March 23 – Nature at Home Project of the Week: Wildlife Tracks Detective


These are uncertain times – but one thing is always true: we need a connection to the natural world. In response to Covid-19, we are cancelling or postponing all in-person events. We look forward to spending time outside in nature with you later this year. But for right now: if you’re looking for some small projects to do while we Stay-at-Home, we’ve got you covered! Each week, we’ll post a new “Nature at Home”Nature at Home project for nature lovers of all ages. Check the “Events” page for new projects.

Look for Animal Tracks – and a Fun “Quiz” (for all of you Mammal Track Detectives!)

Spring can be an excellent time to find animal tracks! There is plenty of mud, and animals are on the move. This activity asks you to put on your detective hat. Can you figure out who made the tracks?

After you do this activity, pop outside and look for animal tracks in the mud or along a creek. Even in your backyard, you might find some tracks. If you go to a park or nature preserve to look for tracks, remember to keep 6 feet between you and other families.

A little about Wildlife Tracks

This activities is from our friends at Nature Watch. Thanks, Nature Watch!

Since the time of pre-historic humans, people have depended upon finding and following animal tracks. It aided them in finding game animals as a food source and in avoiding dangerous species. In harsh climates, the ability to track was literally a matter of life and death where an unsuccessful hunt would mean starvation.

Even as agricultural societies developed, tracking skills were still needed to keep animals from raiding crops and killing livestock. While most people do not depend on these skills today, tracks still hold the key to discovering the hidden mysteries of animal behavior and habits.

Animal Tracks can tell us: • WHAT kind of animal • WHERE the animal was going • HOW FAST the animal was traveling • WHEN the animal made the tracks

Following an animal’s tracks can also tell us: what the animal was eating, where its den or resting areas were, and sometimes even whether the animal was a male or female.

A Project for You!

The folks at Nature Watch put together a super guide to tracks of North American mammals. They made it free for you, since Covid-19 means that we are all sticking close to home.

But! The guide has a key to the tracks in the bottom left corner. We challenge you NOT to look at the key. Cover it up with a post-it note, and try to answer these questions.

You can download and print off the track guide for free when you click here…but don’t look at the key in the bottom left corner!

Here’s your Animal Tracks Quiz…good luck, detectives!

1) Which track has the longest claws? 2) Which track is the largest? 3) One animal has webbing between its toes, can you find it? 4) What purpose does the webbing between a Beaver’s toes serve? 5) Which track is the MOST different from the others? 6) Can you name other animals that have hooves? 7) Which tracks look most like a human hand? 8) What advantages are there to having long toes or an opposing thumb? 9) The Opossum has a unique tail, what can it do? 10) Compare track # 9 to track #13. What is the main difference between them? 11) Track #9 has 2 species that are closely related to it. Can you find them? 12) Track #13 has 1 species closely related to it. Can you find it? 13) Track #6 has very long, sharp claws for digging up insects. It also has a chemical weapon. Can you guess what animal this is? 14) Tracks #10, #11 and #14 show 3 small animals with very different diets. One eats mostly grass, another eats lot of nuts, and the last is a predator that kills small animals like mice for food. What small animal runs fast and eats grass? What animal eats nuts? What small animal is a predator? 15) Track #1 has strong toes and claws for digging because they live in dens underground. You often see them eating grass beside the road and even standing up for a clear view around. Can you guess what animal this is? (If you need a hint: On February 2nd of every year Punxsutawney Phil comes out of his den to see his shadow?

You can download this Instructor Guide to learn more about tracks, and find the answers to all 15 questions.

Heading outside to track some mammals?

That’s super! One final word from the good folks at Nature Watch:

You can see how important feet are to animals and how they are each perfectly adapted to their environment. Looking for tracks when you are outside is not just educational, it’s also fun! If you can’t identify a particular track while you are out on the trail, take a picture so you can compare it to others in books or online when you get home.

Tracking is one the MOST challenging skills to learn and master so don’t get discouraged if you can’t figure out what animal made a track. You will begin to see and understand more every time you put in more “dirt time.” The language of nature is written in animal tracks; learning to track is learning how to read the very book of nature itself! Have fun!