. M. (1967). Visual discrimination in the ferret. Perceptual and Motor Skills 24, 279–282.


Prout D. (2003). Testing a prototype bait station for the management of ship rats (Rattus rattus) and stoats (Mustela erminea) in North Island mixed podocarp forest. M.Sc. Thesis, The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Sanders, M. D. , and Maloney, R. F. (2002). Cause of mortality at nests of ground-nesting birds in the Upper Waitaki Basin, South Island, New Zealand: a 5-year video study. Biological Conservation 106, 225–236.
CrossRef |

Savidge, J. A. , and Seibert, T. F. (1988). An infrared trigger and camera to identify predators at artificial nests. Journal of Wildlife Management 52, 291–294.
CrossRef |

Signal T. D. (2002). Assessing psychophysical abilities in bushtail possums. Ph.D. Thesis, The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Stavenga, D. G. , Smits, R. P. , and Hoenders, B. J. (1993). Simple exponential functions describing the absorbance bands of visual pigment spectra. Vision Research 33, 1011–1017.
CrossRef | CAS | PubMed |

Tempero, G. , McDonald, R. M. , and King, C. M. (2007). Distribution and activity of small mammals on pastoral farmland and forest in New Zealand. Wildlife Biology in Practice 3, 43–51.


Tjalve, H. , and Frank, A. (1984). Tapetum lucidum in the pigmented and albino ferret. Experimental Eye Research 38, 341–351.
CrossRef | CAS | PubMed |

Vanstone A. (2006). Infra-red vision in possums (Trichosurus vulpecula). M.Sc. Thesis, The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.





Appendix 1.  Spectral properties of each coloured light-emitting diode, including the visible colour of the light, peak and the range of wavelengths as measured with a spectrometer, and intensity as measured with an OPhir PD-300 lazer power meter
Click to zoom



Rent Article (via Deepdyve) Export Citation Cited By (11)