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December 2017 Natural Mystery Answered!

posted Jan 15, 2018, 8:50 AM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Jan 16, 2018, 6:47 AM ]
Congratulations to Kirsten Welge for correctly deciphering this extremely challenging Natural Mystery. Kirsten shows both good knowledge of tracks and animal movement, as well as good speculative reasoning in interpreting this pattern. Here is her well crafted answer, together with a few editorial notes [Ed]:

Who: Red fox

Reasoning process:
Based on animals we've tracked in Crex Meadows, the initial roster included raccoon, canids (red fox, coyote, wolf), bobcat, fisher, otter.

What I see:
  • Three major indentations, with plumes of snow thrown towards the steep bank (to the right) from the rightmost two tracks.
  • The right edge of each of the three indentations shows notching, which I'm reading as toes and claws.
  • So I'd propose the gait looks like a front left landed (left indentation), then both hind feet came under to propel the animal up the steep bank. I think we're seeing the full length of the animal's hocks imprinting to the left of the hind tracks.
  • (What I'm less clear on is where the right front landed - and I'm wondering if it may have landed between the back haunches but is obscured by thrown snow.)  [Ed: this is exactly correct. The right front registered under the hind tracks]

Track sizes look to be roughly
Front: L somewhere between 1.75"-2", W 1.5" (This may be waaaay off, as I'm seeing a couple possible edges of palm pad.)
Hind: L <2", W 1.5"
Trail width between hinds: 4.5"

I do not see clear toe or palm pads, so I'm thinking the owner's feet are furred on the bottom. This rules out raccoon, bobcat, otter, coyote, as well as wolf (whose tracks would be much larger).  [Ed: The lack of clear toe and palm pads here is more a function of loose snow caving in on the track than of the heavy fur on the bottom of the animal's foot. The pointed front of the compressions rule out bobcat, otter, raccoon and (as Kirsten notes below) fisher. The size rules out wolf and is a strike against coyote.]

Fisher would have furred pads, but I'd expect a more asymmetrical C-shape. These feel more like canid, given the measurements point to a more tall, boxy shape of the track, so I'd go with red fox. Track sizes and trail width are also in the right range for this species.

As a prize, Kirsten will receive her choice of any edition of the Animal Tracks Playing Cards from Adventure Publications.