Paws and feet

Plague (rainbow) skink

Plague skinks may be identified via the segments on their toes, which are called ‘lamellae’: – between 11-13 lamellae on the 4th toes of the front feet and between 21-23 on the 4th toes of the rear feet. As lizards can be hard to capture, pre-inked tracking cards serve as a good way for wildlife managers to detect and identify lizard species. A good foot impression on the ink provides a way of counting lamellae and, therefore, identifying which species may be present.

Can be confused with:

Copper skink tracksNative skinks, particularly copper skinks, look very similar to plague skinks. In juvenile and sub-adult life stages they may have very similar colouring, body shape and size. As there are few tell-tale signs to distinguish between plague skinks and native skinks, the lamellae count of the front and rear 4th toe can be very helpful, as native skinks have fewer than 9 lamellae on the front 4th toe and fewer than 21 lamellae on the rear 4th toe.

Read more about this species

Mouse

House mouse prints are very small and on a tracking paper they can look like a scattering of dots. Mice seem to run backwards and forwards and leave prints everywhere and it can be difficult to distinguish individual prints. They can sometimes obscure prints from other species so it is important to check the cards very carefully for other prints that might be hidden under the mouse prints. It is important to look at how the dots are arranged, as weta, stick insects, other insects, and lizards also leave dotty-footprints, but in quite different patterns.

House mouse forefeet prints can be about 7.4mm wide and 5.1mm long, with four toes widely spaced in a circular pattern around up to three central pads. The hind feet prints are about 7.4mm wide and 6.74mm long and have five toes, with the middle three toes in front of the main pad (can be split into up to five segments) and the outer toes are either side of the main pad.

 

Can be confused with:
Mouse prints are unlikely to be mistaken for any other mammal, but other species can create ‘false’ mouse prints. Some silvereyes and blackbirds seem to develop a taste for peanut butter and enter tracking tunnels. The footprints they leave can be quite indistinct and can resemble mouse prints. They have been responsible for several moments of panic in supposedly mouse-free areas, but closer examination usually shows tiny lines across the print left by the scales on the bird’s feet. Blackbirds also seem to be quite aggressive towards the tracking ink and quite often peck marks are visible where they have attacked it. Insects can also leave small footprints, but the grouping of dots (often in straight lines) is quite different to a mouse print. Lizard prints are also quite different: > see some examples.

Read more about this species

Kiore

Kiore forefeet have four toes and the hindfeet have five toes, all with non-retractable claws. The hindfeet of adult kiore are 24.5mm to 31.0mm long, but the prints are usually shorter with only the toes showing. Kiore have a distinctive black diamond on the outer edge of their hind feet, while the rest of the foot and toes are pale. This can be a good way to distinguish between kiore and ship rats (which usually have dark hind feet).

Rat footprints show up clearly in tracking tunnels and forefeet and hindfeet are easily distinguished. In prints, the toes of the forefeet are widely spaced in a circular pattern, while the three central toes of the hindfeet are in a line with the two edge toes set slightly back. The forefeet have three main pads that are visible in tracks, while the hindfeet have around five pads. An adult forefoot print will be about 11.1mm wide and 15mm long. The hindfeet prints are about 15mm wide by 14mm long.

Rats have two main gaits on the ground – walking and running. If tracks are found in soft sediment it is possible to distinguish the gait from the arrangement of the footprints. When rats are walking, the prints are evenly spaced with distinct fore- and hind-footprints visible. When they are running, all four paw prints will be close together as the animal bounds along the ground.

Can be confused with:
Kiore footprints can be confused with Norway rat and ship rat prints as they can overlap in size at different ages.
Rat footprints from tracking tunnels can be confused with mustelid prints. They can be distinguished by drawing a line between toes 1 and 4 (A and B in photo “How to distinguish rat from stoat prints”) on the forefoot and 1 and 5 on the hindfoot. In rats, this line will either bisect the central pad or be slightly behind it. In mustelids, the line will be in front of the central pad.

Read more about this species

Ship Rat

Rat forefeet have four toes and hindfeet have five toes, both with non-retractable claws. The toes of the forefoot are widely spaced in a circular pattern, the three central toes of the hindfeet are in a line with the two edge toes set slightly back. Forefeet have three main pads that are visible in tracks and hindfeet have around five pads. Rat footprints show up clearly in tracking tunnels and fore- and hind-feet are easily distinguished.

