How to Identify Animal Tracks

How to Identify Animal TracksAn animal track can tell you a lot about what type of creature has been roaming the area. The most helpful information that can be gathered from a clear track is the number of toes the creature possesses. If a set of front and hind foot tracks are distinguishable, the odds of identifying the animal are that much better.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

How to:

Things You’ll Need:
  • Field guide to animal tracks
  • Notebook
  • Pencil
  • Pad
  • Camera
Step 1
Focus first on what animals inhabit your part of the country. Tracks cannot be left by an animal whose range does not include your state. For example, a lynx will not be leaving tracks in Georgia. Purchase a field guide to animal tracks, which includes range maps of the mammals it references.
Step 2
Take pictures of the tracks you find. Check them against your guide and online reference sites without having to rely on your memory. Take notes about where the track was found and also try to sketch the track; this is good practice for when the camera is unavailable.
Step 3
Understand some tracks are easier to determine than others. Tracks were made by a member of the rodent family if there are four front toes showing but five toes present on the back feet. Animals such as voles, mice, porcupines, beavers and muskrats are all rodents, but all will have this configuration. If it's determined a track was made by a rodent, narrow down the possibilities by the size of the track.
Step 4
Recognize that the weasel family will leave behind tracks with five toes on each foot. Mink, weasels, wolverines, badgers and others of this group have this number of toes. But so do other creatures like raccoons, opossums and bears.
Step 5
Identify imprints made by canines and felines in your area by the four toes on each foot. Foxes, coyotes and wolves will more likely leave claw marks that extend from the toe, but cats like mountain lions, bobcats, jaguars and lynxes do not.
Step 6
Remember that larger two-toed semicircle marks left will indicate some sort of ungulate. These are mammals that have hooves and in the U.S. include all of the deer family, as well as wild pigs like the peccary. Utilize your field guide or a reference site to determine the animal that made the track.

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