Friday, January 15, 2010

Animal Tracks...A Quiz

Winter hikes and backyard explorations offer unique opportunities to discover the movements and activities of various wildlife.  Like the words of a story, the tracks and traces left in winter's snow tell a tale of an animal's recent history through the very place where you stand.  Learning to identify common tracks will enhance your next winter walk.

2, 4, and 5
Many animal's tracks can be identified by the number of toes present on their feet.  In the southern tier of NY, we have one very common two-toed mammal, the White-tailed Deer.  Their tracks (right) are easily identifiable and recognized by most everyone. 

Dog and cat tracks, be they wild or domestic varieties, are characterized by 4 toes.  The presence (dog) or absence (cat) of toenails registered in the track can be helpful in generally differentiating between the two groups. 

Finally, a number of mammals have feet with 5 toes, and this is where identification begins to get difficult.  A little knowledge of common local mammal species is always helpful when trying to determine a possible match to an unknown track.  Often times the location/habitat of the tracks and where they came from/lead to are helpful clues to who may have left them behind.  Also, small details to pay attention to or look for might include:
  • the length of the toes
  • the overall shape of the foot
  • the size of the track
  • drag marks from the animal's tail or belly
  • the pattern of the tracks indicating an animal's pattern of movement (walking vs. hopping).
The Quiz
Below are a series of photos taken in mid-December on the lawn in front of the Naturalist's Cottage.  Do you know who registered each of the tracks?  Click on the images for full screen views.  Leave your answers in the Comments section at the bottom of the post.

#1. You should recognize the tracks in the photo below.  The question many of this animal made the tracks?  1 or 2?

#2.  The first one may have been too easy, so try this one.  Both the front foot (upper print) and back foot  (lower print) are registered very close together in this photo. This semi-arboreal mammal needs that oddly shaped toe to get a grip.

#3.  Five long toes are easy to recognize in this picture.  Both front and back feet are pictured below.  This animal is a late evening visitor under my bird feeders and compost pile.  Don't think too hard about this one.

#4.  A common animal, but a very tricky track for most people to recognize.  We often overlook the details of animals common to our neighborhoods and parks.  Do you know who hopped through the snow?

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

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