The answer is MUSKRAT.
The walking stride of 4-5" is consistent with muskrat, and the trail width
of 5" is about the maximum for a muskrat. Muskrats’ hind feet are
substantially larger than their front feet, so that is an important clue
that rules out animals such as mink, otter, and also opossum, whose
tracks are otherwise very similar to muskrat. (I tracked what I thought
were muskrats for a long time, until I realized I had been tracking
opossums all along, which was very humbling.)
The muskrat spreads out
its toes very wide when walking, leaving "star" shaped prints for both
front & hind feet, which rules out animals such as raccoon & beaver.
Being in the rodent family, muskrats most commonly show 4 toes on the
front foot and 5 on the hind foot – this can be perhaps be seen most
clearly in Photo P7. (For the record, they actually have 5 toes on the
front foot but the "thumb" is very tiny and hardly ever shows in the
The "vertical line" mark is the tail drag of the muskrat, which also
looks similar to opossum, and which may or may not show depending on how
the animal is carrying its tail. In my mind, the width of 3/8" is about
right for a muskrat’s tail, although I am unable to find this
information confirmed in any of my references. The muskrat’s tail is
strong, serving as a prominent source of propulsion in the water, but
opposite to a beaver tail it is "taller" than it is wide, so it leaves a
fairly skinny track.
Finally, the marsh habitat is consistent with muskrat and the
location of Connecticut would rule out animals such as armadillo, which
is of similar size and would probably leave a similar tail drag mark.
I have been tracking this marsh for a long time. There is a healthy
population of muskrats here – I see them in the water, find their scat
regularly, and a profusion of muskrat lodges appear in winter, but their
tracks are elusive, usually being in extremely wet mud that doesn’t hold
the shape of the track very well. These are the most pristine muskrat
tracks I have encountered, and it was a joyous experience to find them.
Hope you enjoyed this quiz and stay tuned for the next one!