Monday, October 20, 2008

Track of the Week 5

I took these pictures last February on a road in Olympic National Park.

1. What species?

Looks like people did pretty well recognizing characteristics of felines. They are (a bit) asymmetrical, front of the heel pad is bi-lobed back of it is tri-lobed (when the detail shows up), the negative space is small and does not have an X shape, also no claws showing.

I'm pretty sure however that this is a large bobcat rather than a small cougar. It would be very small for a cougar and we didn't see any tracks around suggesting it was with its mother. I'm not really sure how to differentiate small cougar and large bobcat from foot morphology. I would be quite interested in hearing if anybody knows some characteristics to look for there.

2. Which foot is the ruler next to?

It is the right hind. Hind feet in cats are generally narrower (particularly the heel pad) than their fronts, this gives them a bit more of an oblong look where as their fronts tend to be more circular. This individual track looks even longer because it seems to have scuffed a bit adding length to the rear of the track.

It is fairly easy to see here that it is on the right side of the body, but if that were not so clear you can also use the fact that cats (true also for many other animals) have a leading toe. For cats it is toe 3. Counting from the inside of the foot, toe 1 generally does not register (look at a cat's foot and you can see they have a toe a little ways back on the inside), toe 2 is the innermost that reliably registers and toe 3 is the second from the inside of the toes that show up. In the track in question it is not especially obvious, but I think many of the other tracks in the trail do show the leading toe more clearly.

3. What is the gait?

This is an overstep walk. Recognizing it is a walk is a good start. And knowing which feet are which shows it is an overstep.

I had a fair bit of trouble with gaits starting out. One thing that helped me was realizing that most animals have characteristic gaits they use. When I was taking the cybertracker evaluation I had missed a couple of coyote gait questions that happened to be overstep walks. The evaluator told us that he sees coyotes in an overstep walk so often that if he sees a track pattern like that he starts from the thought of it being an overstep walk and tries to prove it wrong. Of course, knowing what gaits animals use comes from experience and study (and it's handy if somebody experienced shares their knowledge with you as the evaluator did with me). In my experience, overstep walks are not unusual, but understep walks are.

Bonus: What sex?

I'm not real good at sexing felines from their tracks yet, but apparently it can be done. Size is definitely a good clue and since it is large for a bobcat, that points towards male. Other things to consider are the robustness of the track. From what I understand female felines tend to have "daintier" toes and heel pads which will leave more space between them. Males have beefier feet which tend to have less space between the toes and between the toes and heel pad.

It really is a relative evaluation, but these tracks look pretty robust and are definitely large, so I think it is a male (and that was the general evaluation of the tracking group I was with as well).

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DeAnna said...

Feline, based on track shape (no X, offset toes, large pad, three lobes on base of pad, two lobes on top of pad). Smallish cougar?

The ruler is next to a right foot, but I can't tell for sure front or back. Seems like cats usually direct register, and the distance between tracks seems really short, so I'm guessing that it's walking slowly, making this an understep walk, and that would make the foot next to the ruler a front right.

If it's a cougar, then I guess female for the sex, since it's on the small side of the range. I'm sure there are better ways to tell, but I don't know them.

I'm also curious about the way one foot is consistently angled to the left. If I've guessed right about the gait, then it would be the left rear foot.

Kitty said...

I'll agree with feline. I'm not that familiar with distinguishing between cat vs canid tracks, but I basing my opinion on the lack of claw marks and the slight notch at the top of the pad. The size would seem appropriate for a cougar. I'll have to agree with Deanna that perhaps the smaller size would indicate a female.
Looking at my ancient copy of Peterson's guide to tracks, I'd want to call the track by the ruler a front foot based on the shape of the pad.
Gaits are a bit of mystery to me, but again making use Peterson, the spacing of the tracks looks kind of like a fast walk?

Jonathan said...

That angled foot is interesting. I hadn't really noticed so much that the foot was angled before you mentioned it. It looks like the corresponding foot on the right side might also be angled out a bit, though we only see one of it, so it is hard to say if it happens consistently there.

Another thing about the left foot that contributes more to the angled out appearance is that the outside toe on that foot consistently cocks out to the side a bit. I remember seeing that pattern in that foot the whole trail and thinking that it might make it easier to recognize this individual animal's tracks. I wonder if its toe broke at some point.