“WIIW” Gone Wild!
2/20/2014 9:32 AM
[Editor’s Note:Since the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission started its Facebook page in January 2012, our “What Is It Wednesday?” feature has been a popular weekly feature — sometimes even generating more Likes, Shares and Comments than all other combined FB posts during the same week. Eventually, we knew that we’d come across a WIIW post for which no definitive answer could be provided — even by Wildlife Commission staff. That day is upon us. Read on for the back story of the bear/rabbit/sabre tooth tiger/Yeti track in the snow, and a summary of an informal conversation among four WRC Wildlife Biologists as they hypothesized what the enlarged/distorted track in melting snow might be.]
Message and Photo Sent to WRC FB Page
“I live in the Davidson County part of Clemmons, NC (on the Yadkin River). I found this and 3 other tracks this morning in my driveway. This was the clearest of the tracks due to melting snow and can only assume they came from the road due to no other leading tracks to these and the road had already been cleared of snow. The track measures approx 7.25"W (from toe to toe) and 8.25" in length (from toe to rear of heel). Note, only 4 toes and no apparent claws (unless snow had already melted around them). My boot is a size 10.5 - to give it a size reference. Since bears have 5 toes and the fact that they are hibernating right now. I know a track in snow can appear larger than it actually is and other aspects can distort the track somewhat, but would anyone have an idea of what could leave this? Thanks! — Will Harper”
Wildlife Biologists Informally Offer Thoughts/Ideas
So,we went to the Wildlife Management Division offices with Will Harper’s e-mail and photo printed, and luckily came across four biologists who could spare us a few minutes to examine the photo. Initially, they were all reluctant to hypothesize what made the impression in the snow.
“Too much snow melt.” “Need to see the other tracks associated with this one.” “Need to measure the depth of the track in the snow.” “Too much snow melt distorts the track.” “Need fresh track in new snow, not track made by breaking through ice before settling in snow.” “Need to measure distances between tracks.” “Need to ID front paw from rear paw.” “Too much snow melt distorts the track.” — you get the idea. …
But we promised we’d summarize their comments by noting that snow melt distorts and enlarges the track. (Have we done that yet?)
And here we go:
Black Bear track: Did you know that black bears often walk such that their rear paws step into the same place where their front paws went? This would be particularly true for snow where there was ice crusted over the top of the snow — much easier to walk in snow/ice mix when you re-use existing tracks in snow/ice. A rear bear paw track made on top of a front bear paw track would distort/enlarge the track. The melting snow would exacerbate the distortion.
Rabbit imprint: If the so-called “track” cannot be examined and measured as an entire set of tracks, and if we are forced to examine a single imprint, then it is possible that this is not a track in a series of tracks made by some large animal’s paws. Rather, it is possible that a rabbit sitting in the snow may have made this single impression in the snow. (Two middle indentations in snow would be rabbit’s front paws; two indentations in snow on either side of the middle indentations would be rabbit’s rear paws/legs; large indentation in the rear would be, well, it would be the rabbit’s rear.) Snow melt makes it hard to tell.
Prank: Maybe the boot seen in the pic is the left foot of a photographer, whose right foot is wearing one of those “bear paw” bedroom slippers out the camera’s view. Or maybe a neighbor/friend of the photographer made the tracks to mess with a friend. Snow melt makes it hard to tell.
There were some other comments/thoughts, but we weren’t sure how seriously they were offered (Sasquatch, sabre-tooth tiger, etc.), and so we’re not going down those bunny trails. No pun intended.
Bottom Line: Snow melt always distorts and enlarges tracks. Even with fresh tracks, closer examination is needed, and the examination needs to involve inspection of the entire set of tracks. Oh, yeah, did we mention the“snow melt” thing yet? We need to do that before we finish this blog. Snow melt.