While on a nature walk, many people encounter fresh or dried animal tracks in mud, soil, sand, snow and grass. Some common animal tracks include canine, rabbit and skunk species. Analyzing and identifying common animal prints can be a fun and educational experience for the entire family.
Domestic canine tracks are commonly spotted on pet-friendly nature hikes. Dog prints will display longer, oval-shaped paws. The front paws are larger in size than hind tracks and are sometimes in a diagonal-pattern across the ground (versus in a straight line). Canines have four toes on each foot and a bottom "pad" that serves as a heel. The shape and alignment of the track's pad and toes can also help in print identification, as the top (front) two toes are close together and the outer toes can be in triangle-like shapes. Additionally, check for small markings (or points) above each toe, as canines have claws. Another final clue to canine track identification is by examining the heel pad; the lines on the outer edges are sharp (not as round) and often have a double-hump along the bottom (known as a "lobe"). Exert caution while in the wilderness, as coyote and wolf tracks can be similar to the print of a domestic canine.
Examining the stride, shape and placement of the animal tracks can assist with rabbit track identification. Classified as "gallop walkers," wild rabbits hop about in a specific, patterned way: the front feet land first and their hind legs touch the ground on the outside of the front feet, landing slightly ahead of the front paws. Many rabbit prints will reveal long, oblong-shaped rear feet that are twice the size of the small, rounder-shaped front feet. Should the print offer great details, four toes may be evident on each foot. The tracks of rabbits can be seen frequently during active feeding times, when the sun is up and threat levels low. Additionally, rabbit tracks are often spotted near their small, round, pellet-like scat.
Interpreting an animal track can be an important way to avoid potential dangers. The skunk species, when threatened, will release a foul-smelling odor into the air (which can quickly dampen an enjoyable nature walk). Examine the track to determine how fresh it may be, and increase awareness of your surroundings should a potential skunk be hiding nearby. Skunk prints will resemble an egg in overall shape with a zig-zag top edge, often called a "fuzzy front." Count the toes on a potential skunk track, as each foot has 5 individual toes and claws (which may be evident in long, thin indentions). The front feet will appear smaller than the hind feet, with each foot generally measuring 2 inches long and 1 inch wide. Known as a "pacer," a skunk will walk by moving its right front-and-hind legs at the same time, and left front-and-hind legs at the same time, and then repeat, producing a set of tracks that are usually in a straight line.