Flora and Fauna of Northwest Florida

Biology Department

University of West Florida

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Tracks in the Sand

Tracks are often clues to the identity and activity of animals that are secretive and difficult to observe directly. This is certainly the case on barrier islands, where the broad expanses of sand wiped clean by rain and wind provide a canvas to be painted by the movement of creatures.

Ghost crabs are found all over the barrier island, resting in burrows during the heat of the day and emerging at night to scavenge for food. Their trails all lead back to their burrows.

 

 

Raccoons prowl the secondary dunes, swales and back bay areas at night. Many birds are found in the secondary dunes and maritime forest areas looking for seeds and insects. (The coin is a quarter)

Armadillos are a recent additional to our local fauna, and seem to survive quite well on the barrier islands. (This coin is a dime)

Ants can leave conspicuous trails from their activity. On the left, ants have created a pit around a dead moth as they dismember it to take back to their nest. On the right, ants traveling 40 feet from their nest to berries dropped beneath a saw palmetto made these trails. The ants are so small they are barely visible as tiny dots on the path.

 

Can you Identify these tracks? The one on the left might be a Six Lined Race Runner. The coins are quarters. Answers to rsnyder@uwf.edu.

Fiddler Crabs make burrows in the back bay marshes and sand flats, where they scrape up the sand surface and eat the microalgae growing there. It in the process, the cleaned sand is rounded up into little balls and deposited in piles or scattered over the fiddler crab flat.

An alligator left a smooth path between its footprints where it dragged its belly, marked down the center where its tail cut the sand. Photo credit: Dr. S. Collard

To the right, a snake makes a distinctive track as it pushes along the sand across flats or upslope on dunes, moving from one patch of vegetation to another looking for food. On downhill slopes, snakes leave a trail that looks more like the ant path above.

Plants leave tracks too. This small clump of Spartina patens has left its mark where the wind has blown its leaves over the sand.

What made the tracks in the picture to the right?

At least they left a couple of full ones, so there was some reward for cleaning it up.