Tracks On The Beach

By Mary Pringle for The Island Eye News

When we walk on the beach, we come across tracks from different reptiles, mammals and even crabs, some large and some small and some very strange. 

Here are a few: 

• Sea Turtle tracks are what Turtle Team members hope to find on their walks at dawn from May through the middle of August. They are about two feet wide, coming out of the ocean and then returning there. You might see where a nesting loggerhead’s four flippers pushed sand backward as she dragged her 300 pound body forward and also marks shaped like V’s that were made a claw on each flipper. 

• Alligators cannot survive long in salt water in South Carolina, but sometimes they accidentally find themselves in the surf on the beach and have to be rescued and returned to their preferred freshwater habitat in ponds or lagoons usually in Wild Dunes. Look for a heavy tail drag mark in the center and footprints on each side. 

• Horseshoe Crabs crawl up onto the beach above the high tide line during full and new moon phases from May to July to spawn. The females lay their tiny almost invisible eggs. Their tracks can be about 10-12 inches across.

They have been on earth for over 400 million years, and all of their relatives are extinct. If you see one, look for a small white sticker-like tag on the upper shell and follow directions for reporting it. If it is alive and turned upside down or flailing, you can help it by turning it back over and getting it close to the water. Never pick one up by its tail, only the shell. If it is burrowed down in damp sand, it will probably be alright until the tide comes back in. 

• Dogs and Coyotes leave very similar tracks on the beach, but the prints left by the large pad on the rear foot of a coyote is much smaller and less prominent than by a dog (see diagram). 

And there are so many different breeds of dogs that their tracks can be all sizes. In past seasons the Turtle Team thought that nests were being vandalized by people with the orange tape being torn down and sticks knocked over, but we discovered that coyote pups, just like curious and playful dog puppies, were playing with the nest signs and tape. There were tiny teeth marks on the torn tape and tiny canine footprints around the nests. Plastic screens do keep them from digging into the turtle nests.

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