Today I found these footprints at Nature Boardwalk under the Lester E. Fisher Bridge. Can you guess what animal left these tracks?
Here are some hints: These prints are a little over 2 inches long, and they have clearly defined digits (fingers and toes). These prints are in mud under a few inches of water. So, we’re looking for an animal that lives in urban areas and has very dexterous little hands. What might that be?
If you guessed raccoon, you guessed right! These are raccoon prints. Raccoons are nocturnal (active at night). Therefore, we’re unlikely to see raccoons that come to Nature Boardwalk, but we can see signs of their presence after they’re gone.
Biologists often use signs like tracks to tell which animals have visited a site previously. If you see animal prints at Nature Boardwalk—or anywhere—and are curious as to what animal they belong to, first look at the size and shape of the tracks. It can be helpful to measure the prints’ length and width and the distance between sets of prints. Also notice the pattern of the prints, as different animals walk or run in different ways, creating different patterns.
Another important thing to consider is the location of the prints. For example, these prints are in a few inches of water. Raccoons often hunt for fish and other animals at the edge of ponds, so this is a likely place to find raccoon prints.
Sometimes it is interesting to follow the prints and see where they lead. These prints went along a fence-line for a while and then disappeared at the water’s edge, where the soil was too compact to make prints. If you look carefully and play the part of a biologist-detective, you can learn a lot from the signs left behind by wildlife without ever even seeing the animal!