Nature is a great teacher, an endless source of learning for those willing to pay attention and observe their surroundings. Footprints in the snow reveal a winter world alive with action, and by studying them we can determine not only the types of animals inhabiting this Rocky Mountain forest, but also the details of their daily lives.
Here's a little quiz, using the natural world as our outdoor classroom. Scenes A through H represent the comings and goings of various forest dwellers. Can you match the tracks with the animal who made them? The eight animals: Coyote, Mouse, Elk, Weasel, Human, Squirrel, Snowshoe Hare, Mule Deer.
|A. The swish of a large tail between paw prints yields a clue|
as to this animal's identity.
|B. This long, straight trail is made by a heavier animal which|
makes more of an imprint on the snow.
|C. Known as a "perfect stepper" this animal carefully|
places its hind paws in the tracks made by its forepaws.
|D. Anything but a perfect stepper, this animal doesn't use|
stealth to attack its prey but rather uses frantic, quick,
|E. Another track made by a large and heavy animal.|
You can see how this animal lumbers through the snow,
dragging its hind legs along behind
the front ones.
|G. This animal's large hind feet make a deep impression in the|
snow when it hops from place to place. The hind feet land first, followed
by the front paws.
|H. This animal is mostly a visitor to the forest, often|
for recreational purposes. During winter this creature
often attaches aids to its feet which make it easier
to walk and glide through the snow.
Key to the quiz:
B. Mule Deer
G. Snowshoe Hare
H. Human (Cross-country skis and poles made these tracks.)
How did you do on the exam? If you're lucky enough to have snow on the ground this weekend, take a winter hike and practice your observational skills to determine which animals share the outdoor classroom where you live.