January 2023 Natural Mystery Answered

Last month's Natural Mystery came from a trail that our group followed with Dr. Kersey Lawrence during her November trailing workshop. We got to see a range of tracks and track patterns along this trail, but none quite like this particular print. Congratulations to Allison Zaccardi and Kirsten Welge for correctly identifying the track maker and the side of the body. 

This are the left side track of a Bobcat (Lynx rufus). The print is a double register, with an unusual feature.

I'll let Kirsten start us off with these observations:

Allison noted many of these features as well, adding that the track is clearly asymmetrical and that the toes are relatively small compared to the palm pad. As she writes, “you can visually fit the toes into the palm pad.” 

Based on these features, both correctly identified this as a bobcat track.

Allison notes that we might consider fox to be a candidate based on size, but explains that “the lack of negative space, the defined toes (instead of furry) and a clear pad instead of a chevron shaped pad rule out a fox.

Kirsten similarly notes that “canids would show a more triangular metapodial pad, a more rectangular, box-like track shape, and x-shaped negative space.” Kirsten also pointed out that the track was too large to be from a domestic cat, writing “domestic cat range tops out at 3.9 cm (1 9/16") for a front track and 4.13 cm (1 5/8") for a hind.”

Both Allison and Kirsten point out that toe 3 leads in felid tracks, identifying this as a left side print. Finally, both Allison and Kirsten also correctly surmised that the imprint below the 4.5cm mark on the ruler was left by the left front foot. But we can dig a little deeper here. This is a mark left by toe 1 on the front foot.

Bobcats do not usually register toe 1 in their tracks. When they do, it indicates that the foreleg was at an unusually shallow angle to the ground, either because the animal was running at high speed or moving in a crouched posture. The clean double register and lack of snow movement in this track tell us that it was the latter—this cat was stalking.

Toe 1 showed up in two tracks along this section of trail. Both were left side tracks. The cat was moving east to west along the south shore of Lake Namekagon. It’s attention was most likely focused near the water’s edge, just a few inches away, which was blanketed with small mammal tracks. In this stalking posture, with its attention focused to the right, the cat's left-front foot contacted at a shallower angle than its right front, leaving these toe 1 impressions on just one side of the body.

You can see a few more tracks from this stretch of trail here:


And additional sections of this trail, including a side-trot track pattern, here:




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