It rained on Sunday. I can’t remember the last time I saw rain, it’s been that long. Nevertheless, we went for a little walk in the field behind my house. It was a bit soggy for the wildlife, only the odd rabbit and a muntjac barking in the copse.
The persistent rain had washed out any tracks, but that doesn’t mean there was nothing to be seen. There was a little whodunnit mystery in the wheat. CSI Bedfordshire, if you will. Some animal had been eating the wheat stalks and stripping the green corn from the ears.
The evidence was lying on the path, but there were no tracks to be seen. Can we tell what animal did this?
The first rule in tracking is to think about what is possible and probable. Think about the species that are known to be in the area first. Whatever had eaten the wheat was a herbivore, but we can eliminate anything too exotic. Our local herbivores are mice, voles, rabbits and hares, and deer of various species. The field had no domestic species such as sheep or cows so we can rule them out too.
Voles and mice were a possibility – they are definitely to be found in this field, but the stalks were bitten off too high for such small animals. That leaves rabbits, hares and deer.
Examining the stalks of wheat revealed that they had been chewed off rather than bitten cleanly.
It’s a little detail, but important. Rabbits and hares are (sort of) rodents and have incisor teeth in both upper and lower jaws that meet like scissors. They snip off vegetation cleanly. They wouldn’t leave a mangled stalk like this.
Deer, on the other hand, have incisor teeth in the lower jaw only, and a horny pad on the upper jaw. They can’t bite as cleanly as rabbits and tend to tear what they eat. This wheat stalk is characteristic of a deer.
So who is the most likely suspect? Probably the muntjac deer I heard barking in the wood nearby. It fits the feeding signs and the location. Case closed. It was only a short walk in the rain but it gave me a little chance to practise some tracking skills. There’s always something to be found…