It difficult or impossible to determine which rat species made each print, because there is a lot of overlap in foot size between adults and juveniles of the three different species. Thus educated guesses have to be made based on where the tracks were observed (which species are likely to occur or use that habitat) and what size the animal was. Ship rat forefeet prints are be about 13.1 mm wide and 11.9 mm long. The adult hindfeet prints are about 17.7 mm wide by 16.5 mm long, with the middle three toes in front of the main pads (up to five) and the outer toes either side of the main pads .

Rats have two main gaits on the ground – walking and running. If tracks are found in soft sediment, it is possible to distinguish the gait from the arrangement of the footprints. When rats are walking, the prints are evenly spaced with distinct fore- and hind-footprints visible. When they are running, all four paw prints will be close together as the animal bounds along the ground.

Can be confused with:
Rat footprints from tracking tunnels can be confused with mustelid prints. They can be distinguished by drawing a line between toes 1 and 4 (A and B in photograph “How to distinguish rat from stoat prints”) on the forefoot and 1 and 5 on the hindfoot. In rats, this line will either bisect the centre pad or be slightly behind it. In mustelids, the line will be in front of the central pad. Ship rat prints can also be confused with Norway rat and kiore prints as they can overlap in size at different ages.

Read more about this species

Norway rat

Rat forefeet have four toes and the hindfeet have five toes, both with non-retractable claws. The toes of the forefoot are widely spaced in a circular pattern, while the three central toes of the hindfoot are in a line with the two side toes set slightly back. Forefeet have three main pads that are visible in tracks and hindfeet have around five. Rat footprints show up clearly in tracking tunnels and fore- and hind-feet are easily distinguished. Adult Norway rat forefoot prints are about forefoot about 11.5mm long by 20.2mm wide and hindfoot prints are 15.7mm long by 23mm wide . Only the front half of the foot leaves a print. Norway rat footprints are broad in relation to their length, but this isn’t a reliable way to distinguish between rat species.

Rats have two main gaits – walking and running. If tracks are found in soft sediment. it is possible to distinguish the gait by the arrangement of the footprints. When rats are walking, the prints are evenly spaced with distinct fore- and hind-footprints visible. When they are running, all four paw prints will be close together as the animal bounds along the ground.

Can be confused with:
Rat footprints from tracking tunnels can be confused with mustelid prints. They can be distinguished by drawing a line between toes 1 and 4 (A and B in photo “How to distinguish rat from stoat prints”) on the forefoot and 1 and 5 on the hindfoot. In rats, this line will either bisect the centre pad or be slightly behind it. In mustelids, the line will be in front of the central pad. Norway rat footprints can also be confused with ship rat and kiore prints, as they can overlap in size at different ages.

Read more about this species

Possum

Forefeet are hand-like but the hind feet are quite different.  The forefoot has five fingers, each with a strong curved claw, and cushiony pads.  The hind foot has an opposable ‘thumb’ without a claw and the second and third digits are fused for most of their length except the tips.  The fusion of two toes is called syndactyly toe, and these toes are used for grooming fur. The claws can’t retract.

You won’t often see complete possum (fore and hind) prints on tracking paper, because possums don’t fit in standard tunnels.  Usually you see front paws only, which are impressions of four or five cushion pads plus four or five toe pads 1 to 1.5 cm out in front.  If you do find fore and hind foot prints then the hind foot will be placed just behind (or slightly overlapping) the forefoot on the same side (e.g. both are left feet).  Five or six cushion pads on the hindfoot might be visible.  The cushion pads of the 2nd and 3rd digits are fused.  The toe pad of the ‘thumb’ is usually visible and one or both of the 4th and/or 5th digit toe pads.  The toe pads for the 2nd and 3rd digits may or may not show, but are not fused.  The fur on the feet can smudge the prints.

Possums walk on all four feet when on the ground and the gait length is about 10 to 12 cm between placement of left and right feet.  They make half bounds (short jumps) on steeper terrain and between branches and big bounds on tree trunks.  The tail holds on to a branch until all feet are touching a solid surface.  Possums can swim but don’t much like water.

