Tracking animals is such a fascinating way to get in touch with nature and learn more about the animals in your area! Did you know that you can even learn how to cast animal tracks? It's a fun and easy activity that can help you figure out what kind of animal left the print, and how big it was. Here's a helpful guide to get you started on this adventure:
Searching for Tracks: One of the first steps in this exciting activity is finding the right place to look for animal tracks! Some of the best places to search for animal tracks include in mud or sand near rivers, ponds, or lakes, in fields or meadows, in snow-covered areas, and on dirt paths or trails. Keep your eyes peeled for tracks left by animals like deer, raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, and birds.
Look for the Tracks: Once you have found a suitable location, start looking for tracks. Focus on areas where animals are likely to travel, such as near water sources or along game trails. Pay attention to the size and shape of the prints, as this will help you identify the species.
Make the Mold:
For making a cast of the track, you'll require a mold. Mix two parts of plaster and one part of water in a container, and ensure that the entire print is covered while pouring it into the track. It's best to add plaster to the water and start mixing right away, as plaster starts to set upon contact with water. Work quickly and stir the mixture to remove all lumps. To ensure a high-quality cast, tap the mixing container on the ground to release any accumulated bubbles. The bubbles will rise to the surface, allowing you to remove them.
To prevent the plaster from flowing out when you pour it, it is recommended to create a barrier around the track. You can use a cardboard strip secured with a paperclip or a cookie cutter to form the barrier. Gently press the barrier onto the soil or sand surrounding the track to keep the plaster contained.
To avoid damaging the track, avoid pouring the plaster directly onto it. Instead, pour the mixture onto the ground next to the track and let it run into the impression. Start with the fine details, like claw marks, before filling in the rest. A relatively thick pour will result in a strong and durable cast.
Allow the plaster to set for a minimum of 30 minutes. During this time, the wet surface will change from glossy to matte, and the plaster will release heat as it undergoes a chemical reaction. Check the cast by lightly touching the surface to see if it is dry or still soft, taking care not to apply too much pressure and potentially cause cracking. Once dry, gently tap the surface with your knuckles to check for firmness and a ceramic sound. If the cast is solid, lift it up by reaching underneath it and lifting from opposite edges, rather than using a stick to pry it up, which could cause it to crack.
Analyze the Print: Now that you have a cast of the track, you can analyze it to determine the size and species of the animal. Look at the shape of the print, the number of toes, and any other distinguishing features. You can use a field guide or online resource to help you identify the track.
Continue Your Learning: If you're interested in animal tracking, casting animal tracks is a great first step- but there's so much more to learn! You can dive deeper into the world of animal behavior and tracking by reading books or even taking classes. There's always more to discover and explore in the wonderful world of nature!
Some simple tips to help you with your casting:
- If the plaster mixture starts to set up before pouring all the tracks, avoid adding more plaster or water. Adding more material can result in casts that are chalky and weak, making them difficult to clean and prone to breaking apart easily.
- You can accelerate the plaster setting process by adding a small quantity of salt to the mixture.
- The addition of a small amount of vinegar to the mixture will retard the setting of the plaster.
- Using either vinegar or salt can alter the plaster's composition, causing the resulting cast to be slightly softer than a regular cast. If you require the plaster to set faster and are not concerned about the cast's quality, add salt.
- The setting time of casts may vary depending on the moisture level of the environment. Casts made in humid conditions can take longer to set, while those made in dry environments may set faster.
- When transporting a cast and needing to protect it, always use paper to wrap it. Plastic bags should never be used for this purpose. Suitable alternatives include paper towels, paper bags, and newspaper, although be aware that newsprint may stain your cast.
- After allowing your cast to cure for a few days, it's possible to paint it. However, it's important not to paint every surface of the cast as this can completely seal it and prevent moisture from escaping. It's recommended to only paint the details of the track and leave the rest unpainted to allow for proper ventilation.