With last week’s fresh snowfall, now is a great time to strap on your snowshoes and head out into the Arboretum to look for tracks. Track identification can show us a lot about the behavior and movement of an animal, as well as its favorite haunts. Tracks also allow us to get a glimpse of animals we may not regularly see in the flesh, such as coyotes.
Coyote tracks are generally oval in shape, about two to two and a half inches wide, and exhibit four toe pads with claw marks. The middle foot pad is approximately triangular in shape and the hind foot tends to be somewhat smaller than the front one. On the Arb trails, it is easy to conflate coyote tracks with domestic dog tracks. Dog tracks tend to be rounder and less symmetrical than those of coyotes. The claw marks are also generally less sharp and deep in the print of a domestic dog. If you cannot identify the species by the tracks, it is helpful to search the area for scat, especially along the trail edge and at trail junctions. Coyote scat is thin and tapered and can vary greatly in consistency due to the species’s omnivorous diet. It may contain berries, fur, feathers, small bones, or insect casings. The scat of domestic dogs, by contrast, is generally more uniform, showing signs of a more regulated diet.
Winter is an excellent time to find traces of coyotes in the Arb, when tracks are easily visible and scat stands out against the snow. Look for a straight line of tracks, indicating a coyote trotting swiftly through the recesses of Carleton’s swath of nature.
-Maddie Reynolds ’14 for the Cole Student Naturalists