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March 2020 Natural Mystery Answered

posted Apr 12, 2020, 7:22 PM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Apr 12, 2020, 7:23 PM ]
Our March Natural Mystery brought in a range of guesses from small carnivores to medium-sized rodents. Congratulations to Brendan White, Kirsten Welge and Mike Holtz for correctly identifying the species that left these tracks. And special thanks to Kirsten for her detailed interpretation.

These are the tracks of an eastern chipmunk. As Kirsten explains:

"There are four distinct footprints present, arranged in a trapezoidal shape. Each print shows clear bulbous toes, claw marks, and triangular metacarpal pads. The two lower prints show four clear toes in a 1-2-1 pattern, with the left lower print showing evidence of two carpal pads roughly the size of the toe pads. The upper left print shows 5 clear toes in a 1-3-1 pattern, while the upper right shows a partial print of the 3 middle toe pads, toe 5, an metacarpal pads. These toe arrangements are classic for rodent family (front & hind, respectively).

Print size and triangular palm pad points to squirrel family. The size of each print (length between .75"-1") and the robust toes and metacarpal pads points to chipmunk.

Gray squirrel prints also show robust palm and toes, but would be at least 1.25" long.

Red squirrel prints would show more negative space between hind palm pad and toe pads, as the hind toes are longer. Toes would also be more slender, and the carpal pads much chunkier in relation to toe pads.

Flying squirrel tracks would be even smaller (front length <=0.75"). Hinds would show a C-shaped metacarpal pad, rather than a clearly triangular pad. Prints would also likely be blurred from fur on the underside of the foot."

Excellent analysis!

I would just note that most of the southern flying squirrel front tracks I have measured at Cedar Creek were longer than the 3/4" maximum length that Elbroch lists. My records from here in Minnesota show southern flying squirrel tracks and eastern chipmunk tracks overlapping significantly in size, with the flying squirrels ranging slightly larger.

For more about Eastern Chipmunk tracks, including a few more details about how they differ from southern flying squirrel tracks, check out this month's Featured Track.

Congratulations again to Brendan, Kirsten & Mike for identifying these tracks!



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