Cottontail Puzzle Answer

by Carl Strang

 

A couple days ago I saw an example of a puzzle I posed a few weeks ago, and decided it is time to provide an answer. The cottontail rabbit typically uses the gallop as its walking gait, and places its front feet one before the other rather than side by side as most rodents do. However, there are circumstances in which the cottontail places its front feet side by side, and I asked readers to figure out or, preferably, observe what those circumstances are.

 

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This photo is from Saturday, February 14, the morning after a fresh snow of an inch or so depth covered ground that had been free of snow for a few days.

 

rabbit-feet-together-1b

 

This footprint gait variation occurs when there is ice under the snow, when snow is new after a period without snow cover, or at other times when the footing is uncertain. The rabbit locks its front feet together as it steps, so that the front legs combined provide a more stable plant that makes travel safer. The cue is that there is essentially no space between the front feet.

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.

 

leaf-track-2b

 

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

 

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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.

 

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

 

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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.

 

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

 

leaf-track-1b

 

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.

 

puzzle-track-2b

 

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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