Animal footprint identification
December 21, 2004 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Animal footprint identification. On an August beach camping trip in the Apostle Islands (Lake Superior) we awoke to find these footprints (1, 2) in the sand near our tent. What kind of critters were checking us out?
posted by luser to Pets & Animals (22 answers total)
Sand is a crappy medium for tracks. But one looks like a huge black bear, unless you have brown bears in the midwest. And a brown bear that close would be unsettling!

Two is hard to get perspective on. From the shot it looks like a hoofed animal pawing at the sand. But it's more likely the bear sifting with his claws looking for more of whatever crumbs you dropped there.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:13 AM on December 21, 2004

I would say #1 is a very large black bear or possibly human, and #2 is gray wolf with front and back pawprints overlapping.
posted by naomi at 8:16 AM on December 21, 2004

It looks so impossibly large for a black bear, but I googled and there aren't any grizzlies. Maybe they just grow black bears smaller in northern New England.

It could also be a person, but it has the characteristic "nearly as wide as it is long" of bear prints.

posted by Mayor Curley at 8:22 AM on December 21, 2004

And a brown bear that close would be unsettling!

According to the black bear books I've read (quite a few since a scary midnight visit), some very large black bears are nearly as aggressive as brown bears.
posted by letitrain at 8:25 AM on December 21, 2004

The Apostle Islands do have one of the greatest concentrations of black bears in North America, so maybe they grow 'em bigger?

Or... Bigfoot!
posted by naomi at 8:37 AM on December 21, 2004

1. definitely dog. Overlapping front and back prints is typical of a dog trotting. That the front two claws of each print are so deep also suggests a dog trotting. I assume you were somewhere that wouldn't have domestic dogs, so based on the size (too large for coyote or fox) i agree with naomi: wolf. Or Great Dane.

2. Hard to tell in loose sand. Could be bear, could be human. They are very large so either it's a bear or a person. Either would have to be quite large. Or a clown. I think that black bears get larger as one moves west but the tracks are quite a bit larger than NE bears'. And I've only seen the back-end of black bears; they're always running away from me, so I wouldn't be concerned. Again, that's in NE.
posted by TimeFactor at 8:41 AM on December 21, 2004

i agree with naomi: wolf

way to derail ;)
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:52 AM on December 21, 2004

Sure, it could be a hunting dog... but I cry wolf because dogs don't habitually walk with overlapped tracks, and the track is too large for a coyote. Canis lupus a.k.a. gray wolf a.k.a. timber wolf is making a comeback in Wisconsin. You might send the photo to the state DNR as they like to keep track (sorry!) of endangered species.

Adult male black bears can reach 400 pounds which is fairly substantial. Were y'all camping on Stockton Island, by any chance?
posted by naomi at 9:06 AM on December 21, 2004

I meant dog in the broader sense: wolf, coyote, fox, or domestic dog.
posted by TimeFactor at 9:12 AM on December 21, 2004

I think the first one is human, especially given the track at the lower left of the frame. It looks to me like somebody with big feet in rubber boots - and I would say they had a big dog with them from the size of image #2. That could be a wolf, yeah; I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between wolf and dog. But the first one really looks human to me. Black bear tracks I've seen are much rounder, almost like raccoon feet.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:34 AM on December 21, 2004

Given the perspective (the watch in the pic) I'd say it was a bear, but not THAT big a bear.

The other one lookes like a deer, they have the two and two configuration and standing in soft sand you'd see the fetlock (?) print as well as the hooves.
posted by kamylyon at 9:56 AM on December 21, 2004

don't mean to scare you, but this animal walking while drunk--staggering and tips of fingers hitting the sand--could be responsible.
posted by th3ph17 at 10:02 AM on December 21, 2004

them thar is a bar. me thinks.

The sand might make the track look bigger than it really is because the paw shifts around.

The other is canine, wolves or coyotes (if those exist that far north).
posted by dness2 at 10:04 AM on December 21, 2004

Re. size: depending on how long the print was there, and the wind speed/direction at the time, and the fineness/looseness of the sand, the prints that you photographed may have evolved quite considerably in size and form from the original imprint.
posted by carter at 10:57 AM on December 21, 2004

The first is very likely to be bear rather than human, because of 1) the width and 2) the clearly discernible claw marks at the forefoot.

Also, I am glad I realized the watch was there for relative sizing. AT first I wondered if that was supposed to be all the bear left after consuming the poor sucker who had the Snickers bar in his pocket.

I would add that I have had two experiences camping where black bear came within feet of where we were lying in sleeping bags. I say 'lying' and not 'sleeping' because 'sleeping' is not a synonym for 'frozen in fear, listening to a chuffling and snorting bear inches from your puny human self look for Snickers bars'.
posted by Miko at 12:52 PM on December 21, 2004

Thanks for the answers, all. I know that it wasn't a person because no one else but us was on the island that night (York Island, very small). I thought it might have been a bear but I'm not familiar with tracking and whatnot.

Miko, I totally sympathize -- I've been there (laid awake, stomach churning, listening to god-knows-what wildlife nose around the campsite through the tent walls), although thank God this time we were so drunk we slept like dead men.
posted by luser at 1:42 PM on December 21, 2004

Don't know what it was exactly, but did you notice that it left behind a watch? Score! Thanks, random wildlife.
posted by tinamonster at 10:05 PM on December 21, 2004

Wow. Compared to all the prints on this page, that there just looks terribly man-like to me. The "claws" look all wrong and there's no sign of "toes" at all. The shape isn't right, and the ridge is unnaturally uniform - like a boot or shoe. ...It's really hard for me to see that as "bear". (see bear prints in sand here and here, fifth image.) Sorry luser, but you were visited by a fat guy wearing Birkenstocks, and his pogo-jumping friend.
posted by taz at 2:25 AM on December 22, 2004

Actually, I'm pretty sure it was comic book guy.
posted by taz at 2:28 AM on December 22, 2004

And that was an unclosed tag.
posted by TimeFactor at 8:20 AM on December 22, 2004

Maybe so. The next one in the series is also labeled "black bear paw print in the sand". It looks a lot bearier.
posted by taz at 11:28 AM on December 22, 2004

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