It is difficult to confuse possum prints with anything else as they are usually much larger than those of other species of small mammal in New Zealand.  The toe pad marks are quite small relative to the cushion pad marks and the toe pads are spaced further than those of other species. 

Can be confused with:

Rat, hedgehog, or ferret footprints. However, rat footprints are very much smaller and show less toe, especially on the hind foot. Hedgehog prints are smaller and quite circular in outline.  Ferrets can also mess up tracking paper but the cushion pads and toe pads are in quite a different arrangement to that of possums.

Read more about this species

Rabbit (European)

Rabbit footprints can be found on soft surfaces such as sand, snow and mud.  Rabbit footprints are quite distinctive because the hind foot is much larger than the front. The dimensions of a rabbit’s hindfoot prints usually are 75–95 mm long and 25 mm wide, while forefoot prints are 40 mm long by 25 mm wide. Often however, rabbits do not place all of the hindfoot on the ground when they run or the fur on their feet may disguise the footprint. In these instances, the length of the hind print could be 50 mm or less. Examining the tracks can show whether the animal is hopping slowly or running. When rabbits move around unhurriedly they bob (short hops) with the tail up, showing the white underside.  When they are alarmed rabbits will scuttle in a rush with their tail down.

Can be confused with:

Distinguishing between hare and rabbit footprints is difficult, but hare footprints will be larger (the length of hare hindfeet are 130-155 mm). Looking out for other clues such as droppings or burrows is the only reliable way to determine which species made the tracks.  Hares have a loping gait and always have their tails down.

Read more about this species

Brown hare

The brown hare’s hind feet are much longer and slightly wider than the forefeet. The hind feet can measure up to 140-160 mm long in adults. In some gaits, only the toes and digital pads of the hind feet register on the ground and leave a print. Hares typically move at speed in bounds, which means the smaller forepaws touch the ground first and then the larger hind feet swing forward to land in front of the forepaws before the animal pushes off with its powerful hind legs. A hare’s track therefore shows the hind feet in front of its forefeet. Tracks made at slow speed show asymmetrically placed hind footprints. On soft, surfaces such as snow, the four toes of the hind foot are spread, leaving prints that look rather like dog foot prints (though dog prints are symmetrical). The small forepaws leave pear-shaped footprints about 100-200 mm apart, in which four closely spaced toes usually show but not the fifth smaller toe. Hares have a loping gait and always have their tails down; rabbits hop and have their tail up.

Can be confused with:

Distinguishing between hare and rabbit footprints can be difficult but adult hare footprints are larger than those of an adult rabbit. Wallaby foot prints can look similar to hare footprints if the hare is using its entire foot (rather than just its toes), but wallabies have three toes (one of which is not obvious for dama wallaby) that are larger and more spread out than hares. Moreover, the drag mark of a wallaby’s tail is often an obvious distinguishing characteristic and hare and wallaby distributions only overlap in one area of the North Island (see dama wallaby) and one in the South Island (see Bennett’s wallaby). For reliable identification look for other clues such as droppings or burrows (rabbits dig burrows but hares and wallabies do not).

Read more about this species

Dama wallaby

The most commonly seen dama wallaby footprints are made by the front third of the hind feet. The hind feet are about 150 mm long in total. Dama wallaby have three toes on each of the hind feet but usually only the larger middle toe that points straight ahead and the smaller peripheral (outer) toe show in distinctive two-pronged prints. The small inner-most toe bears little weight and is used for grooming.

Dama wallaby footprints are usually side by side; hopping on their hind feet when moving at speed, with their fore-paws and tail held clear of the ground. When grazing, or moving slowly, dama wallaby adopt a 'penta-pedal' gait using all four feet as well as their tail. When moving forward in this manner they support their weight with their tail and forepaws while they move their hind feet forward. This is normally the only time that the tail, the five-digit fore-paws and the whole of the rear feet will leave prints and the distance between the hind feet will be greater than when they are moving at speed.

Can be confused with:

In the Bay of Plenty a clear dama wallaby footprint is unlikely to be confused with any other species (except on Kawau Island where other wallaby species also occur) but a faint or partial footprint (e.g. only one toe or only the claws) on a hard surface could be confused with a deer, sheep or goat print or possibly a large bird such as a turkey.

