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Information for Interpretive Sign - Animal Tracks

Animal Tracks

As you walk through the natural world, you will encounter different animals that are also passing through this world. Sometimes you will actually see the animal, but in most cases, you will only find the evidence that it has left behind. The most common evidence are the tracks - especially in the winter months. These pictures describe some of the different animal track patterns you might find on your journey and what animals they may belong to.

Single Straight Tracks
Single straight tracks are laid down in a single line. If you are looking at the track, you will see that the tracks look like the animal can walk down a straight line. These tracks are usually associated with animals such as house cats (most common here, less than 14" apart), red and gray fox (usually about 14" apart) and coyote (usually 21" apart). The straight line comes from the animal's ability to actually step in one of its previous tracks.  

Single Diagonal Tracks
Single diagonal tracks are created by many different animals - including humans. These tracks go in a line, but each track is slightly offset from the previous track (see picture).   The distance between tracks varies greatly in this group, but most commonly you will find the tracks of dogs (wide variety, but look for a foot drag on every third to fourth track), white-tailed deer (look for evidence of hoof marks), opossum (look for an extended toe, like a thumb, on the front foot track) and bobcat (rarely, if ever seen in this area).

Multiple-Parallel Tracks
As they leap from place to place, some animals leave a set of tracks rather than just a single imprint. In the forest, one of the most common types of track is the multiple-parallel track. This track as two larger imprints for the back feet (which are almost always parallel) and two smaller imprints for the front feet - which in this case are parallel to each other (see picture).   The tracks are created as the animal places down its front feet next to each other and then leap-frogs over its front feet. This means that the back feet are in front and the front feet are in the back on the track itself (see direction of travel on the picture).  These tracks are made by most members of the squirrel family. Red, gray and fox squirrels all leave this type of track. White-footed and deer mice also leave this type of track, though it is difficult to distinguish which it is (look for the tail dragging with this track)

Multiple-Diagonal Tracks
As with Multiple-parallel tracks, all of the footprints are laid down in one set. However, in this case, the front tracks are at a slight diagonal from each other (see picture).   This track is commonly created by the eastern cottontail rabbit and the eastern chipmunk (though you will not find the chipmunk tracks too much in the cold of  winter, but more towards spring).

Multiple-Superimposed Tracks
Some animals do not leave a nicely defined track, but rather tend to walk on top of their previously laid tracks. These tracks are generally pretty messy looking, with front and back feet appearing almost randomly. The two most common types of animals leaving these tracks are the raccoon and striped skunk (if it is winter, the most likely is the raccoon).  

As with all tracks, it is important to look at a multiple tracks rather than just one or two. The more tracks you can see, the better idea you will get of the pattern. While these patterns are generally the norm for these animals, remember that this in the natural world and the animals do not read the books on what they are supposed to do!

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