animal sign comparisons

photos of and notes about scat and tracks

Please do not handle scat. Wolf scat, for example, can transmit tapeworm eggs to humans.

If the scat is steaming (on a cool early morning hike, for example) the animal may be VERY nearby.

Here, human and bear tracks side by side in soft mud for a size comparison:
one human paw print, two bear paw prints


and for another size comparison,

griz track in snow with a dollar bill next to it

bear track next to a dollar bill to show size comparison

Watch a Grand Teton National park video identifying and comparing animal tracks

bison: NPS bison dung 120 pxls:

bear: nps bear scat 120 pxls: grizzly:grizzly bear scat photo by J Schmidt:

happy isles bear scat sign:

cylindical, 2′ plus (massed if vegetation main food source). We’ve most often seen bear scat that was totally very dark green and shiny.

bear scat (left hand photo is full of berries, right hand photo is glossy dark green, common when bears eat a lot of grass

Yosemite had these notes: “Here in Yosemite, you may stumble upon coyote, raccoon, mountain lion, or bobcat poop, all of which can be confused with bear poop. Coyote poop is also tubular and may contain the same foods, but it usually looks like a pile of twisted rope. Raccoons go to the bathroom in the same spot over and over, so their poops will be found in large piles called latrines. Bobcats and mountain lions both have segmented poops, a characteristic common to felines. Their poop is dense and won’t flatten if you step on it. All of the poop piles mentioned above are smaller than a bear’s.”

moose: NPS moose dung 220 pxls:

chips or massed when eating aquatic plants and thick grasses, pellets (a little more oblong than elk) when eating woody browse

elk: NPS elk scat 120 pxls:

chips like cattle when feeding in summer on lots of vegetation, pellets in winter when food is more dried grass

coyote: is like a dog’s but often with more hair

frequently deposited where they stop to look for prey at an open area

beaver: you won’t see this deposited on land very often

otter: short, round or flat with fish scales, bones or other aquatic food parts. Green and slimy when fresh.

(Sorry, these photos of animal scat are not printed here in a scale to show their size in relation to each other.)

fog over colors blue and green in a narrow photo strip

The lab results of scat samples “for 2019 revealed that 35 individual mountain lions were detected in Yosemite: 14 females, 10 males, and 11 cougar samples without individual or sex identified.”
Learn about research sponsored by the Yosemite Conservancy and “follow a mountain lion’s journey on a summer morning in Yosemite.” You can see that video cameras detected mountain lions all over Yosemite Valley.

water rippling

tracks (FOOT PRINTS):

Both the dog and cat family have four toes.
Bear, otter, badger, wolverine have five toes.

full coyote or wolf tracks (footprints) will almost always leave toenail imprints, a bobcat or mountain lion won’t

wolf track in snow: wolf track in snow photo by Barry O'Neill:

coyote has a walking stride of 6 to 8 inches and leaps of 10 feet, wolf has a walking stride of nearly 30 inches and leaps of 9 or more feet

coyote track courtesy of NPS


a bobcat track (footprint) will fit easily within an adult’s palm, a mountain lion’s larger foot will fill it or almost fill it

Mountain lions scratch trees to mark their territories.
Mountain lions scratch trees to mark their territories.

Snowshoe Hare Lepus Americanus tracks in snow:

track in snow

NPS track of an otter

NPS track of a wolverine

longtailed weasel:
NPS track of a long tailed weasel

marmot: (Marmota faviventris)
NPS track of a marmot

this photo of a Marmot and a Pika sitting side by side on a trail is from Rocky Mountain mammal size comparisons.

marmot and pica on trail: marmot and pica on trail

raccoon tracks

a narrow band of sunset clouds

you won’t find deer or elk tracks as much in/near the water habitat of moose, and moose tracks are much larger, up to 5 to 7 inches long


NPS moose track print


pronghorn (not really an antelope but often called an antelope):
NPS track ( footprint) of a pronghorn

mountain goat:
NPS track of a mountain goat

row of rocks carved into brick shapes
Brown bear tracks photo from Gates of the Arctic National park:

