Monday, December 19, 2011

Honeoye Fur Auction 12/18/2011

WARNING: This is going to be a long blog (but with cool pictures!), also it may be a little gross for some people. Let me say before I really begin: I am not a hunter, or a trapper. My feelings are this: hunting and trapping are necessary means of wildlife management. If done within the confines of the law, I think that they are both "ok". I probably will never kill an animal purposefully, I just don't have it in me. But, being science-minded, and looking to the future... I will be working in this field, and I must accept and resign myself to these acts. If you would like more information about hunting/trapping rules and regs in NYS, check out the DEC website.

If you're reading this and would like to contact me, please shoot me an email at:

Last week I received an email from my professor John, who has a close working relationship with the Region 8 DEC employees. The Region 8 fur-bearing wildlife biologist, Scott Smith had emailed John asking for a student to help him out sexing muskrats and recording the data at a local fur auction this past Sunday. John knew I would be all over that, and I was! It's hard for me to say it was the best experience I've had at FLCC, because I've had so many cool opportunities available to me. BUT this was very interesting and I was exposed to an industry (trapping) that I knew nothing about. And by the way, that's Sasha and I in front of the auction building!

So, the who, what, where, when and why:
  • WHO: The Genesee Valley Trappers
  • WHAT: Fur auction
  • WHERE: Country Road 32, Bloomfield (NEXT TO THE WIZARD OF CLAY--if you're local and know that reference (I've ALWAYS wanted to go in there!))
  • WHEN: Sunday, December 18th. Bright and early...8:30am!
  • WHY: As a wildlife bio, Scott was responsible for taking down muskrat information that can help determine population productivity and health, and I was along for the ride.

I arrived bright and early, it was sunny and crisp and frosty out- a perfect morning for examining wild animal pelts! I got to the Trappers HQ a little earlier than Scott had said to meet, so I went in and took a look around. I was (I think) the only female, so I got alot of looks...until Sasha showed up. Then there were two of us ladies in the house! I assume many or most of these guys know each other from the club and just by association, and we were the odd women out. Collectively, the guys' favorite colors seemed to be "mossy oak" and "blaze orange" the room was full of it. Once I got through the door, and past the registration table, I went into the "fur room" where all the skins were being hung until auction. This is are some pictures of what it looked like:

Species at the auction included: Muskrat, Racoon, Mink, Beaver,
White-tailed deer, Coyote, Red fox, Gray Fox, and Opossum.

When Scott arrived, we got to work. His task that day as a wildlife biologist working for the NYS DEC was to collect biological information off of the muskrat skins. Sure, he could do it with live animals 'in the field', but the amount of time, effort, and not to mention STRESS ON THE ANIMALS that that would take is unrealistic. The DEC is hurting for employees, money, resources, etc.So Scott, and other biologists have figured out methods of collecting information that would be the same on either a live or dead animal. For another example, see my Deer Check Station blog entry. That day we were looking for age (juvenile or adult), sex (male or female), and the presence or absence of kidney spots on the skin. The following is the data sheet we used to record all of the information with hash marks.

It's a simple data sheet, but recorded all of the information necessary.

The information gathered can help tell the biologists how productive the muskrat populations are in NY, age classifications, and what % of the muskrats have kidney spots. The significance of the kidney spots is unknown at this point. What is known is that once the skin is tanned, the fur falls out of the kidney spots. Also, primarily adult females seem to sport these spots. Perhaps down the road this data will come into play...Also, I just realized I don't have any pictures of kidney spots! Sorry. It would probably be difficult to decipher through a picture anyway. They looked like kidney bean shaped discolorations (either light or dark) on the dorsal side of the skin, where you'd expect kidneys to be found.

Before I identify the ages and sexes, I should say all the muskrat skins we looked at were dried and stretched. There were some "green" skins that we didn't look at. Meaning the fatty/fleshy tissue hadn't been scraped off, and the skins were right side out. It's messier and harder to determine age/sex on these skins, so Scott said "forget it" :).

Scott letting me take a stab at aging and sexing the 'rats.

