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March 2021 Natural Mystery Answered

posted Apr 9, 2021, 11:28 AM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Apr 14, 2021, 11:49 AM ]
Thanks to everyone who sent in an answer to our March Natural Mystery. We received a range of guesses, including two very detailed answers from regular contributors (and newsletter patrons) Kirsten Welge and Bill Kass. Congratulations to Bill & Kirsten for picking out the fine details in these tracks and offering such clear analysis.

These are muskrat tracks.

Kirsten and Bill did such a great job of breaking this down, I will let them take it from here—beginning with Kirsten’s observations and basic analysis:

“The leftmost track shows 4 clear, spindly, horizontally ribbed toes, with wide blunt claws, connected to metapodial [palm] pads arranged in a triangle. Toe structure is rodent-like in grouping (1-2-1).

The rightmost track shows 3 clear finger-like toe pads with wide blunt claws, with another clear claw impression below and left of the toes (about even with the 3” mark). There is also a very faint toe & claw impression visible halfway between the clear toes & ruler, about the 2 5/8” mark. Although not as much of this foot registers, the toe widths are clearly larger than the toes of the other track.

Deductions: This is an animal with a rodent-like 4-toe/5-toe arrangement, spindly ribbed toes, with one foot larger than the other.

The leftmost track is very vole-like, showing ribbed toes – and our local semiaquatic vole is the muskrat.”

Bill then offers us these comparisons to other species. It is, after all, a raccoon until proven otherwise.

“Focusing on the track on the left, I see 4 obvious toes that stretch to the pad; not what we would see in a feline, mustelid, or canine. The toes are splayed in somewhat of a star pattern which is not typical of a raccoon. Plus where is the 5th toe? Ah.. there it is; on the lower part of the track; a small nail print. But this 5th toe is very short, which we would not expect to see with a raccoon.

Given the star-like shape, could this be an opossum? Here again, all five toes of the opossum are very similar in length, which this is not.

This track looks to be about 1 ¼” or 1 ½” in length; too big for most rodents and too small for a front beaver track (2”-3 ½”) and not quite the correct shape.”

For the bonus, Kirsten offers us a few things to look at to distinguish right from left:

"The angle of the hind, positioning of the front foot compared to hind, and length of the third toe of the front foot all confirm these are left-sided tracks."

Bill dives a little deeper with this breakdown:

"Looking at the front track, the lower “nail” print of a toe seems more likely to be the 5th toe because it is closest to the carpal pads. The other nail print seems too far away. If it were, this track looks like the pictures for a front left print in both Jon’s book and Elbroch.

Let’s look at the rear print to confirm this. At first glance there appears to be 3 clear toes, but if we follow toe 3 of the front track out, there is a nail mark right where toe 1 of the rear track should be! Also, the most leading toe of a rear track tends to be toe 4, which seems true assuming this nail mark is toe 1. Finally, if you look close above toe 4 you can see a light impression of where toe 5 should be!

In conclusion. This is front left track of a muskrat with an overstepping rear left track."

Congratulations again to Bill & Kirsten, and a big thank you to everyone who sent in an answer to this Natural Mystery.

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