Answer to Snow Tracks in Croatia Blog


Tracks in the snow, but what caused it and why? 

In our previous blog we took a closer look at the above animal sign and invited you to share your thoughts on what you think had happened here and what had caused it, read on to find out the answer and if you are the winner of our tracking competition!

Looking at the above image we can see some care has been taken to scrape the snow away from the ground under a tree, so we might ask ourselves why that animal went to all that effort and why under the tree? We could ask ourselves, what would we do to make the ground more comfortable, and what could the tree offer?

Image 2

Let us turn our attention to the footprint. We can see two parallel impressions that look like = signs in image 2. These are prints left by an animal that walks on its toes or cleaves. This foot structure is known as unguligrade. This is already helping us to narrow down the animal. Examples of this group of animals are goats, sheep, deer, boar, antelope etc…. Each has its own characteristic print specific to that animal. With this print we can see they are evenly imprinted and the cleaves have convex outer walls that have left a distinctive heart shape print. From this and to some extent the size we can deduce this is a deer print and with the heart shape impression we can say it is specific to roe deer. Well done to those that got roe!

Image 1

Let us now turn our attention to the series of events this roe went through. We can see a lot of care has been taken to scrape to the ground in image 1, this strengthens our identification of the print as this is typical behaviour of roe deer, unlike other deer.

Image 2

We can notice the foot prints had a distinct anticlockwise direction at the top of image 3. We can tell this because the back of the deer foot is wider than the front. Drawing a line through the middle and parallel to the longest edge of the cleaves and a chevron at the narrowest end gives us our direction of travel, so the roe is moving in an anticlockwise direction around the scrapped ground. This is clear in image 3 below.

Image 3

Image 4

The reason we can no longer see the footprints in a complete circle (image 4) is because they have been compressed by the roe sitting down on top of them. We can see the outline and imprint of the deer’s body in the snow in image 6 below.

Image 5

Image 6

This is all strengthened by looking at image 5 where we can see two long rectangular indentations made by the back of the metatarsals and tarsals as it lays down flat on its belly. Drawing a parallel line through the length of these rectangular marks to the top of the image shows us the direction the deer was sitting in.

Roe Scat

Laying down in this fashion is typical of all deer. They are known as ruminants and it is specific to how they process their food. Deer eat plant material containing cellulose, which is difficult to break down and so they have special adaptations and behaviours to help them do this. When the deer eats it will chew just enough to swallow, this is the first chewing. The deer have a four chambered stomach and the first chamber (the rumen) allows the deer to store the food to be processed later. It will bring the food back to the mouth to be chewed a second time. This is known as chewing the cud and it will sit down to do this on something called a couch, which is what we are seeing with our images. To complete the task, the cud is then sent to the second chamber where microorganisms help to break down the cellulose further. The deer will then chew this material again and send it to the third chamber where water is absorbed. Then onto the fourth chamber where gastric juices continue to break down the food further before the nutrients are absorbed in the intestines and any waste is excreted as scat.

Image 7

In image 7 we could see two holes in the snow, this is where after chewing the cud the roe lifted itself off the ground with its front feet to get up. As it stood it took the time to shake the snow off, this had fallen on it as it sheltered beneath the tree before walking off on its own accord.

So how did you do? Hoping that this little blog has helped you ask some questions about what you are seeing and heighten some observation skills as you did so. If this has heightened your interest to learn more then why not join us on one of our tracking courses where you will discover further animal behaviour through looking and interpreting sign.

So who won, well I have pleasure in announcing our winner is……………..Karen Rosier! Well done Karen, please get in contact and we’ll get a copy of the excellent Perry McGee‘s Essential Tracking Handbook to you.

Jay Jenner