December 2023 Natural Mystery Answered

We received lots of answers to last month’s “who x2” natural mystery. Everyone who wrote in identified one or the other trackset correctly to the family level—but narrowing down to the species proved a little more challenging. Congratulations to Collin Arnett and Kirsten Welge who identified the makers of both sets of tracks, and their respective gaits correctly.

These are the trotting trails of a gray fox and a domestic cat.

Let’s start off with Collin’s analysis of the tracks above the ruler:

"The top looks like a canid track to me with four toes and a fused palm pad. Nails of at least toes 3-4 are visible in hind tracks and nail 3 is seen in the right front track. They're also slightly oblong compared to a typical cat track. For track detail, I mostly have to relay on hind tracks with the nearly direct register. There's quite a bit of negative space in the center of the “X” formed in the center. I measure the topmost track length at 1.75” or slightly less and the stride at 26.5”. This would be a large gray fox with a trot stride in the normal range."

I agree. One small note, it looks like Collin’s measurement of the track might include nail marks. Elbroch includes nail marks in his measurement ranges, but Moskowitz and I do not. Kirsten measured these at a little under 1.5” long without nails, which she notes is typical for a gray fox.

Now let's have a look at Kirsten’s analysis of the lower track set:

"In the bottom portion of the photo, we have a series of three double register imprints. Each imprint shows a proportionally large, m-shaped palm pad. Four small toes wrap around the leading edge of the palm pad, and no claw marks are visible. This track morphology is unequivocally felid. The track length is 1.25”, pointing to a domestic cat. 

"These double registers are laid out in a neat, evenly spaced line with a slight zigzag, indicating one of the symmetrical track patterns (walk or trot). Looking at the stride length, I measure 28”. Translating from the stride tables in my handy guidebook: this kitty is trotting. 

"Domestic cat stride range (from Animal Tracks of the Midwest):

Walk 12-24”, TW 2-4.75”

Trot 20-32”, TW 2-4”

Again, I agree. It was a treat to find the tracks of these two mesopredators running side-by-side like this, with nearly identical strides. It was a fun study in canid vs felid track morphology. I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.

Thanks again to everyone who sent in an answer, and congratulations again to Collin and Kirsten for their correct identifications of these tracks and gaits.

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