Read more about this species

Bennett's (red-necked) wallaby

Bennett’s wallabies have a typical kangaroo-like foot and a long tail that is nearly as long as the rest of the body. The tail is sometimes used as a ‘fifth support limb’. The hind foot has a long middle toe and a small toe either side. The heel of the foot may be visible in a footprint particularly on a soft surface and sometimes you may see the tail print also. The forefeet are more hand-shaped. 

When moving fast, Bennett’s wallabies hop using the two rear feet but use all four feet when moving more slowly, especially when feeding. Bennett’s wallabies are also good swimmers, using a ‘dog paddle’ motion.

Can be confused with

As Bennett’s wallaby is the only wallaby species in the South Island, its footprints are unlikely to be confused with other species.

Read more about this species

Hedgehog

Prints are five-toed, resembling a ferret or large rat print. Forefeet are broader and shorter in length than the hindfeet, meaning there are two distinctly different prints left by the one animal. Hindfeet prints 40-45mm long and 30mm wide, but hedgehogs often walk only on the toes of the hindfoot. The forefeet are wider rather than long; 30mm long and 35mm wide. The toes are slightly turned out from the mid-line. The toe pads are large relative to the footpad and closer to the central pad compared to rat or ferret prints. The claws are long and sharp and can show in prints. Sometimes the footprints will overlap.

When running the gait (distance between feet) is about 100mm and the body is held off the ground. When feeding or exploring the body is held lower and some of the spines may drag on the ground. Hedgehogs are also excellent swimmers and climbers.

Can be confused with:
Large rat and ferret prints. A hedgehog will have two different types of prints; hindfeet and forefeet. Rat prints have rather similar hind and forefeet but only four toes. Ferrets also only have four toes and fur can show in the prints, whereas hedgehogs have ‘bare’ feet. Hedgehog toe pads are proportionally larger and closer to the central cushion pad compared to rat or ferret prints. Hedgehog forefeet prints are rounder looking than rat or ferret prints.

Read more about this species

Cat

Cats have large, soft pads on the front and hind feet. These cushion each step and make their movements quieter. The central pad of a cat’s foot is ‘heart-shaped’ and has three parts. The four separate toe pads will show in foot prints. The two front toes in a cat track are not aligned right next to each other. The inner toe is also set further forward than the outer toe. The footprints are usually wider than they are long.

The claws are retractable to reduce scratching noises and won’t often show in prints. When walking the feet are placed either side of the mid line, but the spacing between feet is wider when walking faster. A cat walks in a way that sometimes leaves a hind track on top of a front print. This is a way of moving silently through the landscape. When a front foot is placed down and doesn't snap a twig or otherwise make noise, the cat can move the hind foot to that same spot and know that it will be taking a quiet step. When stalking, the prints will be heel to toe. Cats will claw tree trunks leaving thin parallel scratches.

Can be confused with:
Dog also have paws with heart-shaped central pads, but the shape of the whole foot is longer and narrower than that of a cat. A cat footprint is relatively rounded, and wider than it is long.

Read more about this species

Weasel

Weasels have short legs with five toes on each foot.  There is fur between the pads (fleshy bits on the underside of the toes) and the claws are sharp and can’t be retracted (unlike cat claws).  Weasel footprints or tracks are not readily seen in the wild except in snow or fine sand. However, they can be recorded with the use of tracking tunnels, which use an ink pad to create footprints across a removable card. Approximate print sizes are: forefoot 13 mm long and 10 mm wide, hindfoot 15 mm long and 13 mm wide. Weasels tend to run closer to the ground, whilst stoats have a distinctive looping, bouncing gait with an arched back.  Weasel gait is smaller than of a stoat, with the gap of 250–300 mm between front and hind feet when running.  Weasels are usually seen running, as they are very active.

Can be confused with:

Weasel footprints may be confused with those of stoats and rats. Stoat footprints may be bigger, but not reliably so. Rat footprints are more circular in shape (weasel footprints are oblong), and if you draw a line between toes 1 and 4 on the forefoot (counting clockwise) it will bisect the central footpad for rats, but will be in front of the central footpad for weasels.

