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Archive for the ‘Reptiles’ Category

When you are walking near the edge of the water, it is good to look down from time to time. Sharp-eyed Walter Sanford, a fellow dragonfly fanatic, spotted this Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) as we were searching for dragonflies in Fairfax County, Virginia last Monday. This is a non-poisonous snake, but I have read that it will bite and the wound may bleed a lot, because its saliva contains a mild anticoagulant.

Three years ago I had an encounter with a similar snake and watched it capture and devour a catfish. If you missed that posting, click on this link and check outSnake captures catfish—if you are like me, you will be fascinated and slightly horrified by the encounter and may avoid wading in the water at the edge of rivers for a time.

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the time Red-eared Slider turtles (Trachemys scripta elegans) slide into the water as soon as they detect my presence. Yesterday, however, this turtle seemed to be in such a deep meditative state that it remained in place when I approached it at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The turtle was even impassive to repeated buzzings by several Eastern Amberwing dragonflies, some of which flew within inches of its face.

I was hoping to get some a shot of a dragonfly landing on the turtle’s shell, but was content to capture this image with both the turtle and a passing dragonfly.

Red-eared Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I usually try to fill the frame as much as possible when I photograph wildlife, but it is equally cool sometimes to take a wider shot that shows the subject’s environment. That was the case with this photo of a Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) that I took last Friday at Occoquan Regional Park. As many of you know, during this time of the year I shoot most often with a macro lens that does not zoom. When I spotted this skink from a distance, I took this shot, suspecting that the skink would scamper away if I got any closer. As soon as I took one more step, the skink disappeared under the tree.

I love the contrast between the bright orange head of the skink and the vibrant green moss on the trunk of the fallen tree. This is probably a male skink, given that the head in males becomes bright orange, as in the photo, during the mating season (spring) but fades and reduces in size in other times of the year.

Broad-headed Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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From a distance I did not notice the large snake coiled up in the grass near the bank of the river—I spotted it only when I was a footstep or two away from stepping on it. My first thought was that it was probably a non-poisonous Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon). After my encounter with an Eastern Copperhead snake last year, though, I have been a little more anxious to get a good look at any snake that I see, especially its head, in order to assess my relative risk—the copperhead has a large angular head and its eyes have a vertical pupil.

So my eyes began to trace the coils of the snake, trying to find its head. This image gives you a pretty good idea of the view that I had as I bent over slightly to look at the snake. In the photo, it is easy to be distracted by the beautiful colors and pattern of its scales and by the sinuous curves of its body. I was a bit relieved when my eyes finally found the round pupils of the eye of this snake which, believe it or not, is visible in this image. Can you find it?

In case you are curious, I took this photo this past Tuesday when I was exploring in the wilds of Fairfax County, Virginia, hunting for dragonflies with my friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. Although our primary target was dragonflies, my eyes were always scanning surrounding areas for other interesting creatures. (If you still have not found the snake’s eye in the image, here is a clue—look near the extreme left in the photo towards the middle.)

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last week I featured an actual mud turtle, but today’s muddy turtles  are actually Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta) that appear to have been painted with a coating of mud. The last few months we have had a lot of unusually cool weather, and I think the turtles have been spending a lot of time in the mud at the bottom of the ponds. Last week the weather improve  and there were turtles in all kinds of places at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge trying to absorb the warmth of the sun.

The pose of the first two turtles brings to mind a well-known scene from the movie Titanic in which Jack and Rose (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) were standing at the railing at the prow of the ship. I must confess that I spent 4+ hours watching the movie on television last Sunday night, which may be why the scene is so fresh in my mind. Yeah, I’m a bit of a romantic.

I encountered the second Painted Turtle as it was slowly making its way across a trail at the wildlife refuge. In addition to noting the large amount of fresh mud still on its shell, I was delighted by the way the two little leaf fragments on its shell matched the yellow markings on its neck.
Painted Turtle

Painted Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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No matter how many times that I see an Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum), I am always shocked by the disproportionately large size of its head. When I spotted this one on Tuesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I remember wondering if it was physically possible for the turtle to withdraw its head into its shell. The turtle was standing in the middle of a wide trail, apparently in the process of crossing the trail. Although the mud turtle seemed to be fully aware of my presence, it appeared to be totally unfazed and merely gave me a sidewards glance as it waited for me to pass.

Given the circumstances in which we now live, I think we all could use some of the patience and imperturbability of this little creature.

 

 

Eastern Mud Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I posted a photograph last week of a skink with a bright blue tail, I noted that a skink can shed its tail if a predator grabs onto it. I never suspected that two days later I would encounter a skink with a missing tail. When I first spotted it, I was so drawn to the detailed scallop pattern on its body that I did not even notice its really short tail. (Click on the image to get a closer view of that wonderful texture.) The coloration suggests to me that this is a Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps), not the more common Five-lined Skink that I featured last week.

I was also drawn to the orange coloration of the head. According to the Virginia Herpetological website, the head in male Broad-headed Skinks becomes bright orange and enlarged in the temporal region during the spring mating season. Perhaps the skink lost its tail during a fight with a rival—the website cited above notes that adult males are particularly aggressive to other males during the mating season.

