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Check Cat Tracks Twice

1-27-17-bobcat-tracks2-024These feline tracks were found in central Vermont. The position of the four toes (front two not aligned side by side like canids), lack of nail marks, three lobes on hind edge of heel pad, and the overall shape of the tracks (more round than oval) confirm that they were made by a member of the cat family. The size of the tracks (2 ½” long, 2 1/4″ wide) falls right in between those of a Bobcat (1 ½” long, 1 3/8″ wide) and a Mt. Lion (3 ½” long, 4″ wide). The observer of the animal that left these tracks was confident that its overall shape, size, color and long tail were those of a young Mt. Lion.

There have been confirmed (DNA from scat, tracks) signs of these large cats in recent years in New England, as well as the body of a road-killed male Mt. Lion (Connecticut, 2011). DNA testing found that the animal was from South Dakota. Males seem to be moving into the Northeast, but a breeding population has yet to be established according to most biologists.

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38 responses

  1. Is that a tail drag mark next to tracks, Or are the tracks L & R feet?

    January 27, 2017 at 7:56 am

    • I knew there would be controversy about these tracks! It is why I did not say definitively what they were…the person who saw the animal is an experienced outdoorswoman, which is why I mentioned her observations of the animal that made them. The measurements are “average” and for sure there are small mt. lions and large bobcats whose tracks would measure outside these dimensions. Just wanted to alert people to “check cat tracks twice.” Thanks for your input, everyone.

      January 27, 2017 at 9:56 am

      • janetpesaturo

        The measurements you gave for bobcats are not even average. A 1 and 1/2 by 1 and 3/8 inch feline track could even be a large house cat.

        January 27, 2017 at 10:29 am

    • It’s a foot drag mark!

      January 27, 2017 at 11:18 am

  2. Alice Pratt

    Although I love animals, I hope the Mt Lions & Bears decide to stay “up north.” Having Coyotes around here ( 25 m south of Boston) has taken the fun out of being outdoors when it’s darker. You can see their tracks in the snow, have seen them so many times ( a few weeks ago, in our yard), hear them howling & we’ve had several cats “disappear.”

    January 27, 2017 at 8:12 am

  3. janetpesaturo

    I disagree with your measurement range for bobcat tracks. I have seen many slightly more than 2 inches wide. Mark Elbroch states, in his book Mammal Tracks & Sign, that bobcat tracks can be as much as 2 and 5/8 inches wide. Even the heel pad alone can be up to 1 and 9/16 inches wide. A 2 and 1/2 by 2 and 1/4 inch feline track falls well within the range for bobcat.

    January 27, 2017 at 8:40 am

    • You may well be right, Janet. But my point was that there is reason to look twice when you see a cat track!

      January 27, 2017 at 11:20 am

  4. Janet is right, there have been quite a few 40 Lb range males around, and they will leave tracks that size. Also Lynx have been confirmed in Southern VT, and spotted in far northern Franklin County MA, not far apart.

    January 27, 2017 at 9:13 am

  5. We also have a preliminary confirmation via DNA from Shutesbury MA from July 2016. The animal attacked a horse. It was seen by a few locals in the days before, but has not been seen since. The DNA is undergoing further tests to try to determine the origin population. DNA showed it was a Male, North American origin. Your tracks are way too small for a male cougar.

    January 27, 2017 at 9:15 am

  6. Lisa Bertoldi

    What about lynx?


    January 27, 2017 at 9:16 am

    • That would be a stretch, size-wise and the only sightings confirmed in Vermont are much farther north. Good thought, though!

      January 27, 2017 at 11:30 am

  7. Kathy Schillemat

    I wish the observer had shared a photograph of the “Mountain Lion.” Seems to be enough questions about the size of the tracks to bring some doubt to the ID.

    January 27, 2017 at 9:30 am

    • Me, too. She didn’t get one, however.

      January 27, 2017 at 11:22 am


    Maybe…but not sure, Mary—but I’m glad you put it “out there”. In my experience, there’s quite a difference between the size of an average bobcat track and that of a large male (which may be well over 40 lbs.). There’s no scale in the photo, but the measurements given correspond to the high end of the range for bobcat tracks. (If you want a reference, see Animal Tracks [Peterson] the update of Murie’s guide by Mark Elbroch.) A bobcat’s tail is not really bobbed and can appear to be longer. If it’s really a mountain lion that is that small, it seems unlikely that it would have dispersed so far from its birthplace so soon.

    Just my thoughts.

    Meade Cadot

    Naturalist Emeritus

    January 27, 2017 at 10:09 am

    • I agree whole-heartedly, Meade. I carefully never called them mt. lion tracks, though I may have inferred as much! Just wanted to make people aware that they are around and that it’s worth a second look/measurement!

      January 27, 2017 at 11:25 am

  9. Edie Posselt

    Now that’s good news and cool in a month of real despair! How would a lynx track be different? I am sure that the animal would look vastly different but just wondered about the tracks? Personally I feel safer in the woods in the dark lately – just saying.
    Edie from NH mostly and CT some…

    January 27, 2017 at 10:58 am

  10. nangalland

    WOW!! >

    January 27, 2017 at 11:12 am

  11. Pat

    I also wondered about the drag mark. Possibly it’s carrying small prey that is dragging? — But it’s so close to the feet. I suppose it could be a tail drag if it had a long tail that hung slightly off center.

    January 27, 2017 at 11:14 am

  12. Pat

    I posted a link to this on a tracking ID page on Facebook, so you can watch for comments there too.

