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Nature Notebook – Animal Tracks

With snow on the ground, we can get a glimpse into the secret life of animals living around our houses and the trails we hike on. 

The best time to find good tracks is after a fresh overnight snow. As a general rule of thumb, cat tracks don’t show their nails because they retract them into their sheaths when moving. Mountain lion and bobcat don’t live in southwest Michigan, but you can venture into northern lower Michigan (for bobcat) and the Upper Peninsula (for mountain lion). Domestic cats are very common with tracks measuring about 2.5 cm long and wide. They are round and follow a straight line, putting their back paws right in the tracks of the front feet.

Fox and coyote tracks look very similar to a domestic dog so look for the walking pattern. Our pet dogs do not usually walk in a straight intentional line like their wild counterparts. Red and grey fox tracks will be about 4-5 cm wide and 5-6.5 cm long. These are smaller than a coyote, whose tracks measure about 6 cm wide and 7 cm long.

Weasel tracks measure 1.3 – 2 cm long and wide, may show a fifth toe, and may be double-paired or fall in closely bunched groups of four. They travel by alternating long and short leaps, sometimes leaving drag marks, and tracks may abruptly change direction or disappear into a snow hole.