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City University of New York

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INTRODUCTION:    Devotees of 19th century American literature will have a good picture of Natty Bumppo, James Fenimore Cooper's pre-eminent woodsman of the Leatherstocking Tales, following a deer or human trail, often for days in pursuit of his quarry. Likewise, the crossing of the continent by Lewis & Clark and their Corps of Discovery in 1804-06 by following rivers, animal trails, and other features of the landscape is legendary. From our third millenium, urban perspective, in which reading train schedules and road signs is more important than following a faint trail through the wilderness, such feats may have an ethereal quality, which makes it hard for us to appreciate the consummate observational skill and interpretative ability that people of earlier generations developed when confronted by needs which now are no longer important to the vast majority of us.

We don't need a level of expertise in interpreting animal tracks equivalent to that of the Deerslayer or Meriwether Lewis to proceed with our analysis, but we do need to be able to identify dinosaur footprints, and distinguish them from tracks made by other animals or from inanimate markings. The focus of our first foray into the question of dinosaur running speed is to determine how best to do this. We will examine footprints of some modern animals as a means of examining the question of whether animals can be identified by their footprints alone.

FOOTPRINTS: A footprint or track is made when the foot of an animal pushes against soil, sand, or other soft substrate as the animal walks or runs. The animal's weight presses the foot downward into the substrate and forms an impression of the foot as a shallow depression in the soil or sand surface. We have all made footprints on a summer's day at the beach so the process should not be unfamiliar.

For us, the crucial point is that this track-making process should produce a footprint that reflects the size, shape, and perhaps even skin texture, of the foot that made it. As a trivial example of this, it is hard to imagine that any one of us would have any difficulty recognizing a human footprint because we all know what our feet look like.

LAB #3 ASSIGNMENT: Your assignment for this third lab is to determine whether it is possible to identify an animal from a footprint. We will consider seven modern animals and the tracks each makes. Pictures of each animal can be found by clicking on the red buttons below. The brown button links you to pictures of the tracks. The tracks are not matched with the animals that made them. Your task is to identify the footprints of each animal based on similarities between foot structure and footprint features. Although the photos provided here, should help in illustrating the foot structure of these animals, I will expect you to consult general zoology references in the College Library (encyclopedias are OK), or elsewhere, if you are unsure about the foot structure of some of these animals.

When you have completed this task, email me your results. For each footprint, tell me which animal made it, and why. Also, I want to see a summary statement indicating in general what features of the foot are most important for identification of footprints, and whether it would be possible to recognize the footprint of: a) a dinosaur; and b) a tyrannosaur; and c) what you would need to know in order to do that.

Emails must reach me by 11PM, Wednesday, March 14.