When we look at a track, what we’re looking at is the imprint made by the sole of the foot; this is called ‘hollow relief’. There are 3 main foot types within mammals, you might want to take a look at this post to get a better understanding of those different foot types.
The picture below represents a fox print (digitigrade) and is reasonably typical of an animal with pads. Whilst it might seem fairly obvious, it’s worth noting which part of the foot corresponds to which part of the track.
When you’re trying to identify a track, you need to get down nice and close and take a good look. Whilst you could take a photo of the track, I prefer the old-fashioned method of paper and pencil. For me it helps with getting the information into my head.
You might want to write down a few details about the track for future reference, such as the date and time you found it, where you found it, weather conditions, what the substrate was (sand, snow, soil, wet mud , stone etc.), how clear the track was.
Measuring tracks will not only help with identifying the animal that made it, but it might also give an indication to the sex of the animal or the age of the animal, or indeed the state of its health. There are a few measurements that you’ll want to take:
Width is the widest distance across the track. Length is measured from the back of the heel pad to the end of the longest digit (don’t include any claw prints, although you might want to record that as well).
If there are a few tracks forming a trail, I’ll take a few additional measurements. The trail is going to provide information as to how the animal was moving, so was it walking, trotting, galloping? (As a heads up, the fox trail shown below is a walk).
Stride is the distance between two tracks made by the same foot. Straddle is the distance between left and right tracks.
Measuring tracks is something we look at on our Tracking & Nature Awareness course.
You can see loads of photos from this course, as well as all of our others, on our Facebook page.