Brown bear tracks, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve NPS photo

NPS photo Griz bear_tracks_in_mud: mud with bear footprints

grizzly tracks have less space between toes than black bears, black bears toes arranged in more of an arc than griz, claw length (from tip of claw to front of toe) longer than toe length on griz

smallest toe of the five may fail to print

North Cascades National Park notes: Differentiating Black and Grizzly Bear Tracks

“Biologists use front tracks to distinguish bear species. You can do the same when you are out in the wilderness. Establish a line through the lowest point of the outside toe and the highest point of the palm pad. Notice that the black bear’s inside (right) toe is mostly below the line, while the grizzly bear’s is above the it. The rear foot on both species looks the same.”

The Yellowstone bear tracks chart, shown below, notes include that a line drawn from under the big toe and across the top of the pad runs through the top 1/2 of the little toe on black bear tracks and through or below the bottom 1/2 of the little toes on grizzly bear tracks.

bear print comparison chart

Bears also leave signs when they scratch on trees and when they climb up and down them. This tree trunk has vertical scratch marks made by a bear during descent. The arc of five scars was made by the jab of a hind foot directly into the trunk during ascent.

tree with scratch marks on trunk from a bear

and here are the size of scratch marks in relation to a human hand:
human hand on tree next to bear claw marks

NPS photo Yellowstone wildlife montage Robert Hynes 560 pxls: Rocky Mountain mammal size comparisons has photos and comparisons of beavers, squirrels, pika, marmot, elk, moose, bison, fox, coyote, wolf, golden-mantled ground squirrel, chipmunk, Red Squirrel (also known as) Chickaree, Unita Ground squirrels, bobcat, lynx, mountain lion (cougar), pine marten, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, grizzly and black bears.
nps drawing bears: drawing of a black bear and a grizzly for comparison

Bears sounds from the NPS:

Well worth looking at:

wolf pack in snow NPS photo:

For actual incidents of injuries from animals, usually caused by approaching them too closely, go to: fatal, near fatal or close call incidents/accidents in camping, backpacking, climbing and mountaineering

Look for the BEARS, MOUNTAIN LION, BISON, ELK and MOOSE sections.

NPS bear tracks:

For your safety while wildlife viewing, stay 25 yards away, at least, for most wildlife, and 100 yards for bears, moose, elk, bison and wolves, whether on foot or in your car.

Keep the animal’s line of travel or escape route clear and move away if wildlife approaches you.

How far away is 100 yards? Picture the length of a football field without the end zones.

25 yards? picture four car lengths or six kayak lengths, or the width of an Olympic-sized pool like ours at the college.

If you have an accidental, surprise or inadvertent closer encounter with wildlife you must remove yourself to those distances, including while driving on a road.

NPS drawing of a human and various animals showing how far away we need to stay from wild animals

row of buses depicting distance to stay away from animals

Safe Distances from Wildlife includes reasons to stay away from even friendly seeming animals in parks, and charts and photos to better be able to determine and visualize how far away from wildlife you need to stay to be safe (and obey laws that do have penalties).

wildlife jams has some safety info and etiquette.

Grand Canyon National Park rangers say: “Follow the rule of thumb: if you can cover the entire wild animal with your thumb you’re at a safe distance. This distance is usually 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from large wildlife . . . If you are close enough to take a selfie with an animal, you are too close. ”

Parks Canada warns, along with keeping a proper distance from animals :

“If you spot the following defensive warning signals, pull back even more or leave the area:

Bears make a ‘woofing’ noise, growl and snap their jaws;
Bull elk and moose put their heads down and paw at the ground;
Cow elk flatten their ears, stare directly at you and raise their rump hair.

If you cause an animal to move, you are too close.”

You will really want your own binoculars.

and a telephoto lens for your camera.

What do grizzly bears eat?

