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February 2019 Natural Mystery Answered

posted Mar 6, 2019, 10:32 AM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Mar 13, 2019, 11:05 AM ]
Our February Natural Mystery proved challenging--but two of you met the challenge. Congratulations to Anne Marie Meegan & Rob Grunewald for successfully identifying this common, yet surprisingly unfamiliar track. We are so used to seeing the full track pattern of this and related species, we may not recognize these two prints in isolation. Two prints--but not a double register.

These are, as Ann Marie put simply, "the front feet of a Lagomorph." Specifically, an Eastern Cottontail. Rob Grunewald identified the species and offered these additional comments:

"In a Cottontail's bound, the typical gait for this species, the front prints sometimes land next to each other, as pictured here. The animal is moving toward the top of the picture. You can see the entry at the bottom of the print where the snow is disturbed, the exit has a sharper edge."

The fur on the bottoms of rabbit feet tends to obscure the details of the foot morphology, but if you look closely, you can make out some toe pads, and even a couple of claw marks on the leading edge of the two tracks.

Thanks to everyone who tried their hand at this mystery--and congratulations again to Anne and Rob.

A Correction

Last month's Natural Mystery were the tracks of a flying squirrel. When I posted the mystery, I wrote that the photo came from Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, in southern Minnesota. I was mistaken about this. The photo that I posted was actually taken in far Northern Minnesota, on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. According to the range information I have been able to find, this means the tracks must be those of a Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus). The size of the tracks and the trail fit within the published ranges for both Northern and Southern Flying Squirrels, and the hopping gait is reported to be much more common for Southern Flying Squirrels. It appears, however, that it is not diagnostic. In truth, where size overlaps, I cannot find any features of the tracks or the trails that are diagnostic between these two species. Where their ranges overlap, it may only be possible to distinguish the tracks as Flying Squirrel.

My apologies for the mistake--and a delayed congratulations to Bren White, who was the only person (including me) to correctly identify this photo as the tracks of a Northern Flying Squirrel.

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