The pictures below are examples of juvenile skins. The way you can tell is by the patterning on the inside of the skin. Juveniles have "stripes" of vascular tissue. Whether it be 2 dark stripes on the outside, or vice versa, it's a juvenile. I'd say 99% of the time it was very easy to tell. This vascular tissue is growing the muskrats fur and priming it for winter. Older muskrats appear blotchy, because their fur has most likely grown in and primed for the winter, of course there always can be an exception to the rule. The animals never seem to read the field guide!

This is what an adult muskrat looks like on the inside. Note the blotchy coloration of the vascular tissue.

This is a female muskrat, as it has nipples. Other male mammals have nipples, but apparently male muskrats either don't have them, or they don't show up on the inside of the skin. I don't have a clear picture of a male skin, but just imagine that picture about with out the lighter colored nipple spots.

On the left are dried and stretched skins, and on the right are "green" skins...all muskrats! What I think I heard Scott say was that a trapper can make up to double the money on dried/stretched skins...because he has done alot of the prep work before tanning. BUT if a trapper doesn't know how to properly do it, it's best to let a professional buy "green" skins and then stretch them.

For the 3-4 hours we were there, I think we did between 140-150 muskrats. There were more muskrats than that there, but as you can see in the picture in the above right, they would have been messy to check out.

So onto the rest of the auction! It was FASCINATING! I am an animal lover, big time. So of course I didn't LIKE seeing hundreds of dead cute and cuddlies, but it's science. Before you or anyone else (my dear, loving zoology majored younger sister) tells me its cruel and not right, please think about this: YOUR doctor worked on a cadaver to understand the form, function, processes, structure, etc etc etc of the human body. Granted, the cadavers were not hunted down for this reason. People in this country also do not wear human skin coats, or eat human meat. But we DO wear fur, and we eat meat. Well, not all of us (but some of us do, including again my dear sister!). If we did not manage wildlife, we would be hip deep in starving, wild animals. People would illegally slaughter "nuisance" animals (well, some do anyway: deer and beaver primarily in NY). Many parts of the animals are used, is what I'm trying to say. Fur, antlers/horns, meat, organs, and the whole bodies for study. The following pictures are a brief representation of what I saw the other day.

On the left is a stretched beaver pelt, and on the right are racoon.

 Gray fox on the left, and coyote on the right.


Red foxes
These pictures are of two red fox. I was amazed at the color differences. There is a color variation of the red fox called a "cross fox". Google it if you want to see what it looks like. The FLCC Conservation Department has one, maybe in the future I'll write about it. Color variations are some cool adaptations! Anyway, I was astounded by the color differences. Hard to see in the picture, but the one on the left is darker almost like a gray fox. Even the key identifying feature of the red fox- the white tail tip- seems to be missing from the on the left. There were maybe 3-4 white hairs, but nothing like the red fox on the right.

Here's a coyote version of the color variation. Coyotes in the NE region of the US seem to be large and variable in color compared to their SW cousins.

As far as the auction went, I'm not really sure what skins were going for. I watched maybe 10 minutes of it, and it seemed like the bundles of muskrats were selling best for approximately $7-$10/'rat, and there might be 10 'rats in a bundle. A single mink I think went for ~$20. Below is a clip from the auction.

Auctions are fun, but they give me anxiety. I had no money on me, nor did I have any CLUE as what to do with a skin once I bought one, so I had no business bidding. But the atmosphere and excitement made me want to join in. Maybe next time! Although, I still won't know what to do with an un-tanned skin. Scott emailed me and offered me another chance to tag along on January 15th, 2012!!!

Other species that could have shown up include: black bear, river otter, short/long-tailed weasels, fisher, marten, bobcat, skunk, red/gray/fox squirrel, and woodchuck. I also thought Eastern cottontail could show up, but I'm not seeing listed here in the results section of past auctions held there. Not sure why...anyone have an answer???

And finally, if you'd like to see all my pictures from that day, you can check them out in my Facebook Photo Album.

This entry literally took me 3+ hours to write, and I'll probably do some edits once I publish it and let it sit for a bit. Anyway, thanks for reading! Next blog entry: setting small mammal traps!

THE RESULTS (Posted 12/20/11):


December 18, 2011










Beaver Castor (/lb)















Fox – Gray





Fox – Red



































Other – Raccoon, Black (Whole)





# of Lots

# of Sellers

# of Buyers(Serious)

# of Furs





Average Lots/Seller

Average Furs/Seller

Average Furs/Lot




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