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Tracking Quizzes

Quiz #16 - Answer

The answer is MUSKRAT.

The walking stride of 4-5" is consistent with muskrat, and the trail width of 5" is about the maximum for a muskrat. Muskrats’ hind feet are substantially larger than their front feet, so that is an important clue that rules out animals such as mink, otter, and also opossum, whose tracks are otherwise very similar to muskrat. (I tracked what I thought were muskrats for a long time, until I realized I had been tracking opossums all along, which was very humbling.)

The muskrat spreads out its toes very wide when walking, leaving "star" shaped prints for both front & hind feet, which rules out animals such as raccoon & beaver. Being in the rodent family, muskrats most commonly show 4 toes on the front foot and 5 on the hind foot – this can be perhaps be seen most clearly in Photo P7. (For the record, they actually have 5 toes on the front foot but the "thumb" is very tiny and hardly ever shows in the track.)

The "vertical line" mark is the tail drag of the muskrat, which also looks similar to opossum, and which may or may not show depending on how the animal is carrying its tail. In my mind, the width of 3/8" is about right for a muskrat’s tail, although I am unable to find this information confirmed in any of my references. The muskrat’s tail is strong, serving as a prominent source of propulsion in the water, but opposite to a beaver tail it is "taller" than it is wide, so it leaves a fairly skinny track.

Finally, the marsh habitat is consistent with muskrat and the location of Connecticut would rule out animals such as armadillo, which is of similar size and would probably leave a similar tail drag mark.

I have been tracking this marsh for a long time. There is a healthy population of muskrats here – I see them in the water, find their scat regularly, and a profusion of muskrat lodges appear in winter, but their tracks are elusive, usually being in extremely wet mud that doesn’t hold the shape of the track very well. These are the most pristine muskrat tracks I have encountered, and it was a joyous experience to find them.

Hope you enjoyed this quiz and stay tuned for the next one!


Quiz #16 - Question      ...on to Quiz #17

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