How Do You Identify Animal Footprints in the Snow?


Quick Answer

To identify animal footprints in the snow, it is helpful to first decode the size of the animal. According to Princeton University's Outdoor Action website, prints can be categorized as large scale, medium scale, small scale or ghost scale which refers to disturbances that do not leave a distinct track. Once the tracks are categorized by the track size, a tracker can analyze footprints by class, patterns and movements.

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Footprints can be further differentiated by distinct features of the feet, according to Alderleaf Wilderness College. With these features, online references can help distinguish and identify prints. For instance, mink, weasel, stoat, pine marten and polecat prints have five toes in star formation, often with claw marks; fox, cat or dog prints have four symmetrical toe pads with two front and two side pads; and, deer and sheep prints have cloven hooves, according to Discover Wildlife.

January is the best month to look for tracks because snow and wet mud preserve tracks best, according to Discover Wildlife. Tracking animals is easiest if the tracker knows where to look. Princeton's Outdoor Action calls these areas "islands" of cover. The thick and varied vegetation that covers the areas where herbivores congregate offers protection from predators in the open fields. Carnivores tend to follow the herbivores. These islands often include a source of fresh water, which is also critical for survival.

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