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Archive for the ‘Reptiles’ Category

I spotted this large Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) in the grassy vegetation at the edge of one of the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Monday. The turtle seemed to notice me as I bent down to take the shot, but made no attempt to move away (or to snap at me). Still. I decided to play it safe, kept a healthy distance from the turtle, and departed from the turtle without disturbing it from its comfortable resting spot.

In the past I have seen snapping turtles out of the water only in the spring, when they emerge from the muddy pond bottoms where they spend their winters, and when they are laying their eggs. I am not at all sure why this one decided to spend some time on dry land.

snapping turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love to see young Common Five-lined Skinks (Plestiodon fasciatus) with their long, bright blue tails, like this one that I spotted on a dead tree earlier this week in Prince William County, Virginia. There is something so whimsically incongruous about that striking color on the skink’s body that I can’t help but smile whenever I see one.

Common Five-lined Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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There are not very many species of venomous snakes in Virginia, but I managed to encounter one of them, an Eastern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix), while exploring in Prince William County earlier this week will fellow wildlife enthusiast Walter Sanford. I had just climbed over the trunk of a fallen tree when I looked to the side and spotted the snake about three to four feet away from me (100 to 120 cm).

The first shot is a cropped image that shows the copperhead’s eerie eye with a vertical pupil—I was definitely not as close as it may appear. The second shot shows the view that I had when looking through my 180 mm macro lens. The snake, which is pretty large and well camouflaged, appeared to be fully alert and was facing the tree trunk that I had just crossed.

I have read a lot about copperheads since that encounter. One of the tips for avoiding them included checking the other side of logs before stepping over them—I am pretty sure I will heed that advice from now on.

UPDATE: Check out Walter Sanford’s blog posting that includes his impressions of our encounter with the copperhead and some additional photos.

Eastern Copperhead

Eastern Copperhead

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It was quite startling to see the bright orange color on the head of this Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) yesterday at Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia. We do not have many lizards in our area and they all tend to blend in much better with their surroundings than this one did.

According to information from the Virginia Herpetological Society, adult males of this species are uniformly brown most of the year. However, during mating season in the spring the head of the males becomes enlarged and turns bright orange. The color of their heads gradually fade and the head is reduced in size the rest of the year.

Broad-headed Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What is your first thought when you see these three turtles together? Are they just friends or more than friends? The turtles seem to be pretty comfortable sharing a confined space and there is plenty of space in our minds for varied interpretations on the nature of their relationship. According to the old saying, “two’s a couple and three’s a crowd”—is that always true?

Whatever the case, the turtles at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge have been definitely been enjoying our recent sunny days. My turtle identification skills are not very good, but I think these all may be Eastern Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta picta), though there is a chance that they might be Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans).

I love images like this one that allow viewers to use their creativity to interpret what they see and to generate in their minds their own mini-narrative of what is going on. Ménage à trois or just friends—you make the call.

red-eared sliders

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the hazards of exploring creeks and streams at this time of the year is that snakes may be sunning themselves at water’s edge. Last week I was startled when I suddenly realized that there was a snake right in front of me, precisely in the direction in which I had been moving.

I managed to get a shot of the sunning snake, which I believe to be a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon), just before it set off swimming down the creek. Although the first shot may make it look like I was really close to the snake, I was actually a good distance away—generally I prefer to use long telephoto lenses with snakes.

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Why did the Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) cross the road? It sounds like the opening line of a joke, but I asked myself that question yesterday when I spotted a snapping turtle lumbering its way across one of the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The turtle’s back was covered with mud, suggesting it had only recently emerged from its winter sleep. In the past I have sometimes seen snapping turtles out of the water when they were getting ready to lay eggs, though it seems a little early for that to be taking place.

I have always thought that snapping turtle look like dinosaurs. What do you think?

Snapping Turtle

Snapping Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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