Animal Trails

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Animal Trails

Postby GroundquestMSA » Jan 21, 2012 11:29 am

Does anyone know if a name has been established for the spine-like ridges that result from prolonged animal travel over a dirt floor? Does anyone know what I'm talking about?
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Re: Animal Trails

Postby Squirrel Girl » Jan 21, 2012 2:55 pm

Well, tracks, trails, and burrows in geology are known as ichnofossils. They're really fascinating.
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Re: Animal Trails

Postby baa43003 » Jan 21, 2012 6:40 pm

I'm not sure if you are talking about modern day animals or fossil tracks but ... Animal travel produces 2 types of paths: trails and runs. Trails are created by larger, usually hoofed animals, and once established, are then used by all sorts of critters, big and small. Runs are paths made by one particular animal or species and usually connect resting to feeding areas. I have never seen a trail or a run, above or below ground with any noticeable texture (I can explain why later). And believe it or not, this is something I actually look for. What I have seen is a bumpy texture produced by human foot traffic in caves, especially in show caves. Not sure I'd call it spine-like though. If there isn't a name for that bumpy texture already, there should be. If you're talking about something completely different, I'd love to see a photo.
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Re: Animal Trails

Postby GroundquestMSA » Jan 22, 2012 1:14 am

I'm talking about current animal trails, or runs as you say. In at least 4 local caves that have heavy raccoon traffic, the middle of the floor rises to a peak, and this peak has a regular pattern of knobs, or vertebrae. I really looks very much like some monster is buried in the ground and his back is poking out of the dirt. Human traffic is not a factor, since the most prominent of these features was found in virgin cave. I was completely baffled by these things until I realized that raccoons were the common factor. Now I'm just baffled by how raccoon traffic creates such results.

I'll try to get some photos. This really interests me and I'd love for someone to enlighten me.
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Re: Animal Trails

Postby baa43003 » Jan 22, 2012 10:50 am

Ah, Ok, now I know what you mean. On the surface, bears create a raised ridge in between their tracks. I haven't seen it from smaller animals but that is probably because 1) there are more travel path options on the surface and 2) environmental factors break down the ridge. Raccoon tracks are very distinct because they favor a pace gait pattern; the left hind foot lands directly next to the right front foot and the right hind foot lands next to the left front. See photo below. So even if there are no track details, you can identify raccoon tracks just by the pattern. In my photo, you can see a snow ridge would eventually be created if this coon traveled the same path over and over. I don't see any reason why this wouldn't happen in dirt also. In the runs you saw, can you see why the coons are traveling in those particular areas (along a water source, a narrow passage, do they lead to a resting area, etc.)? If you think this description fits your observations, we'll discuss why the top of the ridge is textured. I have theories for that, too.


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Last edited by baa43003 on Jan 22, 2012 3:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Animal Trails

Postby GroundquestMSA » Jan 22, 2012 3:38 pm

baa43003 wrote:Raccoon tracks are very distinct because they favor a pace gait pattern; the left hind foot lands directly next to the right front foot and the right hind foot lands next to the left front. See photo below. So even if there are no track details, you can identify raccoon tracks just by the pattern. In my photo, you can see a snow ridge would eventually be created if this coon traveled the same path over and over. I don't see any reason why this wouldn't happen in dirt also.


Very good. This makes perfect sense.

baa43003 wrote:In the runs you saw, can you see why the coons are traveling in those particalr areas (along a water source, a narrow passage, do they lead to a resting area, etc.)? If you think this description fits your observations, we'll discuss why the top of the ridge is textured. I have theories for that, too.


Narrow passage. Most of these caves are quite small. So any animals going in or out are basically forced to follow the same path. It just seemed to me that the there would be enough randomness to eliminate the spinelike feature of these trails. The knobs are about 1-2" wide and 2-3" long with 1-2" between them.
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Re: Animal Trails

Postby baa43003 » Jan 22, 2012 4:17 pm

The width is a little greater than I would have expected. I looked through my collection of coon track photos and the feet usually land quite close together. However, in total darkness I can picture them turning their head side to side, smelling and feeling with their whiskers as they go, possibly widening their straddle (distance between inside of prints). The regularity also perplexes me. I'd still like to see a photo. Have you tried cutting down into one of the knobs and one of the depressions to see if there is something different in the subtrate?

