February 2024 Natural Mystery Answered

Last month’s Natural Mystery invited some wide ranging speculation. Were these marks from the single foot of a medium sized animal? From the whole body of a small animal? From some abiotic process? We didn’t get a lot of practice interpreting tracks in the snow this year. Congratulations to Kirsten Welge who met the challenge and correctly identified who left these marks and what, specifically, left each individual impression.

This is the right front track of a galloping red fox. I’ll let Kirsten describe the details:

"This is a canid track showing imprints of the main paw structure of the digital pads and metacarpal pads (tall boxy impression by 3-5" on ruler), dewclaw imprint (2-2.25"), and carpal pad (0-.25") of a right forelimb.

"Canidae and Felidae have these same forelimb elements, which I see on my cats every day. However, the digital pads/metacarpal pads impression is tall, not round or squarish in shape. I would also not expect to see two claw marks registering ahead of felid toes in the snow (notches at 5.5-6" on ruler). If I had to guess, I would call this a red fox track."

Exactly right. I had the benefit of the track pattern and dozens of other tracks to help me confirm the identity of the track maker when I took this photo. I thought the shape of the print was more suggestive of red fox than coyote, but only asked for the family as I didn’t think this photo alone was conclusive. You can see some of the other tracks from this trail here on iNaturalist.

Thanks to everyone who submitted an answer and congratulations again to Kirsten for sorting out this challenging mystery track.

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