The Sight Of Road Kill Makes A Pretty, Data-Rich Picture

Play associated audio

Wildlife ecologist Danielle Garneau is making a habit of tracking down road kill. She actually seeks it out, hunting for clues about larger ecological trends. Garneau records it all on a free smartphone app, EpiCollect.

Standing by the side of the road in upstate New York, phone in hand, Garneau peers down at a dead, bloody and smelly skunk.

She takes a picture of the carcass and opens the app to input data, including location, time of day, the road's speed limit and whether the carcass has been scavenged. The data gets sent to the project server, and the road kill appears as a red pushpin on a digital map.

Road kill may not be glamorous, but Garneau, who works at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, says these dead critters carry valuable information.

"We're looking at a fine scale at patterns of animal movement — maybe we can pick up migratory patterns, maybe we can see a phrenology change," she says. "And also, in the long term, if many of these animals are threatened or they're in a decline, the hope would be that we could share this information with people who could make changes."

Over the course of the afternoon, she logs a lot of dead animals: a rabbit whose tail is about 20 feet down the road, a red squirrel with a deep gash across its back and an almost unrecognizable raccoon.

Some of it's fresh, and some of it's been pretty picked over, either scavenged by other animals, rained on or frozen. It's hard not to get a little philosophical about all the dead animals.

"We're embedded in their world, and they're embedded in our world, and the boundaries are kinda blurry," Garneau says.

By the end of the afternoon, the wildlife seems more visible. Some argue that technology has a way of cutting people off from nature, but tracking road kill is really the opposite.

The project facilitates engagement with the natural world, even if that piece of nature is a smelly skunk decaying on the side of the road.

Copyright 2012 North Country Public Radio. To see more, visit


Rapid Learners: How Pixar Animators Created A Very Scary River

What would a small dinosaur look like in Class V rapids? That's the question Pixar filmmakers had to answer for their film The Good Dinosaur. So they piled into a raft to figure it out for themselves.

We Tried A Futuristic Cranberry. It Was Fresh And Naturally Sweet

Cranberry breeders in Wisconsin have developed a berry that's tart but also sweet, like a Granny Smith apple. They say the variety isn't ready for production but could one day become a fresh product.

Russian Military Jet Crash Heightens Debate Over Syria No-Fly Zone

Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio and others are supporting the idea of a no-fly zone over Syria to try to help civilians there. But skeptics say it no longer has any relevance to today's Syrian crisis.

Used Rocket Is A New Breakthrough For Blue Origin's Space Plan

Blue Origin, the space company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, has sent a craft past the edge of space and then landed its rocket safely – and vertically — in Texas.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.