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Mammal Tracks

Tips for Reading Mammal Tracks

Make it a habit

Illustrations can help you distinguish tracks in the field, but reading mammal tracks is a skill that improves with practice. Tracks of the same animal can look different in dust, mud, sand, or snow. They will also vary with the animal’s size, age, weight, and movements.

Gear up

If you want to try tracking as an activity, collect and make a habit of carrying the following gear when you go afield:

  • Lightweight tape measure
  • Field guide. A quick Internet search will yield the titles of several good track-and-sign field guides. Choose one that includes information on food scraps and other evidence of feeding, nests and burrows, scent marking, distinctive calls and sounds, and other helpful details.
  • Notepad
  • Smartphone or digital camera for recording tracks.

Take note of the following

  • Size
  • Pad marks
  • Claw marks
  • Marks made by fur or toe webbing
  • Marks made by a dragging tail or belly
  • Shape of pad marks
  • Number of toes per foot
  • Shapes made by hooves

Also note the average distance between the prints, and the overall pattern of the tracks. Are all the prints in a fairly straight line, or do the left and right footprints point distinctly away from an imaginary centerline? Does the animal appear to have walked, or waddled, or hopped from place to place?

Other signs to observe

Where do the tracks go? Do they lead to trees and stop, or do they lead to brush or rock piles? Do they lead in a straight path, or do they meander? Do they seem to follow an established trail made by other animals?

Distinctive cuttings and markings of plants. Rabbits clip vegetation in a neat, diagonal cut. Deer tear steams, leaving ragged tips. Beavers gnaw at the base of tree trunks, leaving piles of wood chips on the ground. Cats sharpen their claws on the bark of trees, and deer rub their antlers on small trees.

Signs of scat. Note the shape shape and apparent contents, such as bones, insect parts, or seeds. The placement of scat is helpful, too. Some animals, for example, defecate in prominent places — such as on top of rocks or logs or the middle of trails — in part to mark territories.

Remember: illustrations like those shown here are idealized. Dotted lines or gray areas in track illustrations indicate parts that often don’t show under normal conditions. When you see tracks in nature, they are often incomplete or partially wiped out.

Red Fox

  • Weight: 8 to 14 pounds
  • Foot hair may show in pad marks.
  • Bear-like imprint

image of red fox tracks

Gray Fox

  • Weight: 7 to 12 pounds
  • Similar to summer coyote pups.

image of Gray Fox Tracks

Coyote

  • Weight: 20 to 35 pounds

image of Coyote tracks

Striped Skunk

image of Striped Skunk tracks

Groundhog (Woodchuck)

  • Tracks scarcely ever well defined.

image of Woodchuck tracks

Cottontail Rabbit

image of Cottontail Rabbit tracks

White-Tailed Deer

  • Heart-shaped, toes pointed
  • Toes spread and dew claws may show when bounding on mud or snow.
  • 10 to 15 feet between bounds.

image of White-Tailed Deer tracks

Common Pig

  • Toes blunt

image of common pig tracks

Bobcat

image of Bobcat tracks

Sheep

image of sheep tracks

Goat

image of goat tracks

Housecat

image of house cat tracks

Dog

image of dog track

Muskrat

  • Look for cuttings and scat at water's edge.

image of muskrat tracks

Raccoon

  • Like small bare hands.

image of raccoon track

Fox Squirrel

image of fox squirrel tracks

Gray squirrel tracks are similar to fox squirrel tracks, but smaller.

Opossum

image of opossum tracks

Weasel

  • As in mink, only four to five toes show, but about one-half the size of mink.

image of weasel tracks

Mink

  • Like cat but with toenails.
  • Toenails and pads usually make combined print.
  • Only four to five toes show.

image of mink tracks

Otter

image of otter tracks

Beaver

image of beaver tracks

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