1. The mystery animal is DOMESTIC CAT.
Here is how
you figure this out: The animal has small feet, round in shape, with 4
toes and no claws showing. The tracks are asymmetrical (the 4 toes are
not a mirror image of each other). The plantar pad has 2 lobes on the
leading edge, and 3 lobes on the trailing edge. All of these indicate
the cat family, and the small size plus the urban habitat indicate
2. The rain started first, then progressed to snow. You can tell this
from the drip marks from the overhead arbor, which appear as depressions
in the snow. The drips occurred during the rain and continued after the
precipitation changed to snow and started accumulating on the deck.
Eventually it got cold enough that the dripping stopped altogether and
the drip marks started filling with snow. The snow started in wet form
and gradually changed to powdery pellets. The tracks are extremely
fresh, probably less than 20 minutes old, because they are so crisp and
have not started melting yet in the warming air.
3. The tracks were made after the rain & snow, as no snow lies in the
tracks with the exception of a few pellets that got kicked and dragged
as the cat walked.
4. The gait is a diagonal walk, but there is more to it than that. At
the start of the trail, the cat was in an understep walk – its hind feet
landed behind the tracks from the front feet. (The front tracks are
identifiable as being larger than the hind tracks, due to supporting
more weight (the head), and also due to the weight being distributed
further back in the palm, as opposed to the rear feet which have most
weight concentrated in the toes). But as the tracks progress, the hind
feet start landing closer to the front tracks, and in the last track,
the hind feet are landing in front of the front tracks (overstep walk).
For some reason, the stride did not increase here, but nevertheless the
cat was speeding up.
5. This is a smaller than average cat. Seven inches is a very small
stride for a cat.
6. This is a female cat. This is a trick question, because the
typical technique that would be used for this would suggest it was a
male – the hind tracks generally lie inside the front tracks. Just goes
to show you can’t always rely on that technique – harumph!
This was a great way to start the day. I was delighted to see that I had
a visitor. The delicate layer of snow was just the right depth, and the
rain-moistened wooden planks on the deck were just the right combination
to cause each track to almost completely melt as it was being made,
leaving crisp, dark footprints amidst the graceful white pellets. The
tracks were pristine and nearly perfect. I was so excited to see the
tracks that I jumped out into the snow in bare feet to snap the photos.
My feet got cold, but it was a small price to pay, as I was thankful for