March 2023 Natural Mystery Answered

Last month's Natural Mystery asked you to interpret a track pattern. The tracks are likely familiar, but we most often associate this track pattern with another species. Congratulations Kirsten Welge for correctly identifying the species that left these tracks and explaining exactly how the animal was moving to leave this pattern of prints. Honorable mention to Adrian Iacovino for identifying the tracks to family and naming the track pattern.

These are the tracks of a domestic dog walking in a pace and leaving a 2x2 "raccoon walk" pattern of tracks.

We'll start with identifying the track maker, then interpret the track pattern. I'll let Adrian start us off:

"Looking at the individual tracks I noticed their oval shape with pointed tips and claws registering. There are four digits clearly displayed in almost all of the tracks and one metacarpal pad displaying in most of the tracks. The overall amount of digits/toe space in the track compared to the amount of metacarpal pad shape is one indicator that this animal belongs to the canine family. The registering claws is a second indicator. A domestic cat can be ruled out because their tracks would be more circular and likely not register claws. Canines species that may be haunting this back alley may include red or gray foxes, coyotes or domestic dogs. Based on the adult human glove as a scale I think that this canine is smallish and moving slowly. The trail width is just as narrow as the wrist section of the glove. These measurements lead me away from Coyote and towards a small domestic dog or a fox."

Yes, this is a canid smaller than a coyote (or at least with shorter legs), moving in a walk. The stout nails, heavy palm registration, and forward position of the outside toes (2 & 5) helps us rule out a fox and identify these as domestic dog tracks.

Adrian correctly names the track patter as a 2x2 walk. I'll turn it over to Kirsten to describe this pattern in detail.

"This track pattern was left by a domestic dog in a pace-walk. In a pace, the animal's limbs on each side of its body move together, rather than being diagonally coordinated as in the trot. The front and hind limbs of one side of the body move forward together while the front & hind of the other side contact the ground. This is a common gait for camels, raccoons, and many Golden Retrievers in my neighborhood. The classic raccoon overstep walk shows this track pattern: horizontally aligned pairs of front/hind tracks, which alternate with each successive pair along the trail, showing even vertical spacing from pair to pair, (FR/HL....HR/FL....FR/HL....). This is a match for the photographed trail.

"The vertical (along-the-trail) spacing between each pair of tracks is consistent. In relation to the size of the dog's tracks, it seems to be roughly the body length of the animal. In a pace-run, I'd expect the hind of each pair to be set further ahead of the front track. The absence of throw (except that from the rightmost pair) also points to a slower pace."

Exactly, this 2x2 pattern is left by a pace walk--the typical gait and track pattern of raccoons. I'd add just two notes to refine Kirsten's explanation. In a pace, the limbs on the same side of the body move at approximately the same time; and this can result in horizontally aligned pairs of front/hind tracks, depending on the animal's posture and relative leg length.

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