Alphabet of Tracking: 5 Toes Front and Hind Feet

by Carl Strang

 

Today I continue my tracking primer with a focus on mammals whose feet typically show 5 toes on the front and hind feet of complete tracks (but remember that in the field you often have only partial footprints; this is where dirt time comes in, as mentioned in the last post). Local animals in today’s category are raccoons, opossums, members of the weasel family, and shrews. Bears also are in this category, though they are even less likely than mountain lions to show up in northeast Illinois.

 

Black bear track

Black bear track

 

 

Raccoon tracks have long, round-tipped toes and are among the most frequent footprints we notice, because these are common animals, they often are passing through muddy areas, and they are heavy enough in body to sink into the surface.

 

Raccoon track

Raccoon track

 

 

Opossum tracks are, like the animals themselves, amazing and odd. Typically the hind foot is rotated so that it is oriented sideways, wrapping around the heel of the front foot with the big toe pointing in and the other four pointing out. The toes on the front foot are spread so widely that the overall effect reminds me of a star.

 

Opossum tracks

Opossum tracks

 

 

Our most common local weasel family representatives are the mink and the striped skunk, but I remain alert for otters as well. Mink tracks have a round appearance overall. Though primarily aquatic animals, their footprints often turn up away from water (in DuPage County it is not possible for them ever to be truly distant from water, however).

 

Mink tracks

Mink tracks

 

 

Otters likewise are aquatic. Their tracks are bigger, and they likewise can travel distances over land between water bodies. (I am deliberately not including size measurements. I have to leave something for your own inquiry!). I have not encountered an otter in DuPage County yet, but given the success of the program re-introducing them to the state I regard this as simply a matter of time.

 

Otter track

Otter track

 

 

Striped skunk tracks at first glance often remind me of domestic cat tracks, except that five smaller toes are crowded into the space of the cat’s four. Skunk tracks have toenail marks, with the longer toenails of this digging animal’s front feet prominently in front of the ends of the toes.

 

Striped Skunk tracks

Striped Skunk tracks

 

 

Shrews are tiny animals. Most of their tracks you encounter will be in snow, and so will not show the individual toes. Masked shrews are much smaller than mice, and so their sets of tracks will be smaller (quarter coin provides scale; the photo includes an entire set of four footprints to the left, and another to the right of the coin).

 

Masked Shrew tracks

Masked Shrew tracks

 

 

Least shrews likewise are tiny, but these are much rarer than masked shrews. Short-tailed shrews often show a diagonal walk gait pattern (to be explained once we reach the “word” level of this introduction).

 

(probable) Short-tailed Shrew tracks

(probable) Short-tailed Shrew tracks

 

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1 Comment

  1. January 21, 2011 at 7:26 am

    […] Here an opossum was walking, left to right in the photo. As usual, the oddly shaped hind foot with its enormous big toe is turned sideways. The more uniform toes of the front foot are widely spread. The left-hand pair of blobs were made by the right feet, the middle pair by the left feet, the right-hand pair by the right feet again. You can see clearer reference examples in my tracking primer here. […]


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