I've been trying to find scientific research concerning animals' tendency to adhere to certain worn paths, or "game trails". However, I have found very little and suspect the problem to be that a different, more scientific word is usually used instead.

A "game trail" is a clear path in a forest lacking substantial undergrowth due to the frequent passage of animals, such as deer.

  • Welcome to EL&U! The following is not an answer, but it's possibly of interest: "A trackway is an ancient route of travel for people or animals".
    – Lawrence
    Oct 3, 2016 at 23:41
  • This isn't an answer either, but may have some useful info: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/10723/… A phrase that comes up in this Q&A is "path of least resistance". Desire path isn't an answer either, but may lead somewhere. This is a fascinating question. +1
    – ab2
    Oct 4, 2016 at 2:45
  • Contemporary study of animal behavior is called 'ethology'. Scientifically, animals are not 'game'—leaving aside the putative origins of science as an evolution of tracking. In ethology, I don't know of any more technical term than 'path' (or '[animal] path', bearing in mind that humans are also animals) and 'trail' (or '[animal] trail'). 'Path' or 'trail', however, may be modified by various adjectives that suggest scientific distinctions between types: 'collective' path or trail, for example, distinguishes what you might call a 'game trail' from others not distinguishable as 'trails'.
    – JEL
    Oct 4, 2016 at 9:27
  • So, search for +"animal path" ethology or something similar, then refine the search as you focus on your area of interest (for example, +"collective path" ethology psychology).
    – JEL
    Oct 4, 2016 at 9:32
  • Also, see the answers to this question on ELU (with word choices related to animals as well as people): What is the word for a path that is made naturally by the action of people walking?
    – JLG
    Oct 5, 2016 at 14:30

3 Answers 3

  • It seems that you have become motivated to find a "Scientific
    Definition" for the term "Game Trail" for the purpose of scientific
    research. I am going to answer your question to the best of my
    knowledge by trying to provide an answer that is helpful to your
    studies versus just offering various definitions. I perceive
    language as being a vehicle for communication and understanding,
    using my current perception I think you have the correct definition
    to achieve understanding. Scientific research that would help explain certain animals tendencies to adhere to certain paths could be obtained and learned
    about scientifically through many various fields of study. I am
    going to provide information focuses primarily on the study of animal behavior regarding Animal Cognition. This method of scientific
    research would seemingly be obtained through visual stimuli during
    such studies to understand the actions of animals. After doing some brief research into animal behavior to offer some scientific explanation and reasoning here are my results.
    Simply stated animals are motivated to survive as a primary
    predisposition. Taking into account that idea it would seem that
    animals would react similarly in a similar environment to efficiently achieve that predisposition as a general rule, This would mean that various stimuli in such similar shared environment may have
    encouraged animals to act in a way that would create infrastructure
    in the environment to help them survive. If an animal chose a path
    because of the nearby resources necessary for it's survival then it's likely other animals would choose similar paths resulting in leaving behind signs in the form of stimuli such as,but not limited to;
    scent, structures (dens, beds, dams, etc...) food, and broken plant
    cover. The variables of each animals affect on that path would be of scientific importance but as a simple perspective it would seem even after the first animal took a path for the previous reasons the next animal in the area may find that path easier to take being as how the first animal would have broken some of the plant cover this would of course be true for each animal that travels such path until you end
    up with a little road or "game trail". It would also be apparent
    that an animal would choose to use such path often after the first
    time of use since the reasons for taking the unbeaten path were
    substantial enough for the survival of said animal to rely on taking an unbeaten path. This is just a very simple explanation to give
    examples as to why an animal takes such action. I would like to state a perspective in relation to understanding other species actions with the reminder that humans are animals that have a predisposition to survive as well. Of course living things are generally motivated for their survival with the natural goal of continuing their species, observation using the scientific method of modern scientific culture would support such statements. That being stated we as an intelligent species have also chosen to create and share paths for our survival in the hunt for resources and an improved ability to survive. These days it's easy to forget such things since we are creating things such as shared
    routes of travel for things other than simple "Survival".

    I would advise you to look into the science of psychology and findings throughout the study of animal behavior as well as
    comparative psychology, ethology, behavioral ecology, and
    evolutionary psychology, and cognitive ethology if you are trying to locate Scientific avenues for research information in the scientific communities. I believe I have answered you question and offered
    thoughts to help you in your research. Thanks for everyone that has participated in this conversation in the pursuit of answering the
    question and most of all thanks for allowing me the opportunity to
    participate as well. Sincerely


I don't know about science, but in general usage it is paths of desire (or, as Wikipedia calls them, desire paths).


Spoor, according to Oxford Living Dictionaries:

The track or scent of an animal.

Two of their example sentences:

‘He found the spoor easily enough and followed it for about a minute, but then it forked.’

‘They followed cattle spoors for about seven kilometres and found 66 of the cattle scattered over a distance of 10 km.’

Used in academia:

Tracking, the reconstruction of activity from the spoor of animals, is an age‐old technique that is still frequently used by modern‐day hunter/gatherer communities.


"Spoor | Definition of Spoor in English by Oxford Dictionaries." Oxford Dictionaries | English. Accessed May 26, 2018. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/spoor.

Stander, P.e., Ii. Ghau, D. Tsisaba, Ii. Oma, and |.| Vi. "Tracking and the Interpretation of Spoor: A Scientifically Sound Method in Ecology." Journal of Zoology 242, no. 2 (2009): 329-41. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.1997.tb05805.x.

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