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Nature Near You highlights signs of animal activity

By Staff | May 27, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Nature Near You participants crafted animal tracks with natural materials to help them learn about the different sizes and shapes of tracks.

The eighth week of Nature Near You, the Sanibel Sea School’s e-newsletter, featured signs of backyard animal activity.

Through emails delivered at 9 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Nature Near You participants learned about signs animals leave behind in the environment. The traces animals leave behind give scientists and backyard biologists clues on how animals are interacting with their environment. Things like tracks, scat and leftover food can key us in on what specific species have been exploring our backyards with us.

On May 11, participants learned all about animal tracking, or about the footprints that animals leave behind from walking, hopping, or slithering. Like our fingerprints, animals leave behind unique tracks that allow scientists and naturalists to identify what species have been present in an area. Observing the shape of the tracks, the number of toes, and even the shape of the claw marks are all key indicators of species. Staff created an animal tracking matching game to learn all of the most common tracks found in backyards across the United States. Then, they encouraged participants to get out into their own backyards to see if they could recognize any of the tracks they learned.

The May 13 issue included more information on the unique “signs” that animals may leave behind. One of the signs that naturalists use is scat, which is another word for animal droppings. By observing scat, we can locate traces of what the animal has previously eaten giving us a clue as to what animal left the scat. This might not sound like the most glamorous form of animal tracking, but is a great way to understand what an animal’s diet is like, what species are in a local area, and see where animals are marking their territories.

On May 15, Marine Science Educator Sam Nowinski shared a fun way to get creative with animal tracking. Shared via the Sanibel Sea School’s YouTube Channel, she challenged participants to go out in nature to get inspiration for creating their own animal tracks at home. Nowinski showed them how to mimic different tracks using just a piece of paper, some leaves, and stones that can be found in most backyards. Using the materials, she created hooved tracks and even more complicated bear tracks. This activity was a great way to become more familiar with the different shapes of tracks, learning how many toes different animals have.

Sometimes when we step into our backyards or any natural space, we might be disappointed when we cannot observe wildlife at first glance. But that does not mean that the wildlife is not there – it is important to remember that many animals are nocturnal or crepuscular and are not as active during our waking hours.

With the skills that participants learned this week, they can investigate the signs of animal presence using tracks, scat, feathers, or even things like partially gnawed on food. The Sanibel Sea School challenges everyone to explore their backyards for signs of animal activity and let it know what you find.

Nature Near You will continue through June and be delivered via email.

To join the mailing list, email info@sanibelseaschool.org.

The content can also be accessed at www.sanibelseaschool.org/nature-near-you.

Nature Near You is the Sanibel Sea School’s offering for the community. To help support its efforts, visit www.sanibelseaschool.org/support-the-cause or email info@sanibelseaschool.org for information.

Part of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation family, the Sanibel Sea School’s mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time.