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September 2019 Natural Mystery Answered

posted Oct 15, 2019, 7:58 PM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Oct 16, 2019, 7:15 AM ]
Our September Natural Mystery came from Cedar Creek, where we recently held our Fall Wildlife Survey. You can read all about that survey here. This proved to be a challenging track to interpret, and guesses ranged across several orders and two different classes of animals. Congratulations to Kate Rosok, Jamie X and Mike Watling who correctly identified the family. And further congratulations to Kim Cabrera, Martyn Lenoble and Kirsten Welge for correctly identifying the species. These are the tracks of a red fox.

As several people noted, these tracks resemble those of a rabbit or hare. Seeing claws without a clear palm pad is more common in lagomorph tracks than in canine tracks, but we have a few other features that help us distinguish these as the tracks of a red fox.

First, we can look at the size. Kim notes that these tracks appear too large for eastern cottontail, and on the small side for white-tailed jackrabbit and snowshoe hare. Eastern cottontail tracks are usually well under the 1 3/4" width we see here. Snowshoe hare and white-tailed jackrabbit hind tracks are typically wider than this, but 1 3/4" is within the range for both. I would add, however, that we have never seen snowshoe hare or white-tailed jackrabbit sign at Cedar Creek--though both species have been recorded there in decades past and both been recently spotted within 50 miles of the property.

Kim and Martyn both commented on the symmetry of these tracks. As Kim explains:
"Lagomorph hind tracks, when paired like this, often show an asymmetrical arrangement of the nail marks, rather than being perfectly symmetrical like these."

Kim continues by explaining the orientation of the toes, which Mike also pointed out:
"The leading two claws point in toward each other, which is seen most often in canid tracks and not in lagomorph tracks... and there is a large amount of negative space, also consistent with red fox."

Though both lagomorphs and red fox have dense fur on the bottom of their feet, rabbits and hares have entirely furred soles with no calloused pads. Red fox have small calloused pads poking through the fur, which are visible here. As Kirsten writes:
"Looking closely, I can see small toe pad edges registering under each claw mark. The rest of the toes are obscured - which points to a very furry foot with edges of toes peeping out."

While Kim add that she sees:
"Very faint, shallow marks where the toe pads are, consistent with an animal that has a lot of fur on its feet, which obscures the toe pads."

Congratulations again to Kim, Kirsten and Martyn for their successful IDs of this very tricky set of tracks!

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