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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Eastern cottontail tracks and trails...

The deep snow continues here and our cottontails have been leaving some interesting tracks marking their efforts to negotiate the fluff. Typical rabbit tracks are portrayed in a bounding pattern (meaning that the two hind tracks land simultaneously) with the front feet landing behind the rears and at an angle. In the photo at right, you can see the four feet of the Eastern cottontail in the typical bounding pattern I just described. In this case, the rabbit is moving towards the top of the photograph. This guy had his (or her) toes somewhat splayed to deal with the snow as evidenced by the individual toes that are visible despite some blown-in snow.
But rabbit tracks don't always look like this. If the critter is traveling slower or in deeper snow it will have to adjust its gait Below are some examples:

At left is a rabbit negotiating some very deep snow. To compensate, it is moving very slowly (making the tracks not only close to one another but landing in an atypical pattern) and it has all of its toes splayed out (to provide traction and a wider surface to distrubute its weight). I mean, look at how pronounced each toe is. Often, rabbit tracks appear to be just oblong shapes. It would be easy to mistake these tracks for showshoe hare. Next, have a look at the specific placement of the front feet in relation to the rears. This is a rabbit making very slow and deliberate progress. Note the lightly placed pair of front tracks -- almost a tentative testing of the snow depth before this animal rocked his weight back before bounding forward.  Let's take a closer look at the front feet of a rabbit:
 Here is a rabbit moving towards the top of the photo. I want to specifically look at the shape and arrangement of toes. There are actually five toes on the front foot of our Eastern cottontail although one of the toes often doesn't register. The four strong toes form a "J". The hook of the J points tot he fifth toe. Can you make it out or even just the nail of the fifth toe?

 Here is a closer look at the right front foot:
I THINK I see the fifth toe, or rather the nail print at least. At the bottom left corner of the track is a tiny dot.

One final photo shows two front feet but one is very very faint. The photo doesn't do this scene justice. But my point remains: Following a track can provide a lot of variation in both the pattern of footfalls, the detail in any single print and the shape of the track itself.


  1. Great posting. I will NEVER forget the "J" ever again, especially after looking at that obtuse casting Sasha handed me the other day!

  2. You and Sash need to teach a class strictly on tracks, trails, and toes. That's what it should be called too :)


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