Read more about this species

Stoat

Stoats have short legs with five toes on each foot.  There is fur between the pads (fleshy bits of the toes) and the claws are sharp and can’t be retracted (not like a cat).  Footprints or tracks are not readily seen in the wild except in snow or fine sand. However, they can be recorded with the use of ink footprint ‘Tracking Tunnels’. Approximate sizes are: front foot 22 mm long and 20 mm wide, hind foot 42 mm long and 25 mm wide.  The feet are furry and have fur between the toes.  Hind feet tend to have more fur showing because of the way stoats hunch when they enter a tunnel.  Stoats have a distinctive looping, bouncing gait with an arched back, whereas weasels run close to the ground, often with their tail raised in open country. The gap between front and hind feet when running is 300–500 mm and the hindfeet come down on the footprints of the forefeet. Stoats are usually seen running as they are very active critters.

Can be confused with:

Weasels footprints look essentially be the same, just smaller. There will be considerable cross-over between small stoats and large weasels.  If unsure, the track should be declared ‘mustelid, either stoat or weasel’. Rat footprints are more circular in shape (stoat footprints are oblong), and if you draw a line between toes 1 and 4 on the front foot (counting clockwise) it will bisect the central footpad for rats, but will be in front of the central footpad for stoats.

Read more about this species

Ferret

Ferrets have short legs with five toes on each foot. There is fur between the pads (fleshy bits on the underside of the feet) and the claws are sharp and can’t be retracted (unlike a cat’s claws). Footprints or tracks are not readily seen in the wild except in snow, fine sand or mud. However, they can be recorded in ‘Tracking Tunnels’ which use a bait to lure animals across an ink pad and a replaceable card. Being the largest species of mustelid in New Zealand, ferrets leave the largest tracks. Approximate sizes are: forefoot 35mm long and 35mm wide, hindfoot 50mm long and 35mm wide. Ferrets’ looping, bouncing gait results in a gap of 300–500 mm between front and hind feet when running.

Can be confused with:
Ferret tracks can be confused with stoat tracks. Ferret tracks tend to be larger, but not reliably so. Occasionally there will be overlap in the size of footprints between species i.e. the footprints of very young ferrets will overlap those of large male stoats.

Read more about this species

Rainbow lorikeet

Rainbow lorikeets have two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backward.  The middle two toes point forwards.  However, tracks are unlikely to be seen because rainbow lorikeets do not often venture onto the ground.

Can be confused with:

Rainbow lorikeet footprints might be confused with the footprints of other small native and introduced parrots, which also have two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backward. Parrot tracks seen on the ground are more likely to have been made by introduced eastern rosellas than rainbow lorikeets as rosellas can spend a lot of time feeding on the ground.

Read more about this species

Rook

Rooks feet are typical of perching birds, with one long toe pointing backwards and three toes pointing forwards. The toes all have sharp claws. Adult foot size is estimated in the range of 95 to 100 mm long, although there is little information available on this. If you can help with this clue, we would be pleased to hear from you > contact.

You are most likely to find footprints where rooks have been searching for seeds or grubs on pastures with damp bare soil.

Can be confused with:

Rook footprints can be confused with the footprints of other perching bird species of similar size. Magpies are the most similar in size and most likely to forage in similar places.

Read more about this species

Canada goose

Canada geese have large, black webbed feet. Adult feet are about 100 mm long and 75 mm wide. The footprints will show three toes with webbing between the toes and nails at the end of each toe.

Can be confused with:

The footprints of other waterfowl with webbed feet, particularly large species such as mute swans, black swans and other geese such as greylag goose and Cape Barren goose. Duck footprints are also webbed but are smaller.

Read more about this species

Australian magpie

Australian magpies have black feet. The feet are typical of passerine bird species: one hind toe and three forward-facing toes. All toes have claws. Adult foot size is estimated in the range of 61 to 74 mm long, although there is little information available on this. If you can help with this clue, we would be pleased to hear from you > contact.

They walk, rather than hop, when on the ground. 

Can be confused with:

Footprints of many bird species, especially the passerine (perching) bird species.

Read more about this species

Not the footprints or tracks you were looking for?

Have a look at all of our tracks.