Friday, November 7, 2014

What tracks tell us about the animals that made them

A newly made track in the snow typically is larger than the actual foot or paw.
Photo courtesy of holder / Photoree.
With winter’s arrival, day hikers have a great opportunity to teach children accompanying them about the animals that live near the trail. This can be done via the tracks those animals make.

For example, a newly made track in the snow is larger than the actual foot or paw size. Snow compresses and better maintains its shape than sand or mud does, so the track itself actually shows a little of the animal’s movement as it steps. The animal that made the track probably is smaller than the track would lead children to believe.

In addition, the older a track is, the more likely that its size is far different from the actual foot. Thawing and refreezing can enlarge the track while blowing snow can fill it in and decrease the size. If the weather has changed over the past couple of days, children with this knowledge might be able to tell if the animal’s actual foot is smaller or larger than the track.

Further, the track’s depth indicates the animal’s size and weight. The smaller the animal, the less likely it is to sink into the snow when walking or running. Heavier and larger animals, of course, usually sink more deeply.

Whether or not the animal is two- or four-legged also can be determined (Birds, of course, are two-legged). Tracks that match a human’s gait are two-legged. Have your child walk alongside the track and compare how the feet fall into the snow.

Tracks also can give clues about where the animal might live. Follow the tracks around. They may lead to a tree or a burrow hole beneath a bush or near a rock. Especially during winter, you may even be able to spot strands of the animal’s hair or bits of it food.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.