And there’s plenty to be found, not only at Russell Sage WMA I’m sure, but that’s where we were today doing field work for our Mammals of Louisiana workshop, led by Dr. Kim Tolson of the ULM biology program.

IMGP7916 72-15Who knew so much animal poop is around! We saw raccoon, otter, beaver and coyote for sure.

Then there’s the photo to the right. Doesn’t look like any of the above to me. Too glossy black and seed/berry free to be raccoon? Muskrat, maybe? Nutria? We were on a primitive “road” between flooded woods on one side and a flooded field on the other.

And where there’s mud and mammals, there are tracks. No short supply of either in Louisiana!

So we saw lots and lots of white-tail deer tracks; no surprise there. Raccoon tracks were probably the second most plentiful. Most exciting? Bobcat tracks! How do we know? First note the absence of claw marks at the ends of the toe pads. Then there’s the distinctive 3-lobed shape of the anterior edge of the foot pad.

IMGP7882 72-15

In the photo above, one track is partially superimposed on another, so you see distinctly the four toe pads on the track in front–minus claws, of course, because cats walk with their claws retracted.

The two center toes of the back track land right in the foot pad of the front track, but… if you look at the anterior edge of the back track, you can clearly see the 3-lobed pattern. I’ve outlined it below to make sure everyone sees it.

IMGP7882 outlined 72-15

BTW, was this bobcat running? Look how deep the toe tracks are, and might that account for why the back track partially overlaps the front track? If you have a thought, comment below!

So… we also saw beaver and otter slides, deer trails and deer rubs, an armadillo den, and more. Charles Paxton started our very own LMN-NE Natural History collection by picking up bones: a striped skunk skull, a raccoon skull and more. I picked up a bowfin skull left behind by a well-fed otter. It will have to spend some time in a fire ant nest before it can be brought indoors.

Finally, I should mention all of these signs came at the end of a highly informative morning in a classroom poring over specimen trays and learning about mammal dentition. We even took a quiz! Thankfully, we were not required to actually calculate our score.

IMGP7927 72-15
Harbinger of spring. Yes, the violets were blooming!

Photos by Bette J. Kauffman.

One thought on “In Search of Sign

  1. That’s a great shot of the Bobcat paw prints and good detective work about its activity. What an amazing day! We learned a great deal in class then in that very wildlife rich area! Our eyes are opened to the signs now. Yesterday we saw a lot of mammal signs in Black Bayou Lake NWR near the research ponds.

    Liked by 1 person

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