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Nature detective: Honing wildlife tracking skills


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  • Whether you’re eight or 80, identifying wildlife tracks is one of the most rewarding experiences in which a nature-lover can participate. You become a detective searching for clues.

Animal locomotion is another intriguing truth that can be extracted from track inspection. The speed continuum of woodland creatures ranges from stalking to slow walking to walking to trotting to bounding to loping to galloping.

Diagonal walking occurs when the animal moves the opposite sides of the body at the same time. For mammals such as deer, canines and felines, the length of the body is correctly proportional to the height of the animal. Trotting differs from walking in that the whole body is lifted off the ground at one point.

When the animal moves both limbs on the right side and then both limbs on the left side, a waddling gait occurs. Thick-bodied animals with very short legs employ this method: bears, raccoons, skunks, opossums, beavers, muskrats and porcupines.

Bounding takes place when the animal’s front feet reach out together and the hind feet move together in a pair, landing just behind the front prints. This movement characterizes weasels, mink, and otters whose legs are very short compared to their bodies.

Gallop walkers reach out with their front feet together and then the hind feet land to either side or ahead of the front feet. This locomotion is typical of mammals with hind legs longer than their front legs: squirrels, rabbits and some rodents.

An experienced tracker can even determine the sex of certain mammals. For example, diagonal walkers such as male and female deer have different bone structures. Does possess a pelvic girdle that is larger than the shoulder girdle in order to support birthing. In bucks, the shoulder girdle is larger than the pelvic girdle to support antler development. To determine sex, examine the placement of both front and rear tracks. If the rear track lies to the inside of the front track, the track belongs to a buck. If the rear track lies to the outside, the track belongs to a doe.

Reading tracks not only increases your awareness of the motivations behind animal actions, it also strengthens your connection to nature. The wonderful world of woodland wildlife doesn’t have to be such a secret. By taking the time to gather the right evidence, anyone can be a savvy track sleuth.

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