Want to know a cool tracking “trick” to show people? Next time you are at the beach or on the trail and find a set of tracks from any member of the dog, cat, or hooved animal family (we call them ungulates), you can look down at them and say, “aha, a male puma!” or “look a female gnu!”. How do you know this? It’s pretty easy, and intuitive. It’s all about how these animals (and we humans too) are built and move. All you need to know are a couple things.
#1 You need to figure out is direction of travel.
Toes point the way for most wild animals 99% of the time. Very few wild animals spend a lot of time walking backwards.
#2 You need to figure out front feet tracks from back feet.
There are two clues for this. First is size. For the animals mentioned above (cat, dog, and ungulate family), the front feet are usually bigger than the back feet. Why? Think about it. A bigger track means a bigger foot. A bigger foot means there is more weight being supported by the feet. Why is their more weight on the front end of these animals? Answer = a head and neck! Second thing that helps to figure out front from back is #1 above (direction of travel) and knowing that in a casual relaxed walk or trot, the back foot will land on top of most or part of the front track. This will change as the animal speeds up, where the back foot moves in front of front feet (think galloping), or slowing down where the back feet land behind the front feet (think stalking).
#3 You need to figure out which tracks are the right side and left side.
Once you know #1 and #2 above, it helps to find a set of tracks on the ground. Imagine the animal leaving these tracks. You should see some sets of front and back tracks on the right and some on the left. Draw a line in the dirt representing the middle of the body of this animal, dividing the set of tracks into right and left sides of the animal.
Now you have all you need to for the magic gender identification “trick”. Find one pair of front and back tracks. Knowing that if you look carefully, you should notice that one of the tracks, either the front or the back will be closer to the middle line that you drew. Double check this with several sets of tracks if you can. You never know when that coyote might burp or fart and throw off it’s body for a moment. If the front feet are closer to the midline, then it is a female. If the back feet are closer to the midline, then it is a male. Why is this? Think about it. It’s all about physiology, or how the animal is built. What do females have (and do) that males don’t? Pretty obvious right? Babies and larger pelvic bones. Males have broad shoulders and more narrow hips.
So next time you are out at the beach and see some dogs romping about, see if you can watch a dog casually walk and leave a set of tracks, and notice if it was a male or female. Then go over and check it out for yourself. If you are with a friend, you can have them watch a dog and notice if it was male or female, then lead you over to the tracks and see if you can figure it out!