The photo gallery below contains nearly 1000 mammal tracks, scats, and other signs from mammals across North and South America. Use the filter buttons to select an animal and then the type of sign (tracks, scat, or sign). Mammals are endothermic (warm blooded) animals with hair and mammary glands and usually have 4 limbs.
Identifying Mammal Tracks
One of the most important keys to identifying animal tracks lies in knowing the right questions to ask. These questions help bring your attention to the most important characteristics that will assist you in making a positive identification.
Number of toes?
Felines, canines, and rabbits all show four toes on both the front and hind feet. Knowing this can help you eliminate many of the other possibilities very quickly. Some animals, mostly rodents, show four toes on the front feet and five on the hind. The ability to tell between front and hind feet is critical to being able to know who the animal is and how it was moving.
Be careful when counting toes!!! Look closely and try to find other tracks from the same animal to help verify what you’re seeing. It is very common for an animal’s hind foot to land in the front track. This can result in a track that may look very strange if you are not aware that it is actually two tracks. Some animals such as raccoons, which usually show five toes will occasionally only register four and leave tracks that resemble other species. Also observe the shape of the toes. Are they long fingers or round pads?
Are claws visible?
Cat tracks usually don’t show claws, while most canines do. If a track shows claws, take note of the size and shape of the claw marks. Are they large and blunt or thin and sharp? Climbing animals usually have small, sharp claws and digging animals usually have large, blunt claws.
Is the track symmetrical?
Draw an imaginary line through the middle of a track and compare the left and right sides. The symmetry of a track can aid in identification as well as be useful in determining front feet from hind and left from right. Felines have very asymmetrical front feet while their hind feet are much more even and symmetrical. Rabbits also make asymmetrical tracks. In contrast, canines usually leave tracks that are very symmetrical.
What is the shape of the metacarpal or palm pad?
Many animals, such as rats, mice, and squirrels have palm pads that are made up of several distinct metacarpal pads. Others, such as canines, felines and raccoons, have metacarpal pads that have completely fused together into one palm pad. There are also distinctive features on the palm pads of some species that are very helpful for identification. For example, feline species all have a double lobe on the anterior end of their palm pad.
Are there signs of hair in the track?
Hair covers the feet of many species and is often visible in the track. It can leave a distinct imprint in mud or it can just obscure the track in sand and dust. Hair may also register in a track by increasing the negative space between the toes. Rabbit spp., kangaroo rat spp., red fox, long-tailed weasel, and southern flying squirrel all show significant hair in their tracks.
Is there webbing between the toes?
Webbing is a valuable indicator of species such as the river otter, beaver, and American alligator. However, it is the most valuable in the identification of bird species. Look carefully for signs of webbing in tracks. It can be misleading when the webbing doesn’t show. In the webbed feet of birds, toes two and four slightly curve toward toe three.
Variations in tracks
Tracks vary considerably due to the speed of the animal, the composition and depth of the substrate, the moisture level in the substrate, any vegetation or rocks in the track, and the effects of wind, rain, and sun on the track. Learning how to identify the incredible variations of tracks is one of the great challenges in tracking.
Mammal Track Anatomy
The technical terms for the pads on mammal feet vary depending on the author. However, it is not necessary for identification to know all the technical names of the foot, provided you are able to communicate clearly about what you are seeing in a track. What is presented here is a somewhat simplified terminology with the primary purpose of making track identification as simple and easy as possible.
Mammal feet are made up of claws, toe (digital) pads, palm (metacarpal/metatarsal) pads, and one or more heel (proximal) pads. There may also be hair covering the foot or webbing between the toes.
Ungulates (hoofed animals) have a different foot structure composed of 1 or more toes (cleaves), and in many cases, dewclaws. The hoof is comprised of the hoof wall, the subunguis (softer tissue inside the hoof wall), and the pad. Palm and heel pads are absent.
Toes are numbered from the inside and moving out starting with toe one. On the human hand, the thumb is toe one and the pinky is toe five. However, many mammals do not have 5 toes, and others do not show all 5 in their tracks. In these cases, toe one is usually higher up the leg, reduced to a small vestigial thumb, or absent altogether. In the typical canine track, for example, the toes would be numbered starting on the inside moving outward as two, three, four, and five. On a deer foot, the inside dewclaw is toe two, the inside toe is toe three, the outside toe is toe four and the outside dewclaw is toe five.
Mammal Foot Postures
There are three basic foot postures used by mammals: plantigrade, digitigrade, and unguligrade. Note: It is common for some animals to use both the plantigrade and digitigrade foot posture.
