Might earn me a few strange looks in the gym, but beats the hell out of being responsible for someone losing their grandma. #WearAMaskYEG pic.twitter.com/sFgrU1KIKc Retweeted by Fiera Biological

Tracked down the singing Blackpoll Warbler, but sadly, he wasn’t the bird that we deployed a #geolocator on last year! Not banded. Still took a moment to enjoy him singing (and the several other fantastic boreal breeders that are around!) #OperationBlackpoll pic.twitter.com/AkEKRlRII9 Retweeted by Fiera Biological

Wildlife Track & Sign: snowshoe hare

#FindOutFriday, #Fieratracks

Wildlife Track & Sign: snowshoe hare. Hind Left print.
Snowshoe Hare Hind Left, Clear print

The footprint above (posted to social media on May 25, 2020) is the footprint of a Snowshoe Hare in snow, photographed on March 24th, 2020, in Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada.

The track patterns of snowshoe hares are very recognizable, but most people haven’t looked very closely at the details of a single print, so when they encounter a print without a track-pattern, they may not recognize it. A snowshoe hare’s foot is fully furred making details hard to pick out in most conditions, but that in itself is a detail that can lead you to a correct identification. Though the toes may register as distinct appendages, a palm pad (interdigital or metatarsal) will never register clearly, nor a heel pad with snowshoe hare, so the lack of those feature is a good clue.

Another good clue is the toe arrangement in the tracks. Four toes will register in front and hind, and that is different than most rodents which register four toes in the front tracks, and five in the hind. In addition to the number of toes, take account of the symmetry of the arrangement in an individual print. Note how the toes are loaded all to outside of the foot.

Wildlife Track & Sign: snowshoe hare.
Snowshoe Hare Hind Left, Clear print with toes circled

The claws of snowshoe hare are thin, fine, and sharp. They don’t always register, but the first time you see them clearly register in a splayed print, you may doubt for a moment that you are looking at the print of a bunny, and think rather that it might be something more dangerous like a lynx, a wolverine, or a dragon.

Wildlife Track & Sign: snowshoe hare. Showing splayed prints with distinct toes, but no palm or heal pads.
More snowshoe hare prints showing splay, and lack of palm pad details

Earlier I mentioned that snowshoe hare track patterns are very recognizable, so I’d better explain. Snowshoe hares are very consistent in their use of a bounding gait. I the gait the front feet land first, and then the hind feet swing around on either side, and register ahead of the front feet. The hind feet land simultaneously, side by side.

Typical snowshoe hare bounding track pattern

The most likely animal you may have difficulty distinguishing from snowshoe hare in the Edmonton area would be black-tailed jackrabbit. Jackrabbit are similarly sized and shaped animals, and so they leave similar tracks. Habitat is probably your best clue for distinguishing these two species. Jackrabbits prefer open areas where they can see predators coming and use their powerful speed to escape across open terrain. Snowshoe hare on the other hand like to stay in or near the forest where they can put rose bushes, deadfall and thickets between them and any predators. Another indicator is the frequency of off-set hind feet positioning. Where a snowshoe hare only rarely positions its hind feet off-set to one another, a black-tailed jackrabbit will frequently do so.

Joseph Litke

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