A report from Grand Teton National Park listed what they found in grizzly bear scat:

“A recent synthesis of the available literature on grizzly bear diets (Gunther et al. 2014) determined that the most frequently detected items in 11,478 scats collected during 37 years between 1943 to 2009 were graminoids [grasses], 58.7%; ants, 15.8%; whitebark pine seeds, 15.4%; clover, 11.19%; and dandelion, 10.9%. Other items frequently detected were elk, 8.3%; thistle, 6.9%; horsetail, 5.6%; yampa roots, 4.9%; berries, 4.9%; cutthroat trout, 4.4%; biscuit root, 4.0%; spring beauty, 2.9%; bison, 2.8%; and fireweed, 2.7%. The review also noted the annual stability of the most frequently detected diet‐items during 33 years between 1943 and 2009. The most stable items were graminoids, ants, and elk, which were found in the collected scats in all years (100% of years); clover was present during 97% of years; and elk, thistle and horsetail were found in 94% of years.”

Read more at: bears

At different times of the day and night on The De Anza Outdoor Club winter Yosemite trip people shave seen raccoons, a coyote and ravens in the campsites. We also found tracks in the snow, below raven, raccoon and steel belted radials:

raven footprints in snow: raven footprints in snow with a human hand for size comparison raccoon footprints in snow: raccoon footprints in snow with human hand for size comparison tire tracks in snow: tire tracks in snow

On the 2019 Yosemite winter trip we compared our paws to the tracks of a bear in the snow, in which we could clearly see claw tracks. (Black bears in Yosemite are not true hibernators. Some sleep on and off, some never go into hibernation.)

person puts his hand in the snow next to a bear paw print

Recommended reading
Yellowstone Grizzly Bears: Ecology and Conservation of an Icon of Wildness

” . . . Bears can see in color, can hear in the ultrasonic range, and possess an incredible sense of smell.. . Heaviest Known Body Mass in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: Adult male 715 pounds (324 kilograms); Adult female 436 pounds (198 kilograms)
Speed: 35 to 40 miles per hour (56 to 64 kilometers per hour)
Strength: 2.5 to 5 times greater than humans

. . . 1944: Olaus Murie . . . experimented with electric cattle prods to teach bears to avoid campgrounds, but concluded “the bear learns to recognize the particular person or car that administers the shock or other punishment, and simply avoids that person or car in the future, but does not fear other persons or cars.”

$39.95 or a free download


bear walking along fallen tree
The Yosemite National Park rangers would like you to call them
if you see a bear in Yosemite,
no matter where it is or what it is doing.

Since 2003 there has been a note in the Yosemite Guide: REPORT ALL BEAR SIGHTINGS! To report bear sightings, improper food storage, trash problems, and other bear-related problems, leave a message for the Bear Management team at: 1 (209) 372-0322. Your call can be made anonymously.”

bear with blue tag on ear
If you can, in all the excitement, try to notice if the bear has a tag (usually on the ear), the color of the tag and if possible, the number on it (the tag is large enough that with a telephoto lens you should be able to read the number).

bear with ear tag

From the Yosemite Daily Report newspaper:
“It is extremely important to remember to yell at bears that are in and around development, even if they are foraging on natural food. Though it is very tempting to get close for a picture, or just to watch these incredible animals, it is important not to give into this urge. Yelling at them if they are in residential areas or near people is critical to keep bears natural fear of humans. Giving bears plenty of space. When bears become too comfortable around people, they will often start causing damage to structures and vehicles, or will even become too bold around people, creating safety concerns.”

And the Yosemite Daily Report also said:
“Scare bears when you see them. . . in developed areas- Yell like you mean it!
Make as much noise as possible, try waving your arms, stomping your feet
or anything to make you look intimidating and to get the bear to run away.
We know it’s fun to see bears and it can feel mean to scare them,
but this is a simple way to truly help save a bear’s life.”

NPS bear tracks: bearlogo: from the Keep Bears Wild program NPS bear tracks: </