Installation of Mirror 5&6 (M.I.S.S)

4th December 2017

Mirror Image Stimulation Study (M.I.S.S)


An exciting new project is underway from the team at Untamed Photography: Mark has initiated a study in which we’re observing the behaviour of rainforest mammals and birds that react to seeing their own reflections, and capturing it on video. To do that we are setting up mirrors at particular locations in the forest and capturing footage via camera traps.

I’m assisting Mark with the continuation of the study. We are currently based at Fauna Forever’s ‘Secret Forest’ location, near the Tambopata River in southern Peru. Today we set up a mirror on the rainforest floor at the intersection of two trails. It doesn’t look like something that would take much effort but believe me, it was a lot of work! It was something I’d never imagined I’d be doing in a tropical rainforest! So to start with we had this large wooden frame that Mark assembled, approximately 120 cm long x 120 cm wide with two boards that were longer on either side to serve as posts to stick in the ground. As there are no roads along the way to where we are placing this mirror, we had to literally carry this frame along the rainforest trail until we reached the small clearing at the intersection of the trails where we wanted to place it. We used the machetes to clear away some plants and branches that were in the way until we had a nice cleared out area. We wanted to place the mirror at an angle where animals traveling from any direction would walk by it and notice their reflection. We picked a spot against the side of the clearing and started by digging two holes in the ground, lots of fun when there are so many roots in the way. Once the holes were deep enough we carried the frame over and planted the posts into the holes, then with our boots we shoveled­ dirt back into the holes. Once the frame was firmly planted in the ground and level, we went onto the next part: reinforcing it so it could stand up to a large mammal attack! For that we found several small trees around 10 cm in diameter and cut them down to size. We cut notches in one end and nailed them to each side of the frame at the top. On the one piece the wood was very hard and we kept bending the nails and they wouldn’t go all the way through. We had to look for another thick branch to use and found one that we could drive the nails through. Then we took the opposite ends and nailed them to a tree behind the frame. Now our frame was securely fastened in place. Next it was time to attach the mirror to the frame. We had 4 mirrors 30 cm wide that matched the length of the frame. We placed double-sided tape around the back of the mirrors, and added glue all around the mirror back surrounding the tape. Then we had to (very carefully!) pick up each mirror and, one at a time, place it onto the frame and position it correctly. We placed our hands on the mirror and held it against the frame for several minutes to ensure the tape and glue would hold. By this time it was getting dark and we had to switch on our headlamps. Moths, along with other insects, swarmed all over the edges of the mirror, with the moths also fluttering back and forth and landing on the glass. After the last mirror was carefully placed on the frame we took a cloth and cleaned off any dirt and fingerprints. We now had ourselves a large mirror sitting on the forest floor! How often does one come across something like that while traveling through the rainforest? Certainly never for the animals, so hopefully this will capture the attention of any passing mammal and it will be fascinating to see what their reaction is to unexpectedly coming across their reflection. Now we have to be able to record those reactions so we attached a camera trap to a tree on the opposite side of the clearing from the mirror. We tested it by walking in front of the mirror to make sure it was working and recording correctly. Then we gathered our supplies and gear lying scattered around the clearing (and crawling with ants by now), shook the ants off of everything, and stood back to admire our work.



Mark and I came across another interesting site to add to the mirror image stimulation study. We followed the trail leading to the river and at the edge of the forest, shortly before descending down the bank to the river edge, we came across a small clearing with an intersection of paths leading in each direction.  It looked like a perfect spot to set up another mirror, especially being so close to the river where the mammals will travel to after dark! We began the fun task of transporting our supplies to this site. There were two options – the short walk along the river edge and up a steep hill to the forest, or a much longer forest trail leading right to the site. We opted for the shorter path. We recruited help from several Fauna Forever team members and carefully carried the large frame, the mirrors and other supplies to the site. That meant walking through sticky mud along the river edge with rocks jutting out everywhere, then crossing a very narrow and muddy path next to a steep bank (rather slippery there), then over more rocks and mud, and finally to the bottom of the hill below our site. We carefully carried everything up the steep bank, fighting more slippery mud, then past bamboo sticking out in every which direction, and finally through a narrow winding path up the the top where we entered the site for our new mirror. We picked a spot against the side of the clearing, where animals would be most likely to look at the mirror while passing through the clearing. We had three mirrors this time, instead of four as with the previous one, so it would be slightly shorter. This mirror would end up being 120 cm x 90 cm. No problem, as the maximum height of one of the largest mammals, the jaguar, wouldn’t be higher than the mirror once we completed it. We dug a trench the length of the frame and deep enough to cover the posts and bottom portion of the frame, which wouldn’t have any part of the mirror attached to it. There were less roots in the ground compared to the first site, but it still took a lot of digging and sweating to create the size trench that we needed. We dug out two holes on either end of the trench to sit the frame posts in as well. Then we placed the frame into the trench and piled the dirt back in, doing a bit of re-adjusting to ensure it was straight and central. We looked around the edge of the clearing for a thick branch or small tree, which would serve to hold up the frame from the back. Again, we needed to make sure the frame would stand up to the likes of a jaguar attack! We cut down a small tree and sawed it down to the lengths we needed. We used the saw to cut notches on one end, which were placed against the side of the frame at the top. While doing that we discovered Bullet ants wandering the area. As I was holding onto the branch while Mark was sawing, I felt something on the back of my neck. Brushing it away I looked down at what hit the ground and here a Bullet ant had been crawling on me. How wonderful. I kept my eye on it as we continued working. Before we nailed the branches to the frame we suddenly realized that we forgot to make sure there was a tree behind the frame on which to attach them for support! The ground behind the frame only held branches and leaf litter. After pondering that dilemma for a few minutes we decided to dig holes in the ground behind the frame on each side, insert the branches into the holes and cover them with dirt, then nail them to the frame. That provided enough support to hold the frame, problem solved! Now we attached the mirrors one by one to the frame, again using the glue and double-sided tape. We held them against the frame for several minutes until the glue would hold; bit of glue stuck to the mirrors as sometimes our fingers would touch it while holding onto the mirrors. We then used a cloth to clean the dirt and glue off. Last but not least we attached the camera trap to a small tree conveniently located across the site opposite the mirror. After testing it to ensure it was working correctly, we cleaned up the site. Now that the first difficult part is over it’s time for the second difficult part – waiting!


Story written by Mark Fernley