Ichnology, Xandari-Style

Ichnology is the study of animal traces—commonly tracks, but also anything else that organisms leave behind in their activities (for example, burrows, nests, scat, feeding remnants, or territory markers). It is often far easier to discover an animal’s presence through tracks than direct visual sighting, especially for shy or nocturnal mammals. “An animal can only be in one place at a time, its tracks can be everywhere,” one of my environmental science professors sometimes remarked in support of this principle. Indeed, around Emory’s campus (Atlanta, Georgia) I found tracks on stream banks that belonged to animals I had never actually clapped eyes on in the flesh. Prized among those were a  river otter’s tracks, a mammal I hadn’t even known beforehand lived in the area.

River banks are in fact one of the best places to catch animal tracks, as a great many creatures come to drink or bathe in the water; the soft mud on the banks of the river deforms easily under an animal’s weight and typically leaves a fairly clear impression. When observing tracks, it helps to include some kind of scale in the photo or measure it on the spot, length and width-wise. The presence or absence of claw marks should be noted, too, a fact which can help distinguish between canids, felids, and other possible genera. If you’re getting really serious, you can make a plaster mold to bring back home with you. On a trip down to the river running through Xandari’s grounds, Seth and I snapped the following pictures:

Bird tracks, Xandari Resort

These first tracks are clearly a bird’s. Their shape is anisodactyl, referring to the three forward-pointing toes and the one backward-pointing toe. The absence of webbing in between the toes further confirms this. One possibility for the bird species would be a kind of heron, something that is made more likely based on the large size of the tracks. (With smaller tracks, it could also be, for example, a kind of pigeon or dove.) Unfortunately we violated the rule of remembering to measure, so it’s hard to judge exactly what species of heron it is. Next:

Agouti (?) tracks, Xandari Resort

These tracks are probably an agouti’s based on the three identifiable toes. (The second image at the top of the frame gives another perspective and makes it even more likely.) This large rodent is common in Costa Rica but extremely shy—I will be surprised if Seth and I spot one while we’re here, but we now know they are around. Finally:

Unknown track. Help us identify by leaving a comment below.

Want to help this last photo? Seth and I have guessed skunk, raccoon, or coati. Chime in below with comments if you’ve got any thoughts on what it could be.

Remember to follow Xandari’s Twitter (@XandariResort) and Facebook if you’re interested in daily pictures, stories, and updates!


5 thoughts on “Ichnology, Xandari-Style

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