By Roger Williams Park Zoo, Education Department
Wild animals are all around us — even in the most urban areas of Rhode Island. This may be hard to believe because we rarely see them, but it’s true! Even now, during the chill of winter, there are many animals that are active in the area. One such animal is the red fox.
Without ever seeing a red fox, we can find evidence that it is around and learn a little about its behaviors by looking for tracks. Just like we leave behind footprints when we walk in the wet sand on the beach, animals leave behind tracks when they walk, particularly in the mud or snow.
If you have ever seen dog tracks in the snow, you are well on your way to spotting the tracks of a red fox. Foxes are canines, just like the dogs we have as pets. The tracks of a fox look very similar to that of a small 10-15 pound dog.
A fox’s track will be about 1 Â½ -2 inches long and consist of four toes and a foot pad. The claws should be visible, as well as the hair between the toes of the fox.
The best places to look for the tracks of a red fox are along the edges of forests and rivers where they frequently hunt for food. Unlike most canines, foxes hunt alone — so you will probably only see one set of prints at a time.
If you don’t find fox tracks right away, don’t get discouraged. Once you find your first set, you’ll be surprised how tracks pop up all around you. Additionally, there are lots of other local animals active in the winter — rabbits, coyotes, raccoons, squirrels and wild turkey, just to name a few. You can find out what animal left behind the prints in your area by researching tracks online or in guide books.
Animal Tracks of New England: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont by Chris Stall
ACTIVITY: Study Tracks
– baby powder
– shallow pan
– long, dark-colored sheet or piece of butcher paper
Scientists can study tracks to identify what animals are in the area. They can also study the tracks to determine if the animal was walking, running, jumping, etc. To try this for yourself! Lay a long, dark-colored sheet or piece of butcher paper across the floor.
At the head of the sheet, place a shallow pan with a layer of baby powder inside. Have children take of their shoes and socks. One at a time, dip both feet into the pan of baby powder. Have children walk, run, skip, jump, or hop down the sheet or butcher paper. Afterwards, analyze how the different movements resulted in different tracks. Could you figure out how someone was moving just by looking at the tracks they leave behind?
For more information about animals in their natural habitat, visit Roger William’s Park Zoo located at 1000 Elmwood Avenue. Providence, RI.