Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

December 21, 2007

Crusty Bunny Toes

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 11:13 am

“The fact that rabbits gots toes ain’t a foreign concept to no one.  Why, them lucky rabbit feet dangling from my rearview are simultaneous proof that that theys got toes and that bunnies ain’t especially lucky.”

 -Anonymous Philosopher


  I don’t really need to add anything to this learned statement “regard’n the likes of bunny toes,” but I feel compelled to enhance it.  As “part two” of my informal series of snow track discussions, I’d like to show you some especially good rabbit tracks.  These crisp prints were laid down on the hard surface of a windblown drift and they provide some insight into the nature of attached rabbit feet.

  As in the case of many winter mammal tracks, the hind foot impressions precede the front foot marks on a typical rabbit track set. A running rabbit does a leap frog maneuver in which the feet cross over and the hind foot ends up striking the ground ahead of the tiny front feet. Take a look at this print set and you’ll see what I mean.  The hind foot on a Cottontail Rabbit is about 3 ½ inches long and when the heel mark registers the larger nature of the back foot is obvious. The front foot is only about 1 inch long.  In this case, the bounding bunny is headed to the right of the photo and the two front foot tracks are trailing behind.

  Since rabbits have fully furred heel pads and they generally keep their toes together, their prints usually appear as indistinct oblong smears in the soft snow. In actuality, cottontails have four toes on their hind foot and five on their front, but this rarely shows in the track. On the hard pack snow tracks, the toes were forced to spread out a bit.  This track clearly shows the hind foot toe count and you can see at least four digits on the front feet (the outer toe is held tight and doesn’t show).

  While the snowshoe hare, the cottontail’s northern cousin, takes the cake in the big foot category our southern cousin is no slouch when it comes to snowshoeing. Take a look at this track and you’ll see just how far the hind foot can spread (the heel didn’t even register).  By distributing the weight over a larger area, the toes supported the weight of the rabbit on top of the snow.  The tinier front feet punched through the crust a bit.

  All of these tracks were covering an exposed area between a Christmas tree plantation and a woodlot. There was a good 3-6 foot space between each set of prints to indicate that the leaping makers were in no mood to linger.  Crossing an open snowfield on a moonlit night can be a very dangerous task for a prey animal like the Cottontail.  There are a whole host of predators raining death down from the sky and from the shadowy sidelines, so the rabbits make haste when traversing open spaces.  This track shows a moment of directional change in which a bunny decided to make a quick turn to his left – the critter slipped for a moment before bounding off. We can only imagine that he was reacting to some perceived – or very real- danger.

  Over 75% of the wild rabbits die before they reach their first birthday and most of these hop onto the heavenly bunny trail before they are even 5 months old.  So, you see, the truly lucky rabbit feet are possessed by those fortunate few that remain alive.




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