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Raccoon Tracks

Once you have the basics of PEI wildlife track identification, it can be useful to think about gait. How an animal moves tells you a lot about how it was feeling and what it was up to. Raccoon tracks are the ideal place to start because each foot is different: you can easily tell left, right, front and hind.  Let’s take a look! 


Photo 1: Raccoon tracks on PEI.

Raccoon tracks are distinctive and unlikely to be confused with anything else: five, sausage-shaped toes on each foot, connected to a C-shaped palm pad (Photo 1). Overall, this is a very human hand-like appearance.  Each toe has a nail that – in ideal tracking conditions as shown here – leaves a clear imprint.  The hind foot is larger than the front, and you can tell left from right by the ‘thumb’ set a little farther back than the other toes.  In Photo 1, the upper track is a hind right foot and the lower track is a front left. 


Photo 2: The distinctive, alternating diagonal pattern of a walking Raccoon.

In addition to distinctive tracks, Raccoons have a distinctive gait.  When walking, they move the front and hind legs on one side almost simultaneously, very much like a pacing horse at the racetrack.  The results are characteristic side-by-side tracks showing the front right foot paired with the hind left, and vice-versa in an alternating diagonal pattern along the trail (Photo 2).  Anytime you see that alternating diagonal you can be sure it’s a Raccoon, even if the tracks themselves are not totally clear (Photo 3).


Photo 3: Even if you can't see details of the individual tracks themselves, the alternating diagonal pattern tells you this is Raccoon.

If you can recognize individual Raccoon feet and the normal gait, you can figure out what more complex sets of tracks tell you about what was going on (Photo 4). At the top and bottom of this photo, you can pick out the normal, alternating diagonals; I’ve circled those in black. 


Photo 4: This Raccoon paused mid-stride and looked at something to its right.

That leaves the odd pattern in the middle, outlined in yellow.  To visualize what’s going on, we need to know which foot is which, so I’ve labelled them. This Raccoon was moving in its usual gait with front and hind right feet landing at about the same time, but something to the right caught its attention. The Raccoon paused mid-stride and turned to look to the right, counter-balancing with its left feet. Notice the change in orientation from the bottom pair of tracks, that the front right foot within the yellow outline is turned slightly to the right, and that there is more weight on it than on the front left foot. (If you can’t quite picture it, try replicating the pose yourself on the floor, twister-style!).

 

After the pause, this Raccoon’s next step was to move its front left foot from the middle of the photo (yellow) to the top of the photo (black). It then resumed its normal walking gait, moving both feet on the right side nearly simultaneously and continuing out of the photo.

 

Raccoons are not native to PEI but were brought here in the early 1900s heyday of fur farming.  By 1912, there were local sales of live Raccoons, such as seven pairs on offer by W.F. Weeks and Sons in Fredericton, PEI for $25 (more than $1,000 today).

 

Raccoon ranching wasn’t as profitable as hoped, and the animals were released.  By 1928, seeing a wild Raccoon on PEI was still novel enough that local papers would report on the sighting, but by 1936 they had become plentiful in some areas, particularly Eastern Kings. Despite subsequent bounties and persecution, they remain established and part of PEI untamed.

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