RECOGNIZING MAMMAL TRACKS

(The booklet "A Pocket Guide to Common Kansas Mammals"
has illustrations of different mammal tracks on its back two pages.
They are reproduced here with additional text
to assist with recognition in the field.)

Are there split hooves?

Elk track Deer tracks Pronghorn tracks
Mule deer have tracks similar to white-tailed deer.  Deer tracks are commonly seen statewide.

In Kansas, elk are only present in significant numbers in the Cimarron National Grasslands in the extreme southwest corner of the state and on Fort Riley, although stray individuals have been found considerable distances from these two areas.

Pronghorn are restricted to northwest and west central Kansas with a very small number (less than 50) found in the Flint Hills.

Are you by the water's edge?

Raccoon tracks Opossum tracks Beaver tracks Muskrat tracks Mink tracks
The front footprint of a raccoon resembles a human hand, while that of an opossum has the fingers spread very widely.  The unique print left by the opossum's hind foot with its thumb-like big toe is unlike that of any other mammal in the state.

The large webbed hind foot of beaver leaves an unmistakeable print.  The narrow hind foot of muskrats helps distinguish their prints.   Mink prints on open ground are usually found in closely spaced pairs, made as they leap forward in their typical bounding gait.

Cats or dogs?

Domestic cat tracks Bobcat tracks Mountain Lion tracks
Cat and dog footprints are easy to confuse.  Cats do not show claw imprints, while dogs and foxes will usually show toenail marks, but not always!  Large dog footprints are often mistaken for those of a big cat.

Bobcats are seldom seen, but they are quite common across the state.  Mountain lions (a.k.a. cougars or pumas) have not been recorded living wild within Kansas for over 100 years.  However, their favorite food - deer - is present in greater abundance than ever in recorded history, so it stands to reason that the predator will follow the prey population.  Cougars are found in Colorado and dead cougars were recently found in western Missouri and northern Oklahoma, so they may well turn up in Kansas someday soon!

Swift Fox tracks Red Fox tracks Coyote tracks Dog tracks
The swift fox is only found in the High Plains of western Kansas, often either within or near prairie dog towns.

Dog prints may be best distinguished from fox or coyote prints by looking at the pattern they make as they walk.  A dog trackway usually shows all four feet while the trackway of a red fox or coyote looks like it was made by a 2-legged animal because they place the hind foot on the same spot where the front foot was!

Are you near trees?

Porcupine tracks Squirrel tracks

Porcupines are seldom encountered in Kansas, but they have been found in the southwestern 1/4 of the state.  Their wide, soft feet leave very distinctive tracks. 

The prints of an eastern fox squirrel and an eastern gray squirrel are similar.  The tracks may often be seen either leading towards or away from the nearest large tree.  They spend most of their life in the trees but come down to bury nuts or to dig them up again later.   They also must go to ground level to travel from one tree to the next when the trees are too far apart to reach by jumping through the branches.

Have you seen these?

Badger tracks Armadillo tracks Jackrabbit tracks Cottontail tracks Striped skunk tracks

Armadillos are becoming more common in Kansas.  They have expanded their range northwards from Texas over the last 50 years and have been found in Nebraska as well.  An armadillo trackway may show a line made by the tail as it drags along behind the animal.

Badgers are found statewide, but seldom encountered.  The long strong claws on their forefeet are unlike those of any other mammal in the state.

Eastern cottontails are also found statewide, even in cities.  They share a characteristic hopping gait with black-tailed jackrabbits, which leaves a trackway with the four impressions of the front feet and hind feet grouped together.  Jackrabbits are found only in open grassland habitats.

The footprints of striped skunks may sometimes be found along the edge of dirt roads, which they like to use to travel within their territories.

Return to the Mammal's Den

Text by: Jim Mason
Illustrations by: Dr. David van Tassel

Questions or comments?  Send Email to Jim Mason Spidey
Or write us at: 
Great Plains Nature Center
6232 E. 29th Street North
Wichita, KS 67220-2200             Call:  316-683-5499            Fax:  316-688-9555