An animal track is the imprint left behind by an animal in the soil, mud, snow or any other surface that it walks across. Animal tracks can give us a great deal of information about the ecosystem in which we find them. They are used by hunters in order to track prey or by ranchers or outdoor enthusiasts to identify animals in a given land area.
When making observations of an animal’s tracks, the first thing one should be aware of is the pattern of the track. These can occur in a variety of forms – zigzaggers (deer, moose, fox, coyote) waddlers (bear, skunk, raccoon), bounders (otters, weasels), hoppers (mice, chipmunks).
Once you have narrowed down the pattern, you can look more closely at identifying characteristics in order to identify specifically what animal left them behind. You can examine the width and length, number of toes, whether there are nails or not, front and rear prints, webbing, and the stride and depth of the tracks.
- Look in areas with softer ground like mud, sand or snow.
- Track early in the morning or late in the day when shadows make it easier to see tracks.
- Measure the length and stride of the prints.
- Do not disturb! Allowing them to remain as is will possibly encourage the animal to continue coming to that area.
A fun activity is making plaster models of tracks you find or create. Here are the easy steps to do so.
1 – Put play sand into a bowl (If you can find a real print on the ground, you can skip this step)
2 - Use a model print and press into sand to make the print. (Skip this step if making it from one found on the ground)
3 – Mix the plaster of Paris with water – 1 part water to 2 parts plaster. You want to mix enough that will fill the animal track. Move efficiently because the plaster will start to harden within 10 minutes.
4 – Carefully pour the plaster into the print to fill it up and have some extra on top. You can smooth out the top if wanted.
5 – Let it sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
6 - Remove plaster print and clean off.