Small mammals spend a majority of their lives in shelter sites such as belowground burrows. Understanding temporal patterns of burrow use would provide valuable information about the influence of physiological and environmental factors on activity patterns. To examine patterns of burrow use, we developed a system that automatically monitors activity of deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) at artificial burrows in tallgrass prairie. The automatic activity-monitoring system is composed of a passive integrated transponder (PIT)–tag transceiver that reads the identification tags of individuals and an infrared trail monitor that confirms movements in and out of artificial burrows. We PIT-tagged and monitored nightly activity of >90 deer mice on Konza Prairie Biological Station in northeastern Kansas from July 2003 to December 2004. The monitoring system allowed us to examine individual variation in activity relative to sex, parental attendance, and early exploration by young. We also discuss advantages and disadvantages of the system compared to other activity-monitoring techniques, so that researchers might develop similar systems for other study species.
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