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Adventist Youth Honors Answer Book/Nature/Animal Tracking
| North American Division
|| Skill Level 1
Year of Introduction: 1976
- 1 1. Know ten kinds of tracks, including two kinds of bird tracks. Make plaster casts of five.
- 1.1 Basic Casting Techniques
- 1.2 Casting Tracks in Snow
- 1.3 Identification
- 1.4 Mammals
- 1.5 Reptiles and Amphibians
- 1.6 Birds
- 2 2. Name at least three things that tracks tell us.
- 3 3. Trail some animal tracks, identify the animal if possible, and tell whether it was running or walking. Measure between the tracks of one animal when running and walking.
- 4 4. Maintain a tracking station for at least three days by doing the following:
- 4.1 a. Select a flat open space in some quiet place near your camp or home.
- 4.2 b. Smooth out ground, mud, sand, etc.
- 4.3 c. Do not place food for animals at the tracking station. Learn why feeding wild animals is illegal in many jurisdictions.
- 4.4 d. Check each day for tracks and identify what animal made it. Cast, sketch or photograph at least one of the tracks.
- 5 5. Name two animals for each tracking group.
- 6 6. Name four signs of the presence of mammals.
- 7 7. Distinguish between rabbit and squirrel tracks, and between dog and cat family tracks.
- 8 8. Name two groups of animals (mammals, birds, insects, etc.) that leave tracks or scent trails that another of their kind can follow.
- 9 9. Name two birds for each of the following type of tracks:
- 10 10. Besides tracks, give two other signs of the presence of birds.
- 11 11. Name two birds identified by their flying patterns.
- 12 12. In your area, observe tracks or trail of one or more of the following:
- 13 References
|The requirements below are for the North American Division . This honor has different requirements for the General Conference .|
|Investiture Achievement requirements for COMPANION Nature Study which require "Make plaster casts of three different animal tracks". This Honor is a popular choice for the Level 1 Nature Honor required of TRAIL COMPANIONS.|
1. Know ten kinds of tracks, including two kinds of bird tracks. Make plaster casts of five.
Basic Casting Techniques
To do this, you will need to bring dry plaster of Paris, water, a mixing container, a mixing stick (a paint stirrer will do nicely), and something to make rings out of. Plaster of Paris can be bought either dry, or ready-mixed. It is probably better to get the dry type so that you can mix it on site. It will need to be soupy to make a detailed cast. When you find a suitable track, place a ring around it. The ring can be made from almost anything - a large tin can with the bottom cut out, a paper cup with the bottom removed, a strip of poster board 4 cm wide and taped together at the ends to form a circle, etc. You can also cut one from a water bottle (for small tracks), a two-liter soda bottle, or a milk jug (the ring does not have to be round). Make sure the ring is larger than the track, and note that some tracks are 15 cm long or more. What a pity it would be to find a huge bear or moose track and not have a large enough ring to cast it! You can also make the cast without a ring, but it is much better if you use one. Once the ring is in place, mix just enough plaster and water to fill the ring up to 2.5 cm deep. It sets quickly, so you will not want to mix up too much at a time. Mix water with the dry plaster and stir it until it is smooth. It should be about the same consistency as pancake batter or apple sauce. Pour it into the ring. Once this is done, you can set out in search of more tracks, or you can wait until the plaster sets. If you set out for more, be sure to come back to collect your cast.
One good way to complete this requirement is by heading to a river right after flooding has receded. There will likely be plenty of easily identifiable kinds of tracks, and the smooth mud makes for excellent casting.
Here is a more detailed guide with illustrations.
Casting Tracks in Snow
Snow is difficult to cast because it is not nearly as firm as mud. Furthermore, plaster generates heat when it is mixed, and this can easily melt the snow surrounding the track. However, tracks are a lot easier to find in the snow, and casting can be done if you are careful.
If the snow is powdery, spray water on it with a plant mister. Don't overdo it though. Allow the water to freeze, making a much harder surface than the untreated, powdery snow. Then place the ring around the track. To counteract the heat generated by the plaster, store the powdered plaster outside so that it can be cold when you mix it. Use cold water when mixing it, and make it even colder by tossing in a few fists full of snow. Stir the snow around until the water is really cold, but if it does not all melt, scoop it out. Leaving snow in the plaster will cause air bubbles in the final cast. Once the plaster is mixed, carefully pour it in the ring, but do not pour it directly in the track. Pour it next to the track and let it flow gently into the track itself. The spot where the plaster is poured will very likely leave an impression in the snow, and you do not want that to overlap the track. The mix may take well over an hour to cure, so you might want to leave it for a day. With any luck, you should have a nice cast of your track, though it is not likely to be a nice as the ones you can cast in mud.
