Sunday, December 20, 2009

Trail pattern quiz

Janet writes: Recently, I was reading about trail patterns, and learned
about a not very common one that I thought I had seen a few years ago.
However, at the time I misinterpreted it. So I dug up the photos to
take another look. Here are two of them.

You'll recognize from the close-up that the tracks are those of red
fox. Many of you will also recognize that the trail pattern photo shows
that in the foreground the fox was using the side trot. Then, about
three quarters up the photo, the gait changes to something new, which
the fox holds for at least a few strides. That's the one that confused
me when I first saw it a couple of years ago. The order of tracks
remained the same as in the side trot: front-hind-front-hind. What
might that second pattern be?


  1. Is it an alternating trot? It has the side-to-side cadence of the trail pattern in fig 6-14 (pg 181) in Rezendes' book, but with more overstep.

    It looks like your fox is crossing open ice and approaching stumps or hummocks on the shore, which suggests he'd be slowing down to check for prey, rather than speeding up into a lope or gallop.

  2. That's sort of right, I think, and given the photo, it's hard to be certain. I think it is a straddle trot, a gait that is diagrammed on p.53 of Elbroch's book, and described on p.58. I don't think is mentioned in Rezendes's book.

    According to Elbroch, canids create this pattern by kicking the legs out to either side of the front, as they overstep. So in the part of the photo where that funny pattern occurs, the front tracks would be those that sit more or less on the mid-line, with the rear tracks off to the sides.

    There were beautiful fox tracks all over the ice that day. There was a long stretch of straddle trot (if that's what it is), which at the time I thought was a side trot superimposed on another side trot, as one animal followed another. There did appear to be 2 foxes, as we could see where two trails came together and did some sort of dance (the fox trot?) where they met.

    Yes, it looked too exact to be a pattern created as one animal followed another, but there was a lot of exact following going on, that day. There was a mink bounding around, and in places, a fox was following the mink so precisely, moving exactly with the trail everytime the mink trail swerved ever so slightly to one side or the other. (I'm assuming it was fox following mink, but I guess it could have been the other way around.)

    So, when I reviewed the photos last night, I was interested to find the one above, where the mystery pattern emerged from the side trot. Could not have been 2 different animals there.

    Elbroch maintains that red foxes usually use straddle trot as a transition gait, as they switch to or from direct registering or side trot. That's probably what's going on in the photo, but it's hard to see what comes after straddle trot.

    I wish I could turn back the clock and return to those tracks, now that I know a little more....