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Tracking Quizzes

Quiz #18 - Answer

The animal is PORCUPINE.

Congratulations to everyone, actually, for not giving up on this one, this was an extra difficult quiz!

The beech tree, an eastern tree that might not be familiar to folks out west, is identified by its smooth light-gray bark, which is an excellent substrate for showing claw marks. Beech nuts are an important food source for certain animals in this region, so that is how you go about identifying the animal that made the tracks.

Most notably, beech nuts are the favored food of bears, but these tracks are much too tiny to be bear. The tracks are also too large for squirrel. Instead, the tracks are right on for midsize animals such as porcupine, raccoon, or opossum.

Although porcupines’ favorite food is hemlock, they are known to eat beech nuts in late summer and also eat beech bark any time of year, and in this respect they are more closely associated with beech than raccoon or opossum. I have never seen claw marks from raccoon or opossum on tree bark – if they did show at all I would not expect them to show as cleanly as porcupines, which have much sharper claws. Anyone who has access to "Mammal Tracks & Sign" by Mark Elbroch, there is a whole chapter on "Signs on Vegetation", and a comparison of porcupine versus bear claw marks are shown on pp 613-614. Why the claw marks in this quiz appear in "pairs" (rather than groups of 4 or 5) is a mystery to me, and made the quiz extra difficult.

Now, going back to Bear. If a very young cub (on the order of size of a porcupine) climbed a beech tree it would probably leave tracks something similar to these. However, such a young, inexperienced cub would probably have difficulty climbing a smooth-barked tree like a beech, and if needed for safety and provided with a choice of trees, it would more likely tend to choose to climb a big old tree with rough bark and prominent, ladder-like branches if available. Note this tree has been climbed many times – that means it is for food, not just a one-time climb for safety. By late summer when beeches start producing beech nuts, a cub would be much larger than a porcupine and would leave larger claw marks than shown in the quiz.

The tracks shown in this quiz are a number of years old, as evidenced by the black scarring of the wounds in the bark, so the time of year was not a useful clue in this quiz.

Special thanks to Sue Morse of for the opportunity to see these tracks. Keeping Track is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire community participation in the long-term stewardship of wildlife habitat. They teach groups of citizens in the skills of tracking to establish wildlife monitoring programs in their communities for use in local and regional conservation planning, and Sue is one of the finest tracking instructors you can find anywhere. From her, I have learned a great deal about how learning & paying attention to your TREES helps you to become a better TRACKER. Because the animals sure know their trees!


Quiz #18 - Question      ...on to Quiz #19

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