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Tracking Quizzes

Quiz #39 - Answer

by Brian Booth

1. The mystery animal is FISHER.

The fisher is one of the largest members of the weasel family, a fierce predator weighing up to 12 lbs. It has 5 toes on each foot. Fisher tracks can be easily confused with other animals. Its tracks can be very similar to river otter, but can be distinguished from otter by being longer, narrower, and not webbed. Its tracks can be similar to raccoon, but can be distinguished from raccoon by having toes that are distinctly separate from the plantar pad; not connected. A fisher's tracks are quite similar in shape to a marten, but significantly larger. Sometimes the fisher’s first toe does not register, and this can make its tracks look like a coyote or even a bobcat, but can be distinguished from coyotes and bobcats by different predominant gaits.

2. The fisher’s gait in this quiz was a 2x2 lope. This is not its preferred gait, referred to as either a “3x4 lope” or “1-2-1 lope”.
The differences between these gaits are as follows:
In the 2x2 lope, the front feet land nearly -- but not precisely -- at the same time, and then the hind feet land almost precisely on top of the front tracks. This leaves tracks in sets of 2, with the the right footprint being slightly in front of the left, or vice versa.
In the 3x4 lope, the pace is faster -- after springing off its front feet, the animal has enough momentum such that the hind feet land beyond (in front of) the front prints. This leaves tracks in sets of 4, usually in a “1-2-1” pattern.
The reason the fisher was using a 2x2 lope was due to the deep snow. The 2x2 lope allows the fisher to conserve energy in deep soft snow immediately after a storm – the front feet have to do a lot of work cutting through the snow, but the hind feet are pretty much just pushing off the ground and sailing through the air. Once the snow consolidates (and also once the snow has melted away entirely in the spring), the obstacle impeding leg motion is removed and the fisher will tend to return to a 3x4 loping gait, in which it can go at its preferred faster pace. (I once went to a zoo and watched a fisher run around its enclosure for 15 minutes straight, using entirely a 3x4 loping gait – loping, loping, loping.)

3. Because the hind feet were landing directly on top of the front feet, the only tracks shown along the animal’s trail were from the hind feet.

4. This was a male fisher. Males are significantly larger than females. With rear tracks ranging up to 3 inches wide, this is a very large fisher – larger than any female. (The scent marking activity did not help to identify this as a male, as both male and female fishers leave scent marks.)

5. The tracks were somewhat indistinct because (a) the snow was soft and powdery, and (b) the fisher’s feet are quite furry. Very rare to encounter fisher tracks in snow conditions that are perfect enough for the tracks to register cleanly.

This was a glorious day in the winter woods – bright sunshine, crisp air, and lots of tracks and sign of wildlife in the fresh snow. We encountered the fisher tracks at the end of the day, and that was the icing on the cake.

Till next time,


Quiz #39 - Question      ...on to Quiz #40

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