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Tracking Quizzes

Quiz #14 - Answer

The answer is GRAY WOLF.

One clue that I purposely left out of the quiz was that the location was the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park, a famous haven for wolves, but that would’ve made the quiz too easy – HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Absent that clue, though, here’s how to figure it out.

Photo M4

Looking at the bottom track in Photo M4, you can see this animal has an oval-shaped foot, with 4 toes and large claws. Looking at the next footprint, you can see that the toes are symmetrical, and there is a distinct "X" that forms in the track, in between the toes and the plantar pad. The "X" can also be seen in the top track in Photo M6. That narrows it down to the dog family.

The original trail was made by a pack of 6 animals. Notice how they traveled in perfect single file, leaving a trail that looked like it was made by only 2 or 3 animals. We were amazed when we discovered it branched into 6 individual trails. Being an animal that travels in packs, with extreme efficiency in foot placement, suggests either wolf or coyote, but probably more strongly suggestive of wolf.

The stride of 20" could be either wolf or coyote. However, the consistency of exactly 20" over hundreds of strides is more consistent with wolf than coyote, as wolves are experts at traveling long distances with great efficiency. The big trail width of 7" is too wide for coyote, especially in this region where coyotes tend to be on the small side.

The real key is the foot size. If you draw a 4x5" rectangle on a piece of paper, then sketch a dog track that takes up the full box, it should make your eyes pop open. This is a giant among dogs, and a track of this immense size could only be from a wolf.

The larger footprint, 4x5", is the wolf’s front foot. Dogs have larger front feet than hind feet, which makes sense, as the front feet have to support the weight of the shoulders and head.

These tracks were a magical experience for us, and we were extremely grateful for the opportunity to witness the tracks of this majestic animal.

We have been to Yellowstone many times, and while most ordinary folks would think it crazy to visit Yellowstone during the harshness of winter, we found it to be our favorite trip there. We chose the last week of winter, when there is a reasonable amount of sunlight and chance of fair weather, albeit cold & windy. The best way to see a wolf is to bring binoculars, drive the plowed road through the Lamar Valley and look for wolf biologists, who park on roadside turnouts and set up their spotting scopes. Pull over alongside them, aim your binoculars in the direction of their scope, and presto you should see a wolf!

Of course, Yellowstone with snow on the ground is a tracker’s paradise, full of tracks of all kinds of tremendous beasts such as bison, elk, cougar, coyote and bear. Yes, we found sign of grizzly bear activity even before spring.

Hope you enjoyed this quiz and stay tuned for the next one!

Quiz #14 - Question      ...on to Quiz #15

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