1) In the plantigrade posture, the whole foot is flat on the ground, including the heel pad. Humans, bears, skunks, and many rodents hold their feet in this way.
2) The digitigrade foot posture is different in that more weight is on the toes and the heel pad does not usually touch the ground. Canines and felines have a digitigrade posture.
3) Unguligrade refers to feet of hoofed animals. Hooves are evolved from the claws of early mammals. Therefore, one could say that the animal walks on its toenails.
Measuring Mammal Tracks
Measuring tracks is a great way to narrow down your search. While some authors include claws, posterior heel pads, or dew claws in measurements, I do not recommend this method as these features do not reliably register. Measuring just the most reliably registering portions of a track enables you to gather useful measurements from the greatest possible number of tracks you will encounter in the field. I measure length from the back of the palm pad to the tip of the toes and width from the widest points, be it outer toes or palm pad. All this said, if you are using a particular field guide, be sure to follow the method the author is using to avoid problems.
Measuring a Marten Track
Measuring a Feral Hog Track
Minium vs. Maximum Outline
When measuring a track, get down close to the track and try to measure the track floor. The overall track size can be significantly larger than the track floor because of the entrance and exit of the foot. Also try to avoid measuring slide marks. Measuring the track floor will give much more consistent measurements across varying substrates than measuring the size of the overall track.
The following images are the recent mammal track observations from the North American Animal Tracks Database. This is an iNaturalist project where trackers share observations and help each other learn about animal tracks, all while contributing to scientific research. Identifications of tracks on this page are initially made by members of the public and may not be correct.
There are many great guides to identifying animal tracks. While a few are truly excellent, there are others with surprising inaccuracies. The guides below are my absolute favorites and won’t lead you astray. If you decide to purchase any of these guides, using the links below will help support future developments to this website.
iTrack Wildlife is my own guide to animal tracks for the iPhone and iPad. It has over 700 high resolution photos of tracks, scats, sign, and skulls. It also has over 120 accurate track drawings for 66 mammals.
What makes this app really different from other guides to animal tracks is the search tools that let you quickly narrow down a track by size, the number of toes, the shape of the toes, track symmetry, the mammal group, and the state or province.
Mammal Tracks and Sign of North America by Mark Elbroch is the modern bible of animal track and sign identification. Its publication drastically changed the field of animal tracking and spawned a renewal of interest in the field. It has hundreds of color photos and precise track drawings. The book is organized by the type of sign (tracks, scats, chews, digs, etc) making it easy to identify sign, but not great if you want to read about all the details of a single species. Also, the comprehensive nature of this book makes it an amazing resource, but it can be quite a load in your backpack. If you don’t own this book and you’re serious about tracking, you should definitely get it.
Animal Tracks and Scat of California is a regional guide, but many of the species are found throughout North America. This guide includes mammals, birds, and even some reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. It is a great general tracking guide (full disclaimer: I am a co-author of this guide) and is a great bet if you want a single guide that covers more than just mammals. This book also has some helpful sections not found in Bird Tracks and Sign including a quick reference to life-sized bird tracks.
Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest is a regional guide written by my friend and excellent tracker David Moskowitz. While the book primarily focuses on the Northwest, much of the information applies nationwide. This tracking guide includes mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. The guide also contains excellent original artwork and beautiful photography. This guide is truly worth adding to your library.
The Peterson Guide to Animal Tracks is the classic tracking guide. This book was published in 1954 and inspired many trackers and naturalists. It was a major work for an author at the time with so few other resources available and predictably it contained several small errors. In 2005 is was updated by Mark Elbroch who made corrections, added information, and many photos.
Tracking and the Art of Seeing by Paul Rezendes was the first animal tracks guide in North America to contain color photographs. This guide drastically changed the landscape of future tracking guides. For example, just about every single subsequent field guide uses a similar stipple-point style for drawing tracks. This guide is more of a desk reference and is great reading. It is organized by species, so it is great for learning about an animal, but difficult to use to identify a particular type of sign.
A Field Guide to Mammal Tracking in North America by Jim Halfpenny is a classic guide that led to many advances in animal tracking. While the guide doesn’t contain color photos of tracks, there is a valuable scientific approach to identifying tracks that has very practical applications. He also covered gaits and animal movements in the most comprehensive manner at the time. While there are newer guides with perhaps more accurate information available, this guide made them possible.
The Animal Tracks: Midwest Edition by Jonathan Poppele is a book that surprised me. I expected this guide to be just another low quality pocket guide. However, what I found was anything but low quality. It has fantastic track drawings, accurate information, and a very handy organization method. This book is inexpensive and worth adding to your library.