On the trail of animals

Index of presence

The presence in a given zone of an animal species can be deduced, as well as with the direct observation, through the discovery of its “traces.” Certain categories of animals can have a very thin presence on the ground; other animals have very evasive behavior: this makes them particularly difficult to observe. There are several categories of “signs” left by particular animals determined by their habits and behavior.

The presence of an animal species in a territory can be deduced through the discovery of:

  • footprints, tracks, trails
  • dens, nests and bedding
  • food remains and signs due to the search for food
  • tufts of fur and feathers entangled in the branches or bushes
  • droppings
  • scratches, stripped barks, marks left on the trees

The signs of their presence can be very useful to determine the presence of a new animal species (or its return) in a territory before it is directly observed. In recent years, these “signs” have allowed to reveal the return in our region of some large carnivores: bear, lynx, wolf. These indexes are still used to monitor the presence and movement of these animals in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region.


The word “footprint” means the imprint left on the ground (mud, sand, frost, snow) by a single paw. “Track” instead means all footprints of the animals’ paws. The different position of footprints in the trace indicates the animal’s gait: walk, trot, run, jump. A trail means the range of traces left by the animal along its travel. A trail can provide various information to the viewer; sometimes it is just not possible to identify the species of the animal that left it; in some cases you can also define:

  • the animal’s sex
  • the animal’s approximate age
  • the animal’s speed

With the evolution of species, the limbs of mammals have undergone changes over time that have adapted them to different types of gait: from the original plantigrade foot, slow (bear), derived the digitigrades, fast (of foxes and hares ), and finally the unguligrades, fast (deer or chamois). At the same time there was a proportional limb lengthening.

  • Plantigrades walk placing on the ground the entire sole of their feet , equipped with pads, wide heel and five clawed fingers.
  • Digitigrades walk placing only three toes on the ground and not the entire sole of the foot, they have smaller pads and four or five toes with strong claws.
  • Unguligrades in turn divided into Artiodactyla and Perissodactyla rest on two or just one toes.