If you find these results unsatisfactory, you can purchase a product called Snow Print Wax. This product is marketed to the law enforcement community for forensic track casting (of human foot prints and tire tracks). It is far more expensive than plaster, but is nearly certain to yield superior results. You can also try using joint compound. Joint compound is similar to plaster with two exceptions: it does not generate heat when setting, and it is not nearly as durable once it sets. If you use joint compound, you may wish to pour plaster over the finished cast to get a positive cast. The positive cast made from plaster will be far more durable than the negative original made from joint compound.
Figuring out what kind of animal left the tracks you have found can be difficult for the beginner. Besides just knowing what its tracks look like, it helps to know something of the animal's habits, where it lives, what time of day (or year) it is active, etc.
This track guide is an invaluable resource for identifying tracks. If you find some tracks that have you stumped, take several detailed photographs of them, and post them to an online forum. The Bear-Tracker site (see references section) has an excellent and active forum. When taking pictures, it helps to disable flash, as that tends to fill in and eliminate the shadows - the resulting photo may end up looking like a featureless patch of dirt). Many cameras will automatically lengthen the exposure time to compensate for the lack of flash, and that means you will have to hold the camera impossibly still. A tripod really helps in this situation.
We now present information on several animals found in North America, including their habits, tracks, and other sign they may leave for the observant tracker to find.
Rabbits and Hares
Lynx and Bobcats
Squirrels and Chipmunks
Weasels, minks, fishers, and otters
Reptiles and Amphibians
Crows and Ravens
Pigeons and Doves
2. Name at least three things that tracks tell us.
Animal tracks can tell us many things about the animal that made them, including:
- The species
- Its direction of travel
- How fast it was going
- How large it was
- How long ago the animal made the tracks.
- Sometimes tracks can tell the gender of the animal
- Sometimes tracks can tell us the animal's age.
3. Trail some animal tracks, identify the animal if possible, and tell whether it was running or walking. Measure between the tracks of one animal when running and walking.
Trailing and Identifying
This is a perfect activity for an afternoon hike during a campout. Bring a tape measure so that you can measure the tracks. Bring some powdered plaster of Paris, and a mixing bowl so that you can make casts. You can also bring water, though it is better to keep that for drinking rather than mixing with plaster. You can probably find some water along the way, but just to make sure, you should bring some water for the plaster. You can refill a bottle for plaster making without treating it as long as you make it obvious that it is not fit for drinking (mud is a good indicator).
Instruct your Pathfinders that they are to look for animal tracks along the way. When they find some (or when you do), try to figure out the species by comparing the track to those in a field guide or those depicted in the answers to requirement one. See if you can find more tracks nearby. Which way was the animal moving? How far can you track it?
Walking vs Running
If the tracks are far apart relative to the size of the animal, it was most likely running. Another indicator of running is that the tracks are deeper than those made by a walking creature (running makes the feet strike the ground with greater force).
There is nothing in this requirement to suggest that the tracks of one animal made while running and walking has to be a wild animal, or even that you have to find a set of tracks like these pre-made. If you or a person in your group, or a person you know has a dog, take it to a sandy area and have it walk and run. Then get a tape measure and determine the distance between the tracks.
You can also do this in a parking lot, but in order for the dog to leave tracks, you will need to dip its feet in tempera paint (which is non-toxic and water soluble). It is best to pour some paint in a paper plate. Use two colors - one for the front feet, and one for the back. This will make it a lot easier to tell the front prints from the hind. Lift the dog, and have a helper wet the dog's pads. Then put the dog down and walk it (use a leash). Re-apply the paint, and then allow the dog to run. You should now have two sets of prints from a single animal. Get out a tape measure, and take the measurements.
The standard way to do this is to measure the distance between tracks made by the same foot. The distance between the left rear and the right front is almost meaningless.
4. Maintain a tracking station for at least three days by doing the following:
a. Select a flat open space in some quiet place near your camp or home.
Do not select a space too close to your campsite, because you do not want to attract them into your camp. Animals need water, so a really good place to select is around a source of fresh water. River banks, stream banks, near ponds, and the shores of lakes are all good places to find animal tracks. Pigeons often congregate under bridges or parking garages, so that is another good option. However, the place you select must be quiet. Avoid places that are frequented by people.
b. Smooth out ground, mud, sand, etc.
