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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Cat Track Fever III: Oddities on the trail of wild cats

My two previous posts have focused on showing you typical tracks in order to teach the basics. However, we saw our share of odd things during the week-long workshop on mountain lion tracking. Below is a sampling of some of the more interesting things we found:
Bobcat tracks with nails distended
(Montana, 2/11)
1. Bobcat nails. On the last day, we found some relatively fresh bobcat tracks and followed them for about a hundred yards. Along the trail, there was a rise. The bobcat stopped and sat near the top, just where the view would be the best. The 'cat resumed his travels and as it went down the steep icy slope, it distended its toes and extended its nails thus leaving some very odd looking tracks. In my last post, I showed how a cat's toes point forward in the track while a dog's toes point in a sprawling pattern. This bobcat is purposefully sprawling its toes in order to gain better traction.

Having nails show in a track is also more typical of a dog than a cat. But check out the marks that the nails left. They are thin slices rather than the more blunt marks made by a dog's nails. I can remember thinking at the time that they looked like slices from Samurai swords. I am not sure why I came up with that particular imagery, since I have never seen a Samurai sword in action.

Bobcat imperfect step (Montana, 2/11)
2. Bobcat imperfect step. While walking, it is typical for a cat to place its hind foot perfectly into the track left by the front foot. This is called "direct registering". However, not every single step lands perfectly. Here is an example of an imperfect step that makes the cat look like it had five toes.

If you look carefully at this track, you can see the mis-shaped foot pad. The toe that is all the way to the right is actually from the front foot. The rear foot came down a little off center and covered all of the rest of the front track. But that is nothing compared to the next photo.

Bobcat imperfect step showing heel print
(Montana, 2/11)
Here, we not only have an imperfect step, but we can see the entire heel pad of the hind foot. This is the part of the foot that normally does not touch the ground while the cat walks. However, the snow was deep and with the slight changes in topography, there were a few places where the whole foot left an imprint. This one is particularly odd because it combines the heel print with the imperfect step so it leaves a human-like five-toed print. One final thought: These are good examples of how a single track can be deceiving! Look at trails whenever possible...

Tail slap from mountain lion
(Montana, 2/11)
3. Mountain lion marks. Before I took this mountain lion tracking workshop, I had the impression that I would be seeing tail drag marks as a normal part of a cougar's trail. However, that was not the case. We tracked numerous lions over several different days for miles in deep snow and in all that time I only found a single mark in the snow that I could identify as from a lion's tail. I would call this a tail slap rather than a drag mark. There is a lot going on in this photo. I have to admit to not being able to decipher all of the action...

The lion is moving towards the bottom of the photo. Note the foot drags, bit tail drags in the trail. Also, see that the lion left an impression of its body in the snow, almost as if it crouched. Combine the body print with the tail slap and I had the impression (no pun intended) that the cat was startled or otherwise reacted quickly to something. Did he (track size indicated male) hear or see something of interest? After this brief oddity, the trail resumed its "normal" pattern.

1 comment:

  1. Another good post. Pics about animal sign/tracks are always useful! The more examples the better....


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