This was the animal track!

by Matthew Cobb

Earlier today we reproduced a tw**t by Lisa Buckley (@Lisavipes), which showed a picture of a track she found in British Columbia. We asked you to work out what animal made it.

Many people (like me initially) thought it might be an otter, but the size of the thing – it’s 10 centimetres (= 4″) across – excludes that, as does the simpler fact that otters have five toes… The presence claws show it isn’t a cat, the lack of central pads (and the shape) show it isn’t a bear, and the number of toes (plus the size) show it isn’t a racoon.

So the only answer left is…

Lisa went on to describe a number of times she’d actually encountered wolves, rather than their tracks, doing fieldwork (check out her timeline). She also tw**ted this handy cut-out-and-keep guide to canid footprints, showing why it was deffo a wolf!

Next week Lisa will be curating the @biotweeps account (this rotates between biologists) where, I believe, she’ll be posing some more #NameThatTrack quizzes.


  1. Kevin
    Posted February 8, 2017 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    OK, so it was a wolf-raccoon. I stand corrected. 😊

  2. Posted February 8, 2017 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    Naturalist and expert tracker Susan Morse, founder of Keeping Track, in Vermont, leads workshops to teach sign recognition in the wild to all comers. As Sue likes to say, “X marks the Spot,” as a way to help novices remember that a print with an X through the middle is a Canid (dog or “Spot”) print.

    • Posted February 8, 2017 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

      An X through the middle means a dog? And I was sure I was human… 🙂

  3. rickflick
    Posted February 8, 2017 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    I see lots of coyote tracks and some seem to be on the big side. I’ve assumed they are interbreeding with dogs. The big difference I see between my own dogs tracks (50lb) and coyotes is the coyotes walk in a very straight and narrow path. They seem to know where they are going and don’t waste energy deviating one way or another. Maggie, on the other hand likes to sweep back and forth with nose on the ground.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 8, 2017 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

      Depending on where you live, a lot of ’em are interbreeding with wolves! Or at least have somewhere in their past. IIANM, Eastern coyotes have a higher percentage of wolf DNA than dog.

      • rickflick
        Posted February 8, 2017 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

        I’ve read the wolf interbreeding is mainly in Canada and the north and not so much where I am in southern New York. But, you have to assume the genes drift over a wide swath. Last summer a large one crossed our yard and did look tall and lanky more like a wolf with grey mottled coloring. Makes you wonder.

        • Posted February 9, 2017 at 7:21 am | Permalink

          The inbreeding has largely already occurred.

          “Coyotes in the Northeast are mostly (60%-84%) coyote, with lesser amounts of wolf (8%-25%) and dog (8%-11%). Start moving south or east and this mixture slowly changes. Virginia animals average more dog than wolf (85%:2%:13% coyote:wolf:dog) while coyotes from the Deep South had just a dash of wolf and dog genes mixed in (91%:4%:5% coyote:wolf:dog). Tests show that there are no animals that are just coyote and wolf (that is, a coywolf), and some eastern coyotes that have almost no wolf at all.”

  4. Posted February 8, 2017 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    Coyotes, in contrast to dogs, tend to be what trackers call “perfect walkers,” meaning that they usually place their hind feet in the prints made by their fore feet.

    Eastern coyotes are actually wolf hybrids with some dog mixed in–on average about one quarter wolf and one tenth dog.

    • darrelle
      Posted February 9, 2017 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      Cats do that too!

  5. Dominic
    Posted February 9, 2017 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    So I was correct in saying a front foot… 🙂 (smug git!)

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