There may already be some tracks in the area, but you are interested in fresh tracks. Smoothing the ground erases them and allows for fresh prints. A mason's trowel works very well for this in mud. You can also use a trowel on sand, but be careful not to pack it down. The smoother you can make the surface, the finer tracks you will be able to see.
For dirt, it helps if you can sift it onto a flat surface and then lightly wet it. If your garden hose has a "mist" setting, use that after sifting the dirt onto a flat surface.
c. Do not place food for animals at the tracking station. Learn why feeding wild animals is illegal in many jurisdictions.
Some animals can become dangerous if they become habituated to acquiring food from human sources. This is especially true of bears. When this happens, it is often futile to attempt to relocate the animal, as they are very clever and can (and do!) find their way back to their home range. The only way to keep the public safe under these conditions is to destroy the animal. A common saying among wildlife control officers is "a fed bear is a dead bear."
Furthermore, relocating the animal puts it in a new environment where it does not know where to find the resources it needs to survive, so it may suffer greatly while it adapts, or it may fail to adapt and starve to death.
Many animals are also territorial, so relocating an animal may put it in conflict with members of its own species. They will attempt to drive the newcomer off, or may even kill it.
d. Check each day for tracks and identify what animal made it. Cast, sketch or photograph at least one of the tracks.
When camping, remember to store your food in a place where the animals cannot get to it. Seal it tightly and place it out of the reach of raccoons and bears (both of which are very clever at getting food). Under no circumstances should you store food in a tent - especially in one that people will be sleeping in. A tent poses no barrier to a hungry skunk.
The morning is the best time to check for tracks. Most forest creatures are nocturnal, so in the morning the tracks will be freshest. Also, human visitors are less likely to trample the tracks before you get a chance to observe and if necessary, cast them.
If you wish to photograph your tracks, it's best to do that in the early morning when the sunlight comes in at an angle. If you wait until the sun is high overhead, the track will not cast a shadow and it will be difficult to see. Turn off your camera's flash or it will completely wash out the shadows and the track will not show up in the photo. If you want to experiment with artificial light, use a flashlight to illuminate the track from the side. Place a coin or a ruler (for scale) next to the track before taking the picture. Take lots of photos (digital cameras are great for this) and hope that at least one of them turns out. It takes a lot of practice!
5. Name two animals for each tracking group.
- a. Flatfoots
- Flatfoots include bears, raccoons, porcupines, and skunks. The scientific term for flatfoot is plantigrade.
- b. Toe walkers
- Toe walkers include dogs, cats, lynxes, wolves, and coyotes. The scientific term for toe walker is digitigrade.
- c. Toenail walkers
- Toenail walkers include deer, antelope, moose, pigs, cattle, and horses. Basically, any hoofed animal is a toenail walker. The scientific term for toenail walker is Unguligrade.
- d. Bounders or long hindleggers
- These include rabbits, squirrels, mice, and rats.
6. Name four signs of the presence of mammals.
Animals leave many indications that they were present. These are collectively called sign. Sign includes:
- Not only footprints, but marks left on the ground by the tail or by other body parts. Beavers, muskrats, mice, and rats all leave tail marks on the ground.
- Scat is another word for animal droppings or manure.
- Fur and antlers
- Animals may leave bits of fur behind if it gets caught in a tree's bark, or in thorns. In the fall deer drop antlers.
- Cuttings are things such as acorn shells which have been nibbled on. Deer and squirrel often leave them behind.
- Scratches on trees
- Bears, members of the cat family, and other predators will sharpen their claws on tree trunks. Sometimes they will do this to mark their territory. Porcupines will eat the bark all the way around the trunk of a conifer, often killing it.
- Damage to trees
- beavers especially, but also other animals will damage trees by breaking branches, chewing twigs, and gnawing bark.
- Scent Posts
- Many animals mark their territory by urinating on trees or other prominent items. If you are walking through the woods and smell a strong musky odor, look around — you may find other sign.
- Once a predator has had its fill of a kill, it will leave the carcass. Some animals will guard their carcasses though so they can feed on them again after they've digested some of the previous meal, so be careful if you find one.
