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July 2021 Natural Mystery Anwered

posted Aug 10, 2021, 2:29 PM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Aug 10, 2021, 2:33 PM ]
Last month's Natural Mystery proved to be a tricky one. Though these tracks are fairly common, they can be surprisingly tricky to recognize out of context. It doesn't look much like the illustration in the field guide, because it's not a single track. That didn't slip past Bren White--the one person to send in a correct answer. Congratulations Bren!

These are the paired front tracks of an Eastern Cottontail. The animal was moving toward the top of the frame in this photo.

When bounding, cottontails often place their front feet side-by-side as shown here. The resulting impression can resemble a deer track, but is rimmed with small indents from the rabbits toes. Typically, we develop "search images" for individual tracks and for complete track patterns. But there are a few cases where getting familiar with the typical presentation of a close or overlapping pair of tracks will serve us well. The "hot mess" of an opossum's indirect register is one of those. This is another.

Rabbits have five toes on each front foot--though Toe 1 often registers lightly or not at all. The remaining four toes are arranged asymmetrically and form an upside-down J. Toe 3 leads and Toe 5 is set far back on the outside of the foot. This arcing arrangement of toes is visible in both the left and right tracks in this photo.

The dense fur on the bottoms of rabbit's feet tends to obscure track details, even in good substrate. Unlike most mammals, this fur isn't just between the pads, but covers both the metapodial (palm) and degital (toe) pads. The result is that the palm pads are usually quite obscure, and the toe imprints can seem soft or poorly defined.

Thanks to everyone who sent in an answer. And congratulations again to Bren White who correctly identified these as the two front tracks of a cottontail!

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