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Maybe you've seen animal tracks in the mud after a rainy day, but did you know that you can study these tracks to learn all kinds of things about the animals that made them? Grab your detective hat and join Jessi to find out how!
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SOURCES:
https://nationalzoo.si.edu/education/classroomscience/animaltracks/teacher/default.cfm

http://education.usgs.gov/kids/tracks.html

http://www.biokids.umich.edu/guides/tracks_and_sign/

http://www.outdoors.org/publications/outdoors/2008/learnhow/animal-tracks.cfm

http://www.parentingscience.com/kindergarten-science-activities-tracking-animals.html
(Intro)

Oh hey you guys! Squeaks and I were just outside playing in the mud. It's wet out there and wet weather can make a lot of mud. Mud's fun to play around in, but what I really like about it is that it's great for spotting animal tracks. When it's REALLY muddy outside, I like to see how many tracks I can find, and try to guess which kind of animal made which track.

We look at animal tracks for fun, but some people do it as part of their job. Checking out animal tracks is really important for scientists who study animals, that's because tracks help scientists understand where an animal lives, when it travels from place to place, if it moves in groups or by itself, and a lot more. You might even say that these scientists are kind of like detectives, and the tracks are their clues.

But you need special skills to tell one kind of animal print from another. You see, not all tracks are alike. Different animals leave behind different tracks, and you wont just find tracks out in the woods. Animals live everywhere, even in big cities. So you might be surprised by how many different tracks you'll find if you look hard enough.

But, where exactly should you be looking when you're searching for animal tracks? Well, one good place to start is mud. Animal tracks show up really well on wet ground, so look for muddy spots near water or after a good rain shower, or when the snow has melted. Some tracks show up nicely on snow too, or in dry dirt, but when scouting for animal tracks, remember mud is your friend.

Next, after you've found a track or several tracks, it's time to start asking some questions. How many tracks are there? Which way are they going? What are they shaped like? And maybe the most fun question of all, what animal might have left them behind?

Let's take a look at this track. If you see a track that is paw shaped and has four or five toes, it was probably left by a mammal. It could be a dog, or a cat! If you ever see a track in the mud that looks sort of like a dog or cat track but it's much smaller, say hardly larger than a penny, then you've probably found a squirrel track, like these.

One of the most common animal tracks you'll see is this one, a deer track. Deer tracks don't look like like paw prints, do they? Do you see those two large, curvy marks? Those are the two halves of a deer's foot, called a hoof. Each half leaves a mark that looks like a tiny horn, with a point at the top and a small spot at the bottom.

But of course mammals aren't the only animals that leave tracks behind. Now, once you find fork shaped tracks, like these? Well, they probably been left behind by a bird. Birds, deer, squirrels, dogs, and cats are some of the most common animal tracks you'll find when you're playing animal track detective. So, do you think we're ready to play animal track detective? What about you? Let's name some mystery tracks!

Okay, here's track number one: What do you see? It looks like a paw, right, so it's probably a mammal, good, but it's a really small track, smaller than even a little house cat might leave. Based on these clues, what do you think made these tracks? You're right! It's a squirrel track!

Alright, time for track number two: Hmm, this is not paw shaped, in fact, it's kind of fork shaped. Definitely not a mammal. Do you remember what kind of animal makes fork shaped tracks. Do you think you know what kind of animal it is? Yeah! It's a bird! Great job!

Okay, last track, are you ready? Not paw shaped, but not fork shaped, either. Sort of horn shaped, and it's split into two halves. Hmm, use the clues to name those tracks. Deer tracks, right! Way to go!

So, these are some of the more common tracks you might find in the mud, snow, or dirt, no matter where you live in the world. But there are all kinds of animals on our planet, and each leaves it's own special kind of track. So, if you study them enough, one day you might be able to tell the difference between two different kinds of birds, or two different kinds of cats, just like some scientists can. And, we didn't even get to cover reptile tracks or insect tracks, so maybe we'll get to those another time on the next muddy day.

In the meantime, thanks for playing animal track detective with us, and remember, if you have any questions about tracks, or anything for us here at the fort, let us know by leaving a comment or emailing us at kids@thescishow.com. We'll see you next time.