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Friday, April 2, 2010

Tracks in the Snow

“These are the tracks we saw outside our house following the last snow,” said the Newton Falls Public Library patron as he showed us a photograph of the single file line of small animal tracks. “Can you help me figure out what kind of animal would make them?” Even though it is hard to think of snow and winter now that spring has arrived, the library staff finds the photograph intriguing. The tracks appear to be about 2 ½ inches long and spaced approximately 8 inches apart. The patron had not measured them, so we were estimating based upon their size in comparison to the solar lights.

Tracking & the Art of Seeing: how to read animal tracks & sign by Paul Rezendes includes both photographs and drawings of animal tracks. Browsing through the book, we read that there are different kinds of patterns. The “domestic dog is a double- or indirect-registering animal (p.178).” The red fox has a regular walking pattern, going in almost a straight line. It is a direct-registering animal. The walking gait of the red fox “is usually a straight, precise, narrow line of tracks (p.179),” and the accompanying drawing bears that out. This is because the fox walks with the hind foot directly on top of the track of the front one.

Using the Key to Tracks in The Peterson Field Guide to Animal Tracks by Olaus J. Murie and Mark Elbroch, the shape resembles those of the weasel, the coyote, and the red fox. The weasel track is a bit small, measuring less than 2 inches. The coyote and red fox are both much closer matches. The coyote has a print of 2 ¼ to 3 ½ inches long. The red fox’s is between 1 7/8 and 2 7/8 inches. The coyote trail through snow (p. 163) shows the tracks in a straight line, but they are spaced 14 to 15 inches apart.

Both coyotes and red foxes have been seen in the area around our patron’s home. Going by the size, spacing, and straight line of the tracks, our patron feels satisfied that they were left by the red fox.

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