Infra-red vision in ferrets (Mustela furo)
Newbold, H. G. (2007). Infra-red vision in ferrets (Mustela furo) (Thesis, Master of Applied Psychology (MAppPsy)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/2357
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/2357
Ferrets are labelled Unwanted Organisms under the Biosecurity Act (1993) due to their predation on New Zealand's native protected species and their status as potential vectors of Bovine Tuberculosis. There was suspicion that ferrets could detect the infrared light-emitting equipment used to monitor predator and prey behaviour. A two-alternative forced-choice operant procedure was used to test whether five pigmented male ferrets could detect infrared (870 and 920 nm) light. First, the ferrets were taught to press a lever under a lit visible (white) light emitting diode (LED) for food rewards. After up to 101 40-minute sessions, each ferret could lever press under the lit-light at or above the pass criteria of 75% responses over four consecutive (or five out of six) sessions. The same ferrets were then tested for stimulus generalisation over different stimulus properties by changing the wavelength/colour and intensity of the lit-light. The overall mean accuracy of each ferret's response to each coloured light varied between 92% and 84%. When a red light was systematically dimmed to halve the intensity nine times, all five ferrets still met the set pass criteria with overall accuracies of between 88% and 78%. This indicated that changing the properties of the light stimuli would not disrupt the ferrets' abilities to perform the learned task. This test was a necessary prerequisite before changing the light stimuli to potentially invisible wavelengths in the infrared spectrum.The light stimulus was changed to a single infrared (870) nm LED. Two of five ferrets showed strong evidence (response accuracies of 77% 4 and 72% 2) and one ferret showed weak evidence (60% 3) that they could see the light at this wavelength. Extraneous cues such as ultrasound emitted at the onset of a stimulus light or a predictable schedule of reinforcement were eliminated as potential response cues. These tests helped to prove that the ferrets were using only the light stimulus to discriminate which stimulus was lit. It may be possible that at least some feral ferrets can detect the light produced from infrared monitoring equipment that emits light wavelengths at or below 870 nm. This has significant implications for conservation because infrared equipment is used by conservation agencies in New Zealand and overseas to monitor predator and prey behaviour in the wild. If the infrared lighting is detected by the subject being observed, then it may potentially influence the behaviour of the animal, or attract a predator towards threatened native species.
The University of Waikato
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