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Fishers Crossing Logs

11-25-16-fisher-tracks-049a1848The first snow that sticks on the ground is cause for celebration, if only because it allows you to know so much more about what goes on in the woods and fields that surround you than you would know if it never snowed. At this point the snow isn’t deep enough to distinguish tracks very well in the leaf litter, but thanks to the fisher’s propensity for crossing logs (which are relatively smooth, an excellent substrate for tracks, and retain scents well), one resident’s presence was announced loud and clear recently.

Fisher have large, wide feet with five toes on each foot and semi-retractable claws. This makes them well adapted for walking on snow, climbing trees and grasping and killing prey. (They are also capable of rotating their hind feet nearly 180 degrees, which allows for a headfirst descent from trees.) Their track is very distinctive, and can be quite common in forested areas of the Northeast.

Usually, if given the option, fishers will choose walking on a log over walking on the forest floor. Why would they have developed this preference? There often is no water where this occurs, so it’s not done in an effort to avoid wet feet. My best guess as to the purpose of this behavior is scent-marking. Fishers have been observed sliding along logs on their bellies, as they rub the scent of their anal glands along the top of the log. The fisher scent-marks with cheek, abdominal, neck, flank, and plantar (feet) glands, in addition to anal glands. A fisher leaves its scent with every step of its hind feet, and if rotting logs are superior scent-absorbers, it may be why fishers choose them over the forest floor.

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11 responses

  1. Suzanne

    Interesting. I wonder if it matters that it might be quieter walking on logs?

    November 25, 2016 at 8:48 am

  2. Kathryn

    I read the title of this post as “fishers crossing legs” and couldn’t wait to see the picture!

    November 25, 2016 at 9:41 am

    • Marilyn

      Same with me! Now that I’ve had my coffee, I’t thinking to take a woods walk while the snow is still here, and see what I can see!

      November 25, 2016 at 10:18 am

    • I hope you weren’t too disappointed!

      November 25, 2016 at 11:53 am

  3. My sweet dog, Tucker, and I once came across a set of fresh fisher tracks, just like the ones in the photo. She sniffed, raised her ears and eyebrows, and looked at me.

    “No,” I said, “Bad idea. That can be a nasty animal. ” What she heard was, “No,” and she let them be. That was a great dog.

    November 25, 2016 at 10:27 am

  4. Laura Nagy

    I wonder if using logs as sidewalks is less energetically costly than constantly hopping or climbing up and over or ducking down under. Having bushwhacked in winter woods on snowshoes, I know I often choose the easier path even if it’s less direct. I do agree that scent-marking is undoubtedly part of this this tough-guy mustelid’s log-walking behavior.

    November 27, 2016 at 12:47 pm

  5. Jim Lafley

    My brother and I saw 2 Fishers a few miles apart in the same day running along a stone wall. We had 2 thoughts; looking for food as mice & chipmunks are common on walls or they made a great sidewalk for faster movement above the forest floor.

    November 29, 2016 at 8:42 am

  6. Nathaniel Parke

    I would guess also for more silent travel. You can easily observe domestic cats doing this too.

    December 1, 2016 at 9:21 pm

  7. Lovely blog! Following! Lets stay touch!

    December 13, 2016 at 1:54 pm

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