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Re: Animal Trails

Postby GroundquestMSA » Jan 22, 2012 4:36 pm

I'll get some photos. It may be a few days. Those measurements are purely guesswork by the way. It has been about a month since I saw any of these trails so I may be a bit off.
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Re: Animal Trails

Postby Jon » Mar 1, 2012 11:49 pm

On a similar but different track.....you've seen ant trails though grass etc. I saw not to long ago ants in a crawl, the floor was flowstone and with just the right angle of light, no lie, there was a barely perceivable indentation that the ants followed. It went up hill and down hill and cross slope. That's a lot of ant traffic!!! This wasn't some army ant congo line, the little buggers were 6" to 4' apart. They appeared about 150' from the entrance and disappeared about 200 ish feet from the entrance. Can't find where they came in but would like to know where they are going....... :shrug:
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Re: Animal Trails

Postby Stan Allison » Mar 3, 2012 2:23 pm

I don't think that I've ever seen animal trails from Raccoons in caves but I have seen something similar to that made by rodents. In areas where there are clay or sediment floors they tend to be raised ridges that rise as much as one inch above the surrounding surfaces and tend to be 2-3 inches wide and hardpacked relative to surrounding sediments from travel. In some areas I've been able to follow these linear paths for hundreds of feet. I've always thought that they were created by rodents traveling the same path over and over. It is often possible to follow these clay/sediment paths on to bedrock where the path continues as a stain on the bedrock. These features are much easier to observe in virgin cave, because they seem very vulnerable to human traffic. In the past I've referred to these paths as rodent runways. I've seen them in multiple caves in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico, in very remote areas of the Omega System, Virginia and in caves in the state of Meghalaya, India. In India we also saw snakes traveling on the runways apparently using the path system as a means of improving their chances of getting lunch. The rodent trails in Omega were so extensive and remote that we thought it would be an interesting project for someone to try to map these trails out and figure where the animals were going. It certainly seems like mapping these trails would be a good research project.

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Re: Animal Trails

Postby GroundquestMSA » Jul 2, 2012 4:49 pm

Here is a fuzzy photo of the feature in question. This example is the most prominent, but otherwise identical to several others nearby. http://i1241.photobucket.com/albums/gg515/GroundquestMSA/reifses003.jpg
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Re: Animal Trails

Postby Buford » Sep 16, 2012 9:09 pm

It makes no sense to me that a raccoon would make a curve in the trail like that, or walk a-straddle a ridge. The reason that fast-walking procyonids have a narrower straddle than slow walkers is to maintain their balance during the paced gait pattern. Think of the paced gait pattern as a trot, and it is easier to understand the balance thingy. The central raised 'spine' would actually trip them up if it was wide or high enough and they trotted along quickly. Anyone that has ever tried to walk on either side of a ridge like the one in your pic knows he's going to have to walk awkwardly or else get tripped up. This wildlife biologist would like to see the scale of the ridge so it can be compared to the size of raccoons.

Raccoon tracks are abundant and frequent In Florida caves, following routes down the centers of moist- to wet-floored passages where sediments are slightly depressed by their traffic or by low-flow water erosion. Paths are rarely if ever created because the animals also forage for prey in a wandering trajectory when traveling through caves. Their tracks will be all over the floor in wider passages and within narrower but non-ridged boundaries in skinnier passages.
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Re: Animal Trails

Postby GroundquestMSA » Sep 16, 2012 9:36 pm

Buford, I agree with everything you say, but are there other explanations? In every instance this feature is found in areas with heavy raccoon traffic, and no human traffic. Have you seen anything like this before?
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Re: Animal Trails

Postby Buford » Sep 17, 2012 8:16 am

Again, it is hard to say anything definitive without some sort of scaled reference. Similar floor features dot my memory, but they can all be explained as the results of erosion. Dirt slowly trickling off a ledge to create a peaked or ridged deposit on the floor, and then being dripped on by water, comes to mind. Or, water dripping from two edges of a ceiling crack that misses a central spine could be another example.

I suggest that you get another photo with a scale bar of the whole shebang, and also macro-photograph (with scale bar) some of the better-defined dimples/footprints, esp any with claw marks. The Rosetta track will be the one that is in fine-grained sediments that show minute details, and is fresh, has claw marks, and solo. Also, look for associated spoor such as hair, diggings, forms (places where an animal dug out a shallow hole to lie in), and photograph them.

Alas, I confess that I am one of the worst offenders when it comes to placing scale-bars in photos. I, too, must repent...
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