Have you ever come across animal tracks in the snow, and yet could not be sure what animal made the tracks? A snowy winter landscape is not only beautiful, but it is also a great mean of identifying animals that have been in a certain area. Snow will preserve tracks of a cottontail rabbit, fox, wolf, white-tailed deer, mountain lion, raccoon and many other animals that cohabitate in a certain area. Animal tracks are a window into an otherwise hidden world of wild animals. Animals are all around us, but many are shy or seldom seen. Animal tracks (also called animal footprints, pug-marks, traces, spoor, impressions, etc) are a powerful tool for learning about the wildlife around us.
Today, we are learning about animal tracks hands-on. What child does not like play dough (see the recipe of homemade no-cook play dough here), animal figurines (we love these animals), and a snowy forest set up? Adrian does for sure! First, he matched the animal to its track on the cards (buy here), and then Adrian "made" its tracks in the snow.
Tracking in the snow can be easy, but it can also be deceptively tricky since tracks are hidden at the bottom of deep leg holes in the deep snow. While trackers usually depend upon the details in each track (like the number and shape of the toes or the presence of claws) to make identifications, in snow it is often necessary to look for other clues. Patterns are one of the best tools to identify tracks in the snow, and some species are easily recognized from a distance simply by the pattern of tracks.
Rabbit tracks are one of the most commonly seen tracks in the snow. Look for the repeating bound patterns. Each group of four tracks tends to form a tall, thin rectangle. A rabbit (buy here) also has small round toes and fur-covered feet, showing five-toed front tracks with side-by-side hind tracks. (Interestingly, other rodents show only four-toed front tracks.)
All rodents, from the smallest mouse to the largest beaver (buy here) leave five-toed tracks with their hind feet. Did you know that beavers have webbed hind feet?
Buy Red Deer here.
Buy American Bison (middle) here.
In wolf tracks, claws evident a general symmetrical oval shape with four toes, and a single lobe on the front of the main foot pad.
Since bears (buy here) walk on the soles of their soft feet, they often do not leave distinct tracks unless they walk through the snow. Bears have five toes on each foot, with their large toe on the outside of the foot. Front tracks are wider than rear tracks, but the small round heel pad of the front foot seldom registers. Bears tend to toe-in, especially with their front feet. They often travel in an over-step walk, with their rear foot falling in front of where the front foot fell, creating double tracks and thus enormous track sizes. In deep snow, however, bears direct-register by placing their rear foot in the same hole created by the front foot, making it seem as if it is walking on two hind legs :)
A fox (buy here) leaves a neat pattern in the snow because of the hind footsteps in the front foot track. This is called registering, and it helps a fox to conserve energy while walking in deep snow. A deer (buy here) also registers, with the hind foot walking in the front foot track. Also, a deer usually drags its hooves, which are easy to spot in the packed snow. However, in deep snow, the hooves are more spread out, and the dewclaw is visible in the back of the track.
See here how Adrian was observing animal tracks in the real ❄️snow!
Since deer's hind feet tend to step on top of their front tracks leaving distorted and confusing marks, in the snow, they are tough to identify. But Adrian was pretty certain that those were deer's tracks.
For more❄️ Winter kids activities, see here our ☃️ Winter Inspired Unit Study.
For Holiday inspirations, see here our December Holiday Inspired Unit roundup "🎄Christmas Inspired Unit Study."