Who Done It?


As I eased my canoe along this sandy beach on the Salmon River in Idaho, I noticed this set of tracks in the dry sand.

Photo by Dennis Deck

What is the animal? What stride is it using? For extra credit, what small animal crosses its trail? [ View Answer ]


Moving from right to left this animal left a pattern of left front, left hind, right front, right hind. The stride is not terribly long but the hind foot oversteps the front foot suggesting an amble (a fast walk). The individual tracks are indistinct but do show four toes.

My first reaction was cat family since they often will use an amble and no claws were apparent. The tracks seemed a little wide compared to the length. Trying to judge the track size from the depressions in the sand, I realized that this was too small for a cougar. Bobcat was a possibility but more evidence was clearly needed.

Following the trail for some distance down the beach, I finally encountered a stretch of wet sand where the print showed clearly enough to verify the species.

Clearly this is a canine track, specifically coyote. Four toes with claws showing. Oval shape. Single lobe on the interdigital pad. Now look back at the first photo and note that the claws disturbed the sand ahead of each track.

This fellow walked along the river bank for some distance, but in no particular hurry. The dry sand immediately filled in the track and distorting the shape (making them appear wider than long rather than longer than wide).

You get extra credit for noticing the note the toad tracks leading up the bank in the upper left hand corner of the photo. The diagonal stride suggests toad rather than frog.
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