Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tracking quiz: patterns in the snow

Janet writes: Identify the indicated pattern and the responsible species
in each photo.


  1. 1. Dog or coyote in side trot
    2. Raccoon walking
    3. Pine cone migrating to lower elevations

  2. I mostly concur with Dan ... I think the canid in #1 is fox.

  3. 1. Coyote
    2. Raccoon (2x2; trot speed)
    3. ?

  4. No, wait. I'm changing an answer:

    1. Fox, side trot.

    2. Unknown Canid, straddle trot.

    3. Rockin' & rollin' pine cone.

  5. The canid in the first one was most likely coyote (but can't rule out dog with wild-looking feet and business-like attitude). It's hard to rule out red fox without a close-up of the tracks, but even from this photo, the palm pads of both front and back look a little too substantial for red fox, in my opinion.

    The 2nd one is raccoon using it's unique gait to move pretty quickly, judging by the stride. So I guess you could say it's probably at trot speed, but technically not a trot. A trot involves moving the front and rear legs of opposite sides almost simultaneously, while the raccoons unique gait involves moving the front and rear of the SAME side nearly simultaneously. (Get on all 4's and try this yourself to see how it works -- you'll never forget it thereafter).

    The straddle trot is the only pattern that mimics this raccoon pattern. It's hard to rule that out from the photo, except that the intergroup spacing is long relative to the amount of overstep. That's just my impression. I haven't seen enough straddle trot to know that for sure. It just seems to me that if you were going to move that quickly in straddle trot, you'd overstep more.

    If I had shown a close-up of the 2nd photo, you would have seen that the direction of travel is away from the camera. So if this were a straddle trot, the leading track in each pair would have to be the larger track. But a canid's hind track is smaller than its front track, so this could not be a straddle trot. But, again, you couldn't say that for sure without a close-up.

    Susan, you get extra credit for even thinking of straddle trot.

    The last photo shows marks made by a pine cone rolling down a hill.

  6. I based too much of my first answer on what I thought to ba chevron on the initial step in that first photo - should have given much more consideration to palm pad size. Though IF the substrate was ice, slippage might account for that. And the hurrying raccoon - yeah, sure, that's a definite hind 'coon print there on the left. I shouldn't assume, Janet, that you're trying to feed us trick questions. You wouldn't do a thing like that, would you?