A contractor working on a house in Duxbury caused a stir when he reported that he saw a mountain lion. But state officials say the mysterious visitor was probably only a more common denizen of the woods: a coyote.
The animal was spotted about a week and a half ago in a fairly rural part of town, a Duxbury official said. The area has plenty of open space and is near the town's border with Marshfield and Pembroke.
“He got a good, long look at it, so we felt that it was a pretty credible sighting," said Peter Buttkus, director of public works in town.
The contractor snapped pictures of the animal’s tracks in the snow, but he did not come forward immediately, Buttkus said. The town learned of the possible sighting Monday. They quickly sent the photos to officials at the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, who promptly threw cold water on the idea.
“Several biologists looked at photos of the tracks,” said Catherine Williams, a spokeswoman for the state agency. “They determined that those tracks were canine, meaning they were from a coyote or a dog, and not a mountain lion.”
Tom French, assistant director at MassWildlife, was among the biologists who examined the spoor.
“This particular case was not even debatable,” French said. “It was very straightforward. My guess is it’s probably a coyote.”
The basic difference between canine and feline prints is that cat tracks are essentially round, while dog tracks are more elongated, he said. Since dogs walk with their claws out, their toes also show up in a V-shape. Cats, on the other hand, walk with their claws retracted, which produces a rounded shape.
Massachusetts has not had a confirmed mountain lion spotting for more than 150 years, French said.
“Our last valid record in this state of a mountain lion was in about 1858 in the western part of the state,” he said. “We’ve had hundreds of reports since, but nothing that has any evidence to support it.”
“There’s absolutely no doubt that the people who are making reports are 100 percent convinced that they did see a mountain lion,” French said. “But our brains tend to fill in a lot of the things we missed or didn’t get a good look at.”
Buttkus said town officials wanted to alert the public just in case.
“Education is what we wanted to do,” he said. “We didn’t want to alarm the public. We wanted to let them know just to be on the safe side.”
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