Experiment objective

To learn something about animals by following their tracks.

Read more background about this activity in Charles J. Krebs's bio...

You need

  • A trip to the countryside.
  • A notebook and pencil.
  • String and pegs.

1. Drawing a map of an animal’s territory Go to any large grassy field such as those outside most airports, and put your nose to the ground. Part the grass and inch along parting it in a straight line for at least ten metres or until you find a vole runway. It will be an unmistakable tubular path about 2 or 3 cm wide like the inside of a toilet paper roll. They are like curving tubes at the bottoms of the grass stems right near where the stems join the roots. If you don’t find one on the first try, try again, maybe in a different field. The runways curve and branch in all directions. Mark off a small area with string and pegs, about one square metre. In your notebook try to draw a map of the vole runs in this little section of the field.

2. Recording an Animal’s Habits
If you are in Canada, you probably live somewhere near a spruce forest. In the winter, go cross country skiing or hiking in the forest looking for snowshoe hare tracks. You should be able to find some without too much trouble. They look like this:

hare tracks
Snowshoe hare tracks in snow. Once you learn to spot the tracks, follow a set and try to determine what the hare is eating. You can examine their droppings or look for bits of food the hare dropped while eating. Is there lots of food? Where is it located? Where do snowshoe hares like to hang out? How do they avoid predators like lynx and other wildcats? Try to write down answers to all these questions in your notebook based on what you observe. If you are ambitious and you want to get a feeling for what real animal ecologists do, try picking a place in the woods and every winter go back to count the number of hare tracks that cross 100 metres of your path in that same part of the woods. Write this in your notebook every year. After about 10 years you should see a cycle begin to emerge.
Snowshoe hare in summer



Snowshoe hare in winter Photo credit: Charles Krebs