7. Distinguish between rabbit and squirrel tracks, and between dog and cat family tracks.
Rabbit vs Squirrel Tracks
Rabbits leave a distinctive pattern when they bound along. The front feet are thrown between the hind feet, but one of them is almost invariably thrown farther back, and the two forefeet often print one behind the other (though sometimes they print side-by-side). A rabbit's hind feet leave larger oval-shaped prints about the size of a man's thumbprint. Since they use the hind feet rather than their forefeet to leap forward, they will push out some material behind them. It may be difficult to make out individual toes in a rabbit print.
Squirrels are also bounders, and like the rabbit, they throw both forefeet between their hind feet. But unlike the rabbit, the squirrel's forefeet generally print side-by-side. The hind feet should print five toes (four finger-like and one thumb-like) and no claws. The forefeet should print only four toes.
In general, a rabbit's pads are shaped like an oval while a squirrel's pads are shaped like a human hand.
If you're lucky enough to find a large set of tracks in the snow, and they lead to the base of a tree, it is almost certainly a squirrel, as rabbits cannot climb trees. The only way a rabbit could leave such a trail is if it had been abducted by aliens (or by an owl!)
Dog vs Cat Tracks
Unlike dogs, cats can retract their claws, and they do so when walking. Therefore, you should expect to find claw marks present in dog tracks, but absent in cat tracks. In general dogs tracks are larger than cat tracks, but you cannot rely on this alone, as there are some very small dogs and some very large cats.
8. Name two groups of animals (mammals, birds, insects, etc.) that leave tracks or scent trails that another of their kind can follow.
Some species of mammal and some species of insect leave scent trails to communicate with others of their species. Canines, cats, deer, moose, alpaca and llama, and others will mark their territory with urine.
Ants lay down pheromone trails that lead to food sources. If you have ever seen a column of ants scurrying about in single file, you can be sure they are following a scent trail.
9. Name two birds for each of the following type of tracks:
Most perching birds (passerines) hop, though many can both hop and walk (such as ravens, blackbirds, and robins). Jays, sparrows, cardinals, titmice, nuthatches, finches, and many others hop. The tracks of hopping birds often print side-by-side as they tend to keep their feet together as they hop.
Walking birds include crows, most waterfowl and shore birds (sandpipers, egrets, herons, etc.), and most game birds (wild turkeys, geese, ducks, grouse, doves, pigeons, etc.). The tracks of walking birds typically alternate left to right as they lift their feet one at a time.
10. Besides tracks, give two other signs of the presence of birds.
- Birdsongs (if you can hear them, they must be present!)
- Eggs or eggshells
- Pellets: Birds of prey regurgitate the indigestible portions of their meals. Birds have no teeth so they rip their prey apart with their beaks and swallow large chunks at a time. Then they digest the soft portions (such as meat) leaving the hair and bones behind to collect into pellets. They cough up these pellets which can be found by the astute observer.
11. Name two birds identified by their flying patterns.
Canadian geese can be identified from a great distance by their distinctive V formation.
12. In your area, observe tracks or trail of one or more of the following:
a. Toad or frog
Tracks for these animals are described in an earlier requirement. Perhaps the easiest of these three to find are the tracks of the frog. Find a pond where frogs live, and smooth the mud as described in requirement 4. Another technique is to visit a frog pond and watch as they leap into the water at your approach. Look carefully at the spot from which they leap, and you may be able to see the track. If you have any Pathfinders brave enough, have one capture a frog, and then gently transport it to a muddy area where it can leave tracks. Put it in the center of this area and observe the tracks it makes. Recapture the frog and return it to its home when you are finished.
When most people think of mollusks, they think of clams and mussels. For this honor, it is beneficial to remember that snails and slugs are also members of the mollusk family, especially since they leave easily followed trails.
The best time to find snail or slug tracks is in the early morning. Look on the sidewalk near flower beds for the tell-tale slimy trails these creatures leave as they slip along. As these slime trails dry, they turn white and flaky, often curling at the edges.
Find a place where you have seen earthworms in the past, preferably where the dirt is bare (i.e., no grass). Soak the area with water to drive the worms out of the ground. Worms need air, so when it rains (or when a Pathfinder soaks the ground with a hose), they will come to the surface. They might not come out immediately, so you should plan to return a day later to look for tracks in the mud you've made.
Moles are burrowing rodents, and if you have them in your yard, it is not difficult to see where they have been. As they tunnel along, they raise the earth above their tunnels. At the end of the tunnel you may find a hole surrounded by a "mole hill".