Tagging of Animals

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Tagging of Animals


one of the methods for studying the biology, movements, and migrations of animals. Tagging is used to study the long-range regular and irregular movements of animals and to determine their life-span. For such types of long-range studies, animals are tagged for their lifetime. Tagging is also used to study the area occupied by an animal, its movements throughout the area, and its daily activities in natural surroundings. All types of vertebrates, mollusks, and insects may be tagged.

Bats and several other animals are tagged with bands that are fastened around the forelimbs. Ungulates and predatory animals are tagged on the ear with a clip or ring. To mark seals and sea turtles, a button is usually attached to one of the flippers; a button is also attached to the dorsal fin of dolphins. Whales are marked with metal needles that are shot from a gun and driven into the fatty layer. The tagging of small rodents and frogs consists of cutting off the phalanges of the toes in a certain combination. Mollusks are marked by writing on their shells. Insects, such as butterflies, wear tags made of extremely thin colored foil.

Short-term tags are used in addition to the long-term tags. For example, ungulates in Africa are tagged with colored plastic collars, and the fur of polar bears is streaked with bright waterproof paint; these types of taggings are easily visible from the air. The horns of ungulates are sometimes painted.

Sometimes, for example, to determine the movement of moles, spalacids, and other animals that live underground, tags with radioactive substances are used. Miniature radio transmitters may be attached to mammals and birds for precise and continuous observation of their movements; direction-finding radio receivers pick up the signals. Dolphins, whales, sea turtles, and some large terrestrial reptiles (for example, monitors) are also tagged in this way. Radar tracking by satellite is also used to follow the movements of polar bears and some artiodactyls.

Long-term tagging is done in many countries by national centers, whose work is coordinated by the International Committee on Banding. In the USSR this work is organized in Moscow primarily by the Center for Banding and Tagging Birds and Terrestial Mammals, which is affiliated with the Institute of the Evolutionary Morphology and Ecology of Animals of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

In long-term tagging, the tag bears the name of the country (or its capital) or of the organization marking the animal and a number. The national centers register the species of the tagged animal and the date and place of its tagging and transmit this information to scientific institutions; they also process the data on retrieved tags. Information concerning the date and place of an animal’s recovery helps elucidate many details of animal biology. Knowledge of the time and the nature of the movements and seasonal migrations of game animals is essential to the hunting industry. Of particular value is the study, through tagging, of the movements and migrations of rodents, bats, and other mammals that are carriers of a number of pathogens (anthropozoonoses).


Pokrovskii, V. S. “K organizatsii dela mecheniia mlekopitaiushchikh v SSSR.” In the collection Migratsii zhivotnykh, vol. 1. Moscow, 1959. Pokrovskii, V. S., and lu. M. Shchadilov. “K razvitiiu mecheniia mlekopitaiushchikh v SSSR.” In the collection Migratsii zhivotnykh, vol. 3. Moscow, 1962.
Macfadyen, A. Ekologiia zhivotnykh. Moscow, 1965. (Translated from English.)
Kurskov, A. N. Zhivye radary. Minsk, 1966.
Tagging fish. Fish tagging is used primarily to study fish migration and the dynamics of fish population. Fish are marked by tags, by fin-clipping, and by injecting solutions of certain dyestuffs (primarily india ink) under the skin. The tags are made from plastic and from silver, nickel, or other metals that do not rust in water; sometimes they are made from thick lacquered paper. The most commonly used tagging devices are metal staples, flatfish or Petersen disks (two plastic disks fastened on the operculum or on both sides of flatfish), small hanging plates or cartridges of plastic tubing attached to the dorsal fin or the back of the fish, and round metal plates placed in the body cavity through an incision. The last method is used on herring and sardines in countries where these fishes are brought to plants to be processed into oil and offals; the tags are collected with electromagnets during processing.
Acoustic tagging is also used, making it possible to trace the movement of a fish; some fish are marked with radioactive isotopes. Usually only adult fish are tagged, but in some instances the fry are also tagged (by fin-clipping or attaching small metal tags that can be detected by a magnet). Most commonly marked are the fry of salmon (Atlantic salmon, chum salmon, pink salmon).
Fish tagging was first done in the 17th century. It was introduced for scientific purposes in the 1850’s and 1860’s in Great Britain, where it has been conducted systematically since the 1890’s. The catching of tagged fish explains not only the paths of their migration but also the sizes of schools (by calculating the percentage of recovered tags among the number of tagged fish). The growth rate of individuals can also be studied.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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