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Tracking Quizzes

Quiz #38 - Answer

by Brian Booth

The mystery animal is BEAVER.
There are so many clues here, and so many confusing signs. Where to start?

First of all, the tracks were clearly coming out of the water, and the trail width was about 6-8 inches wide. That narrows it down to something like beaver, otter, or muskrat.

The tracks are indistinct, which is very characteristic of beaver. That’s because beavers typically degrade or completely destroy their footprints by either dragging their tail (which sometimes leaves swirl marks), or dragging a tree. The tracks in this quiz are probably the clearest beaver tracks I’ve ever found.

The 6˝ inch track length is too large for otter or muskrat, and are about normal for a beaver’s hind foot. The 2 5/8 inch long track is about normal for a beaver’s front foot. Take a look at the photo on this page to note how huge the difference is between the front and hind tracks of beaver. On occasion the beaver's front and hind prints will overlap, leaving very confusing-looking footprints like some seen in this quiz.

Beavers’ hind feet have very long toes, sometimes as long as a human finger. They also have very robust toenails / claws, which often display much more distinctly than the toes, pad, or heel, which can be seen in Photo 38E.

Beavers have 4 toes on the front and 5 toes on the hind foot, but they are notorious for not always registering all the toes. So they often leave confusing prints that make it look like they have 2 or 3 toes.

Photo 38H was somewhat subtle, and Photo 38T was a more distinct sign of drag marks left by the beaver. They are signs of the beaver returning to the water, dragging cut-down trees behind them, which completely obliterate their footprints.

Photos 38M / 38R were “tricks” of a sort – they told you to look at the tracks, but there were other clues present, including leaves and drag marks of black cottonwood saplings. Beavers have a very strong association with this tree.. As I have learned from tracking expert Sue Morse, developing your tree identification skills will sharpen your tracking skills, as many animals are experts at tree identification and have a strong preference for a single tree species. The entire grove of saplings in Photo 38S are black cottonwood - it's the beaver's favorite food source in western Washington. In other areas of the continent, beavers prefer alder, aspen, birch, poplar, or maple.

The tracks and sign from this quiz made for a super day of tracking. I was glad to be there at just the right time - hope you enjoyed it.

The quiz that follows will take you to winter, on the opposite side of the U.S., in New England.



Quiz #38 - Question      ...on to Quiz #39

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