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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Detecting Rodents in the Presence of Land Crabs: Indicator Blocks Outperform Standard Rodent Detection Devices at Palmyra Atoll


Indicator blocks, also called “chew-tag-cards,” made from a small square of corrugated plastic partially filled with an attractant, are an established rodent detection tool used in many different settings. Here, we discuss the utility of indicator blocks in detecting the presence of rats at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge (Palmyra) in the Northern Line Islands. The detection of invasive rodents, in this case black rats, can be challenging in the presence of non-target species that may interfere with detection devices. Palmyra supports a robust community of land crabs. Five of the 7 species of land crabs found at Palmyra routinely interfere with commonly-used rodent detection devices: snap traps, live-capture traps, tracking tunnels, motion-sensing cameras, and gnaw sticks. Interference by crabs renders some of the detection methods useless (gnaw sticks) and reduces the sensitivity of others through false triggering (traps and cameras). Coconut crabs, which can exceed 7 kg and are found throughout Palmyra Atoll, can easily destroy tracking tunnels, traps, and even ruggedized motion-sensing cameras. Prior to the successful eradication of rats from the atoll in 2011, we compared the rate of detecting rats using indicator blocks with that of live-capture traps and tracking tunnels in paired, independent samples (90 chew block versus trap samples, 20 chew block versus tracking tunnel samples). Sampling occurred in September and October 2010 and measures were collected consecutively for 19 days. The frequency at which the indicator blocks detected rats was significantly higher (P < 0.001) than that for traps or tracking tunnels, even when interference by land-crabs was minimized by placing the devices on overturned 5-gallon buckets. The results from this study suggest that indicator blocks are an effective and efficient tool for detecting rodents in the presence of non-target species that interfere with rodent detection devices.

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