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Quiz #22 - Answer


The answer is ERMINE (SHORT-TAILED WEASEL), the tiny but voracious predator that turns white in winter, terrifying the mice, voles and shrews of the woods, marshes & meadows.

The way to figure this out is, first, to observe the track pattern. There are two tiny prints, side-by-side, with great stride distance between them. Known as the "2-2" pattern, this indicates the bounding members of the weasel family, which includes long-tailed weasel, ermine (short-tailed weasel), least weasel, mink, marten, ferret, otter & fisher. (The weasel family also includes skunk & wolverine, but they do not commonly travel by bounding.) The front feet land first, together, and the hind feet directly register on top of the front prints, making it look like the animal only has two feet. In snow, this leaves a "dumbell" shaped pattern that can be easily mistaken for a single deer print.

If snow conditions are poor and you have no other information to go on, you can rule out deer if the pairs of prints are in a straight line (i.e. looking like a deer that has zero body width), also if any of the prints are diagonally offset (not exactly side-by-side), that would rule out deer. In this case, we have one set of prints on the log that are clear enough to show that this animal has 5 toes, and it’s going under logs and through brush piles, so that makes it weasel.

The very small size of the feet quickly rule out the larger members of the family – marten, otter & fisher. The location of CT also rules out least weasel, marten & ferret.

Mink & weasels have a great deal of overlap in the size of their feet, and it is often impossible to determine one from the other with certainty. In this case, however, if you study a field guide, you can conclude that this weasel was smaller than the smallest typical mink or long-tailed weasel, so that makes it a small ermine, most likely a female.

This ermine embodied the energetic & fierce personality that weasels are famous for. It inspired me to follow its tracks over & under logs & rocks, and made the woods come alive. I hope it inspired you equally.

Best of luck with your tracking, and stay tune for the next quiz!


Quiz #22 - Question      ...on to Quiz #23

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