Tricky Tracks

by Carl Strang


OK, it’s quiz time. In fairness I should begin by saying this is not a straightforward quiz, but rather I will present you with some examples of marks in the snow that I have encountered in recent days that are not clear and easy to identify. I won’t even guarantee that familiarity with the tracking ID primers (find under Methods category in sidebar to left) I posted a few days ago will be any help. All photos are from Mayslake Forest Preserve.


Here’s the first. I will show you the answer below, but please take at least a moment to study the image first.




Now here’s the second. Again, the answer will be revealed below.




In the meantime, I want to share one that had me going for several minutes. I found this trail near the chapel. A small animal had come out into the open from the trees, then looped back.




The tracks were really peculiar, as though the critter were carrying a stick in its mouth that impressed the snow regularly.




I finally concluded that these were the tracks of a white-footed mouse. The “stick” mark was made by its tail. For some reason that I still cannot figure out, the mouse was hopping sideways, so that its tail went into the snow off to the side of the animal’s direction of travel.




OK, here’s the answer to the first puzzler:




The lesson from this is that not all marks are made by animals. The leaf had been blown across the snow by the wind. For the second, I provide a photo of the same footprint taken at a slight angle rather than straight down.




This is a dog track. Dogs often put the main part of their weight in their middle two toes, sometimes to the extent that the outer toes don’t register very well. When the toenail mark merges with the toe, this can result in a footprint that at first glance is close to a deer track.


I hope this was fun. I’ll provide other puzzlers from time to time.

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