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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rabbit or Squirrel- Part II - Answers?


Was that fun? It was really hard to see much difference between those tracks at all, wasn't it? I'm not sure that I would have gotten them right with just those pictures. I wasn't trying to be mean... my point is that without more information this can be a tricky identification. And even after we talk about "typical" tracks, everyone knows that there are always exceptions to typical things.

First I'll just repost the pictures in the same order, with the answers.

tracks1. Squirrel

tracks2. Rabbit

tracks3. Rabbit

tracks4.Squirrel

Surprised? First lets talk about the other clues (that I didn't give you 'cause I'm a meanie), that can help you decide.

rabbit tracksHere are a couple of more typical rabbit tracks. The large prints are side by side, and the two smaller prints are staggered out behind. By the way, in this picture the rabbit is traveling from bottom to top. The large prints are the hind feet and the small prints the front feet. When the rabbit jumps its hind feet land in front of its front feet.

If you are looking at a line of tracks and most of them are staggered like the top grouping, think rabbit. Size is also a factor. For this eastern cottontail there might be as much 8" to two feet between those groups. Rabbits tracks will lead to underbrush, and you may see small branches nipped off at a sharp angle. And their scat is small oval pellets.

squirrel tracksHere is a line of squirrel tracks. Like the rabbit, it lands with its back feet in front of its front feet, so it is traveling "up" the strip. Not only are the large prints side by side, but so are most of the small prints.

For a gray or fox squirrel it's impossible to tell their tracks apart, and there could be 5-40" between the groupings. Cottontail rabbits don't do leaps on that scale! Squirrel tracks may lead into underbrush, but very often will end right at a tree. That's a complete giveaway because rabbits don't climb trees. You will seldom see squirrel scat. Rabbits seem to poop anywhere, but squirrels don't. However, if you do see any it will be pointed at both ends, about 1/2 inch long. Not at all like rabbit.

Now lets go back to the pictures from the game. If there is enough definition to the prints to see the toes, that will give you an extra clue. First look at pictures 2 & 3. How many toes can you count on the hind (bigger) foot? Did you get four? Yup... Now look at pictures 1 & 4. How many toes on the hind foot? I know these squirrel prints aren't quite as well defined, but perhaps you were able to see that there are five toes.

So, to be an expert squirrel and rabbit (or any animal) tracker, you need to take in the whole picture, and also look for little details. I am no expert... I'm enjoying expanding my knowledge as I share with you. And I have to confess, now, that I did not previously know about the 4 and 5 toes. I have always just looked at the patterns of their gaits. But last night as I was making the quiz I realized that one grouping of tracks by itself can really be a puzzle, so I looked more closely, and also studied my reference books.

Hope this was fun.


See Squirrel or Rabbit - Part I - Take a Guess


12 comments:

John | Daily Photo Gallery said...

I managed to get all 4 wrong! :-) Next time I'll know what to look for.

RNSANE said...

Good thing no one relies on me for knowledge of the great outdoors!

rainfield61 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rainfield61 said...

You are a good observer.

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

wow - that's really cool. thanks for the info!

Tina L said...

I've always fancied myself as somewhat of an outdoors chick but managed to miss these. :)

Ann said...

I can't recall what all my answers were but I know I didn't do so well.

VS said...

wow, if you look in a glance, those 2 footprints seem so alike.
The rabbit has a deeper prints than the squirrel, I learn my lesson!

Dave DeWall said...

That is really cool. I had no idea how to tell those two animal tracks apart until I read your post, and I've spent most of my life in the Midwest outdoors.

But now I'm in the Philippines on the edge of a jungle, no squirrels or rabbits, just lizards and pythons!

spinninglovelydays said...

They look so alike to me. If I had seen those in person, I would have probably guessed "cat", lol.

Ratty said...

You say you're not an expert, but I say you're pretty good. This is the best kind of nature post. We learn while we are entertained.

Sharkbytes said...

Hi John- Well, you got alike and different. That should be worth something.

Carmen- OK, but I know you could be if you wanted to, 'cause forensics requires lots of attention to detail.

Hi rainfield- So are you! You just don't have snow to do it in.

Hi DDF- there were Maggie tracks right beside the squirrel that I cut out of the picture. She enjoyed that day of freedom, for sure.

Frogdoc- I bet you knew rabbit when you saw it, just not how similar it is to squirrel.

Ann- Hey there's no grade being recorded... no biggie.

VS- Well, you can't rely on depth of the print. They were taken different days, in different softness of snow.

Hi Dave- maybe you can hunt us up a python track! ;-)

Ivy- Kitty cat makes little round prints in a walking pattern, not hopping.

Ratty- I thank you so much! But, honestly, I'm really not much good on anything but the easy stuff. Just don't know it yet. I might tackle mouse vs vole tracks next.

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