Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Animal Tracks – What Do They Reveal?

Teacher Preparation and Set-up

Animal tracks can be found in a variety of places throughout the year, but it can be equally rewarding to make your own “track traps” using playground sand.

In nature, look for tracks captured in the soft mud of a puddle, in a marsh, or along a stream bank. If the soil is dry, there may be a track preserved from the last time that area was wet. Check for tracks after a snowfall, but before the snow melts, along trails in a forest or field.

To make your own track trap, pour sand on a patch of ground about one meter square and smooth it with your hand or a trowel.

It may be useful to use scent lures over a period of time, or to place traps on well-established animal trails. Set multiple track traps to increase the chances that one or more will record activity.

Even with scent lures and multiple track traps, there is no guarantee that animals will come to traps and leave their footprints. But you and your students might be surprised. Even in suburban and urban areas, sand traps with a scent lures may attract animals such as birds, rats, mice, and squirrels, free-ranging domestic cats, and sometimes raccoons and opossums.

You will need to assist your students in developing an appropriate graph (or graphs) as they analyze their data. The format will depend on the type of questions they are asking (for example: habitat types, food preferences, seasonal changes) and how many variables they are comparing or testing.