Tracking Quiz website

Tracking Quizzes

Quiz #8 - Answer

Congratulations to all. Everyone fared equal or better to myself on this mystery. When I saw these tracks, I thought it was a lynx, but the answer is a large tom (ie, male) BOBCAT.

First of all, notice that the tracks are more round-looking than oval, and there are no claw prints. In general, both of these are very strongly suggestive of the cat family rather than the dog family. But in a powdery snow medium, the lack of claws is more than just "suggestive" of cat - you can basically completely rule out the dog family, as their claws would show up very prominently in powdery snow.

There are 3 other features that indicate cat family & rule out dog family:

  • The 2 front toes and 2 side toes are "asymmetric" (i.e. there are "lead" toes). Dog family has feet with the 2 front toes and 2 side toes even with each other.
  • The palm pad is very far forward relative to the 2 side toes. With dog family, the palm pad is far enough back that the ridges between the toes & palm pad tend to form an "X" shape. Cat family does not leave an "X" shape.
  • The rear edge of the palm pad has 3 distinct lobes. Dog family displays a more straight edge.

Next, the size of the feet is WAY too big for domestic cat. Rules that out.

Now here's where it gets interesting. The size of the feet and the trail width are larger than what my field guides list for bobcat, but smaller than listings for lynx or cougar. There was little to no spray (or "explosion") of snow outside the tracks, suggesting this cat was at a regular walking pace, and the stride of 19" is larger than what most field guides list for walking gait for bobcat (except for Rezendes' guide). So this makes it challenging - is it a large bobcat, a small lynx, or an immature cougar?

Notice how crisp & full the toes & palm pad appear in the snow. Field guides are pretty vague when it comes to lynx, but the general opinion seems to be that lynx tracks leave smaller toe & palm pad prints and are more indistinct & fuzzy than these tracks, due to the copious fur on the feet. Lynx also tend to leave more hair in the tracks than bobcat / cougar, and these tracks were clean as a whistle. So pretty much rules out lynx.

For this to be a cougar, it would have to be fairly young to have tracks this small, and would most likely still be with its mother. This is a guess at best - cougars can give birth at any time of year, so the time of year doesn't provide any clue at all as to what an immature cougar's age might be. Anyway, photo F1 shows this cat was on its own, which suggests it was not cougar, and leaves bobcat as the most likely option.

To be sure, I contacted bobcat expert Susan Morse of Keeping Track Inc. in Vermont, and she confirmed it was a very large bobcat, large enough that it could only have been a male.

Hope this was as tremendous a learning experience for you as it was for me.



Quiz #8 - Question      ...on to Quiz #9

The material on this page is copyright © by the original author/artist/photographer. This website is created, maintained & copyright © by Walter Muma
Please respect this copyright and ask permission before using or saving any of the content of this page for any purpose

Thank you for visiting!