- There are several species of squirrels in North America including fox squirrels, eastern gray squirrels, western gray squirrels, American red squirrels, and black squirrels.
- These species are distributed broadly across the continent, and many more species exist around the world.
- Squirrels’ front paws are half an inch long and wide and look like small hands. Their hind feet are an inch long and half an inch wide.
|Size: Front Paws||½ inch wide, ½ inch long|
|Size: Back Paws||½ inch wide, 1 inch long|
|Features: Front Pawprints||4 toe pads, 3 palm pads|
|Features: Back Pawprints||5 toe pads, 4 palm pads|
When you take a hike, it can be interesting to know what animals have passed through before you. Finding animal tracks can be an important clue to figuring out what creatures you are sharing the trail with, but only if you can identify them. Identifying animal tracks can also be helpful while hunting and tracking game. This article will discuss everything you need to know to identify the tracks of a familiar trailside animal, the squirrel. Read on for a complete guide to squirrel track identification – what to look for, where to look, and why they look that way.
The most populous types of squirrels in North America are American red squirrels, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus, and tree squirrels, including the eastern gray squirrel, fox squirrel, black squirrel, and western gray squirrel. Each of these species has different colorations ranging from red to gray to black fur coats. All these species, however, have similar body shapes and sizes. There is some variability in weight, but each species is around one to two pounds. Eastern gray squirrels are 9 to 12 inches long from their heads to the base of their tails. Fox squirrels are 10 to 15 inches, and black squirrels are 15 to 20 inches.
These squirrel species are distributed across North America. The western gray squirrel lives on the western coast of the United States and Canada including in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. The eastern gray squirrel and fox squirrel live in the midwestern and eastern United States and Canada. Black squirrels are predominantly in Ontario and Michigan. The American red squirrel has the broadest distribution across Alaska, all of Canada, the Rocky Mountains, and the northeastern United States. Many other squirrel species exist worldwide.
Squirrel Paw Morphology
Squirrels have four paws. There are four digits and one thumb on their forelimbs and five digits on their hindlimbs. Every digit has a sharp claw that is useful for grasping when climbing trees. These claws are visible in their pawprints. Their front feet are smaller than their back feet, measuring half an inch long and wide. Squirrels’ back feet are approximately one inch long and half an inch wide. The feet all have several pads. In a squirrel’s front paw tracks, four toe pads, three palm pads, and claws are visible. For the back feet, five toe pads, 4 palm pads, and claws are visible.
Squirrels are common in snowy areas and many of the North American species we’ve discussed live in the snow seasonally. Compact snow or shallow layers of snow often produce clear tracks, however, tracks in deep snow or fine powder may be indiscernible. Visibility can be skewed in particularly sunny areas as light reflects off the snow as well. In good conditions, claw marks are usually visible in the snow. In certain snowy conditions, there may be streaks between pawprints. If the snow is deep, the squirrel’s paws will drag slightly on the surface of the snow and create these marks.
Squirrels do not hibernate, and they remain active during the winter season. Expect to find squirrel tracks in residential areas as well as in nature during winter. Chipmunks overlap in much of the same geography as squirrels and have roughly the same size prints. They hibernate in the winter and wake periodically to feed, so they are less active than squirrels during this season. Tracks in the snow will therefore more likely belong to the squirrels.
Squirrel tracks in the mud can either be very clear or slightly disrupted depending on the environmental conditions. All toe pads and palm pads are easily identifiable in shallow mud prints. The front pawprints will appear like a four-fingered hand. Claw marks are also usually visible in the mud. In deep mud, the small details of squirrel tracks may be blurred. Forest, riverine, mountain, swampland, and other habitats all have soft ground that can capture clear impressions. Other rodents in these habitats might include chipmunks, rabbits, weasels, marmots, and many others. Knowing the prints of coexisting species can help when attempting to identify squirrel tracks.
Squirrel tracks on harder surfaces will appear more like several small dots than hand-like prints made in mud or snow. This is because squirrels are not heavy enough to create a substantial impression on the rigid ground. Instead, dots marking the points of greatest pressure on the squirrel’s feet may appear.
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