Monday, December 10, 2012

Squirrel Tracks and Movement Speed

Yesterday I promised a future update on squirrel tracks, and I thought it would be a while before I delivered.

I was wrong.


As a refresher, this is the shoddy-looking track from yesterday that I grumbled about.

You can't see the foot pads or claws, the track is so old that it's beginning to lose its definition, and the paws didn't come together in that really cool line that I mentioned.  What a rip-off.

Ok, maybe you don't think so, but I sure did.  I love animal tracks, whether I know what in the world I'm looking at or not, and since squirrels are so common in my yard, I wanted a really good track.

And I got that, instead. 

Naturally, I was a wee bit miffed.

Well, I think perhaps that my little critter friends sensed this, because not long after I finished off my blog post, I came back out to this.

Top two paws: large paws spaced wide, Bottom two paws: small paws close together

Absolutely perfect squirrel tracks!

The larger paws at the top of the photo are the hind feet.  The smaller ones below are the front feet.

Seems backwards, right?  The reason for this is that squirrels move in a hopping motion.  They use their front paws to propel their back ones ahead.

A short distance behind those, I found tracks that showed all four paws in a straight line.

Four paws in a line from left to right: Large, small, small, large.

Why do these patterns change?  It has to do with speed.  The faster a squirrel is moving, the farther apart the paws land, so in the second picture, the squirrel was moving at a slower pace.  Here's a visual guide, to clarify:

Four sets of tracks moving diagonally lower left to upper right.  Each set shows the paws coming closer together.  A blue arrow points from lower left to upper right, labelled "Gaining Speed".

Pretty cool, huh?  I think I could really enjoy learning more about tracking.

And I found a really basic guide to a few common tracks via South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks.  It's worth a look if you're interested in tracking and live on the northern side of the country!  Even if you don't have the same mammals in your area, it's a good starting point.

And now I'm heading back outside for more animal tracking joy!!!

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