Mirror in a Small Mammal Claylick

13th December 2017

Untamed Photography

Mirror Image Stimulation Study

Project by Mark Fernley



We visited a small mammal clay-lick in the forest. We walked carefully along the thick, mud-like clay to a small ‘cave’ against the bank at one end of the clay-lick. The entrance to this ‘cave’ was about 60 cm in diameter. There were small, worn paths leading here from different directions around the steep bank and through the sticky mud in the clay-lick. It was interesting to see the marks and prints all over the clay of animals that have been visiting this site. So we wondered, how would different species of mammals and birds react to suddenly coming upon their reflection as they made their way through this little clay-lick? We came back after dark with a mirror 120 cm long and 30 cm wide, and supplies to install the mirror. Because of the small size of the clay-lick site, we didn’t attach a frame but merely set the mirror up in front of the entrance to the cave. Which, though it looked easy enough to do, still required a bit of work. We brought two wood posts with us that were about 1.5″ wide and a bit longer than the length of the mirror. We pushed those into the clay below the cave entrance and nailed the tops of the posts to the wall above the cave entrance. Then we applied glue to the posts and very carefully attached the back of the mirror against the posts, holding it firmly in place for a few minutes to make sure the glue would hold. After that we installed a camera trap to capture footage of any interesting animal reactions!


We went back to the clay-lick to check the mirror and camera trap. Recent rain showers had splattered the mirror with mud and water but there was no sign of animal interaction with it. We played back the footage from the camera trap and to our disappointment the camera had switched from video mode to photo mode for some reason. The photos revealed images of a woodpecker, a parakeet, two Bicolor-spined Porcupines (Coendou bicolor) and a flock of Spix’s Guans (Penelope jacquacu). The porcupines visited often but did not appear to pay any attention to the mirror. They crawled behind the mirror or walked in front of it but didn’t show any signs of noticing their reflection. The Guans walked around and in front of the mirror and several of the images appear to show them looking into the mirror, it’s a shame we didn’t have video of it. We reset the camera trap and checked to make sure it was recording video. Now to wait again……


We reviewed the most recent footage from the camera and found that it recorded some video but then switched over to photos again. However, we discovered several fascinating videos of two Bicolor-Spined Porcupines in which one was interacting with the mirror! Twice it walked in front of the mirror and looked straight at its reflection. Then it raised its quills and moved its head back and forth in front of the mirror, clearly agitated! This lasted for several minutes, then the porcupine appeared to lose interest and walked away behind the mirror. So we managed to capture some interesting interactions from one animal species. We removed the mirror and camera trap from the clay-lick though after that as we didn’t want to be too disruptive to the animals that visit it.

Story written by Mark Fernley