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The winter season is an ideal time of year to observe Nature, during this season; the landscape is a wonderful contrast of white brown black and green, a revelation of close knit relationships that define nature. In winter, the activities of flora and fauna exemplify that form complements function towards quality of life in the natural world. A keen observer is treated to the exemplary relationships in a visually graceful ecosystem.
Adaptation is a necessary key to survival of all living things, the seasonal change that perpetuates physical change of water to ice and clouds to snow, causes the natural world to transform its patterns and schedules appropriately. Some animals hibernate thus decreasing their bodily functions living on stored fat during winter such as most cold blooded animals, and ground squirrels. Some animals especially those dependent on insects and flowers for food migrate in search of food. Other animals go into a state of dormancy called estivation.
Animals are faced with the fact that their appendages have to be protected from freezing, keep warm and find sufficient food for survival. In living through these challenges, animals leave their stories on how they get through winter by leaving tracks on snow, diggings, scraps of food and droppings.
Animals print track and leave patterns anywhere. Places where it is common to find animal tracks in winter are ecosystems with boundaries consisting of two or more different plant communities while open water bodies attract numerous animals.
Tracks provide us observers with a lot of information on a particular animal, its shelter, food preferences, and type of animal, direction and speed of movement and mode of locomotion.
There are four common sets patterns of track prints left behind by animals, namely; single track prints which the animals move in an almost straight line. Animals like cats, dogs, fox and deer leave behind single print tracks and are referred to as walking or galloping animals. Animals from the weasel family with long bodies and short legs leave track prints of evenly spaces pairs and are referred to as bounding animals. Animals referred to as galloping animals make track prints that suggest that they land with their front legs behind their hind legs such are rabbits, mice shrews and squirrels. Waddling creatures are like the raccoon and opossum whose tracks are two simultaneous types of track prints.
As unique as a thumbprint, every animal species leaves behind a track print pattern distinct to its kind with the size varying in relation to age and gender. In animal reserves, it is common to come across animal tracks where man made trails are reason being that animals also do appreciate an easy route to their feeding grounds or shelter. When tracking animals, favorable snow is that which is not too deep or downy, due to the nature of snow it is adequate to have a sketchpad, ruler and pencil to record detailed occurrences of track prints.
For the Cat family, track prints are roughly rounded with four toes on both back and front feet with three lobes on the bottom part of the foot. They do not exhibit claw marks as the have retractable claws a characteristic of the cat family.
For the dog family which includes the fox, track prints are like of the cat family though only one lobe is evident on the bottom of the foot or the plantar pad and distinctive claw prints. The whole track print is usually flared and less rounded.
Weasel family includes the skunks and minks. Their track prints exhibit five toes on both of the front and back feet with claw marks.
The rabbit order has track prints with four toes on the back and front feet in a rounded inverted triangle shape track pattern reason being the hind feet are usually two to four times larger than the front feet. It is important to note that being gallopers they do land with their hind feet prior to landing with the front feet.
The rodent order includes the mice, rats, squirrels among many others. Similar to the weasel family their track prints do vary a great deal. They exhibit front feet prints with four toes and five toes in their hind feet tracks. On a good day claws are evident.
The examples of animals of the deer family are the moose and white tailed deer. They leave behind lovely heart shaped track prints with a line down the center. When afraid and running, dew shaped claw imprints are noticeable with the track prints clearly divided down the middle.
For the Raccoon, Bear and Opossum families five toes on both the hind and front feet are clearly visible on the track print. Raccoon track prints are similar to those of a human baby’s hand. The opossum looks like a spread thumbprint while the bears hid track print appears as a broader and shorter human foot print.
Winders, E., Stegemann, E., Gawalt, J.m & Herec, F. (2001). Winter tracks. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
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