It is often very difficult to observe mammals directly or to follow them as they move from place to place. Many mammals are active at night, very secretive, or move over large areas. But all mammals that move on the ground have the potential to leave tracks. So one way to learn about such animals is to find and analyze their tracks, because different species generally have distinctive footprints. Tracks can sometimes be seen long after an animal has left the area.
In some cases, scientists can tell from a track the size and age of the animal that made it. A series of tracks may reveal whether an animal was running or walking, whether it was traveling with another animal, and in what direction. Tracks may show a predator following its prey. Animal tracks can be used to create lists of species that live in a certain area, as well as to determine what habitats they use most.
To begin learning about animal tracks, make your own tracks and analyze them with your class. All you need is a bit of pavement, a pan of water, chalk to outline your footprints, and a towel for drying your feet. You can do this activity with your shoes on or off.
Carefully dip each foot in the pan of water. As you step out of the water, you will leave wet footprints on the ground.
Make different kinds of footprints. Stand still. Walk, run, skip, or jump forward or backward.
Wet your feet again if you need to, and have another student outline your tracks with chalk in case they dry too quickly.
When you are done, look at your footprints, and see what they reveal about you.