    January 27, 2017 at 11:43 am

  13. Carol C Wagner

    Early one morning in the mid 1990s, I was driving I-89 eastward from Richmond, VT toward Massachusetts.. Traffic was heavy, but up ahead, in the westbound lane, near Bolton, I could see traffic moving around something in the road. I surmised that a moose may have been hit by a car…. But no. As I drew abreast of this road impediment, I clearly saw a dead cougar being winched onto a flatbed truck. It seemed to be in rigor. Its head was toward me…at its far end, its tail (which, oddly, was reddish) was curled up at the end, a detail that still haunts me. Where I lived in Franklin Co. at the time, there was also, ample evidence (3 1/2 ” cat tracks, claw marks on trees, etc.) that cougars were in residence (the deer population was very high, which would have attracted predators). I regret I will not disclose on the Internet – to protect the species -where this was. Vt. Fish & Wildlife denies cougars are here because they would be considered an endangered species in Vermont, and, under VT Statutes, a preservation plan would have to be designed and implemented, and this would COST MONEY. I could say more….

    January 27, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    • Pat

      Wow — on all accounts.

      January 27, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    • Hi Carol,
      I’ve given a lot of thought to your comment about VT Fish & Wildlife’s intentional denial of the presence of mt. lions, as I have heard it repeatedly over the years. The reality is that VT F & W has a long and respected history when it comes to endangered species — both identifying them as such, as well as overseeing the health of their population. I truly believe, and know this from personal experience, that they would be the very first people to acknowledge the confirmed presence of a mt. lion in Vermont – in fact, they’d be jumping up and down with delight. The truth is that while there are many sightings reported to them, they need tracks or scat (DNA) or an indisputable photograph to confirm any sighting, and none of these has been provided in the last couple of decades. What I would give to find concrete evidence, and I am very confident that VT F & W would welcome it, as well!

      February 7, 2017 at 11:06 am

  14. NIna/Roy

    Hi Mary – since moving to Kendal (retirement complex) a very vexing problem has arisen. We moved in here last spring and I was happy to find that many residents had very active bird feeders with lots of the common birds that I had been feeding at our house in Hanover. But about two months ago I noticed that almost all of the birds disappeared and I was told that a Coopers Hawk had systematically killed them!

    Question: how can we get rid of this invading hawk? The residential units, some individual but most in large blocs, have lots of trees that were planted 25 years ago and provide lots of coverage for the regular birds. Most people feeding the birds live on the first floor with an exit door right from their apartment. Does the Coopers Hawk have a height level in the flying pattern?

    Most of the people here that I have talked to are willing to take measures to discourage this unwanted intruder. Do you have any suggestions that we could try?

    Thanks for your time……………….. Nina Banwell

    P.S. I’m writing to you at the urging of Shiela Swett, my bridge-playing friend.

    On Fri, Jan 27, 2017 at 7:40 AM, Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: “These feline tracks were found in central Vermont. > The position of the four toes (front two not aligned side by side like > canids), lack of nail marks, three lobes on hind edge of heel pad, and the > overall shape of the tracks (more round than oval) confirm” >

    January 27, 2017 at 12:08 pm

  15. Carol C Wagner

    P.S. In the mid-1990s, a Jericho resident named Wayne Alexander observed a female cougar with two spotted kittens in the Town of Craftsbury. This was widely reported, and I thought there was an article or at least a menton of this in the magazine “Keeping Track” at the time… but cannot find documentation on the Internet. CCW

    January 27, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    • woods01089

      That female and kittens were confirmed by VT wildlife at that time.

      January 27, 2017 at 7:42 pm

  16. Mark Dindorf

    Could these have been lynx tracks?

    January 27, 2017 at 4:00 pm

  17. Bate

    I saw a catamount with my very own eyes, alive and in the flesh, about 8 years ago in the Middlesex area. They are definitely here!

    January 27, 2017 at 4:12 pm

  18. cwetfeet

    could it be a lynx?

    January 27, 2017 at 4:26 pm

  19. Too many people that I respect have told me that they have seen Mountain Lions in western Rutland County. I always ask… What about the tail, what did it look like? Mountain Lions have amazingly long tails. Many people feel awkward about coming forward because some folks connected with Fish and Game have ridiculed sightings. When an area has large predators present it is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. I love these amazing mammals and will be very happy once wolves are also back balancing the diversity of life we have in Vermont.

    January 28, 2017 at 6:58 am


    FYI I’ve heard of two mounta

    January 28, 2017 at 8:37 am

  21. Cornelia Aiston

    This past summer in Georgia, VT , I think I saw a Juvenal mt. Lion in my back field. Light tan sort of fluffy looking and a straight tail with rings on it.
    I reported it to our Fish and wild Life Office . Was quite a thrill.

    January 29, 2017 at 1:57 pm

  22. johnranta

    I skimmed the comments, and no one seems to have mentioned the large “snowshoe” perimter, secondary print outside of the actual paw print. Neither bobcats nor mountain lions have fluffy, hairy paws. Their prints in snow do not leave that kind of perimeter print, their prints are very clean and look like they are “punched into” the snow. A lynx has a very hairy “snowshoe” extending around their actual paw, enabling them to “float” on snow. My guess would be a lynx.

    I do wonder, as others have, about the “tail drag” or “foot drag” or (since it is off to the side) “prey drag” mark.

    John Ranta

    January 30, 2017 at 6:53 pm

  23. Pat

    There are now a number of comments where I cross-posted this photo, including many from pros, plus links to a 74-page document about tracks left in different kinds of snow, etc.

    January 30, 2017 at 7:13 pm

  24. Pat

    Here’s a link to the 74-page document, which includes many photos. I did not exhaustively read it, but based on what I saw and read, it seems unlikely this would be a lynx track, given how furry their feet are in winter.

    January 30, 2017 at 7:30 pm

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