In case you need a reminder about how long a skink’s tail should be, check out the posting from last week Young skink in May. Some of you may have read my bad joke about skinks in the comment section of that posting, but it seems so appropriate that I can’t help but repeat it here. “Do you know what skinks do when they lose their tails? They go to a retail store.” Sorry. 🙂

 

Broad-headed Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I really love the look of young Common Five-lined Skinks (Plestiodon fasciatus), when their tails are bright blue, like this one that I spotted last Thursday while exploring in Prince William County. The blue color gradually fades as the skinks mature and as a result it becomes a bit harder to spot the adults in the wild.

We do not have very many lizards where I live, so I am always happy to see one of these skinks. They are generally about 5 to 8.5 inches in length (13 to 21 cm), including their tails, and tend to be very skittish. I have read that a skink can shed its tail if a predator grabs onto it and then regenerate somewhat imperfectly the lost portion of the tail, but I have never knowingly seen a skink with a regrown tail.

Common Five-lined Skink

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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So many of the creatures that I encounter blend in so well with their environments, that I detect them only when they move. That was the case with this Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) last week that I spotted while I was exploring in Prince William County, Virginia.

I was a bit startled when the leaves started to rustle almost directly beneath my feet and my eyes detected the form of a large black snake slowly slithering away from me. The snake apparently had been sunning itself before I inadvertently disturbed it.

After the snake had moved some distance up the side of a small hill covered with fallen leaves and vegetation, it paused and turned to the side, allowing me to capture the first shot below. As those of you who know me might suspect, I too had been making my way up the hill parallel to the snake, waiting for such an opportunity to arise to get a shot of the snake’s head, which explains why I was able to take the shot from relatively close range.

Eastern Ratsnake

Eastern Ratsnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Friday I encountered this basking Eastern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta picta) at the appropriately named Painted Turtle Pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Although painted turtles are common in the area in which I live, I am always happy to see their bright colors. In this case, the fallen flowers from a nearby tree added a nice accent to my little portrait of this colorful turtle.

Painted Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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On Friday I spotted this small turtle as it was crossing one of the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It is not a species that I see very often, but I think it is an Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) Appropriately enough its back half appears to be covered in mud.

I generally think of turtles as being slow-moving, but this one was scrambling so quickly across the trail that it was a challenge to keep in within the camera’s viewfinder after I had zoomed in all the way with my telephoto lens. In case you are curious, Eastern Mud Turtles are only about four inches in length (10 cm).

 

Eastern Mud Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As our weather continues to warm up, more and more creatures are reappearing, like this Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) that I spotted yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. As you can see from the photo, the turtle was on dry land, in a wooded area with pine trees, rather than in the water like most of the other turtles that I saw yesterday.

Spotted Turtles are relatively small, about 3.5 – 4.5 inches in length (9 – 11.5 cm), according to the Virginia Herpetological Society website. The website also notes that this species is seen primarily in the early spring, but seldom beyond the month of June. Spotted Turtles enter into a state of dormancy (technically it is “aestivation”) during the warmest months under vegetation and during the coldest months under mud. During those periods they are inactive and their metabolism rate is lower, but their physiological state can be rapidly reversed, and they can quickly return to a normal state.

Spotted Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Our recent warm weather has caused all kinds of creatures to reappear, like this Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) that I spotted on Wednesday while hiking in Prince William Forest Park. I kept my distance and relied on a telephoto lens to zoom closer even though I knew that this snake was not poisonous. I am not sure how long the snake was, but as you can see in the second photo it looked to be quite long. According to the Virginia Herpetological Society website, the Eastern Ratsnake is the only snake in Virginia that can grow to be more than six feet (183 cm) in length.

UPDATE: A snake expert weighed in on my Facebook posting about this snake and noted that, “This is a Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor). It’s harder to tell with the mud, but the dorsal scales are unkeeled, the skull shape too round, scale shape more rhombus-like, and eyes too big.” This just reinforces the notion that the more that I learn, the more I realize how little I know—that is why it is great to have experts around to help us identify what we see and photograph. The average size of a Northern Black Racer is “only” 36-60 inches (90-152 cm).

 

Eastern Ratsnake

Eastern Ratsnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A sharp-eyed fellow photographer spotted this Northern Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus) at eye level in a tree at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge this past Wednesday as we both were searching for dragonflies. The sun was shining brightly and I suspect the snake was basking in its warm on a relatively cool day. I managed to capture a few shots of this colorful snake before it silently slithered away.

Northern Rough Green Snake

Northern Rough Green Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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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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Yesterday was sunny, but not particularly warm—about 48 degrees F (9 degrees C)—so I was shocked when I encountered a snake. My eyes were pointed upwards as I scanned the trees for birds, but a slight movement just in front of my feet caught my attention and when I looked downward, I saw the sinuous curves of a snake (as shown in the second image below).

The snake, which I think may be an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis), moved to the side of the path and into the brush. It stopped moving long enough, however, for me to capture the close-up image image below. I know that some folks will find the image to be creepy or even frightening, but I like the way that it shows some of the wonderful details of the snake’s markings and its body.

Although it may look like I was really close to the snake, I was actually a good distance away and was shooting with a long telephoto lens.

Eastern Ratsnake

 

Eastern Ratsnake

Eastern Ratsnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The temperature today feels so frigid—right about the freezing level—that it is hard to remember that only this past Monday it was sunny and 60 degrees (16 degrees C). While I was enjoying the unseasonably warm weather and exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I photographed these sunning turtles, a relatively rare sight in December.

I did not get a good enough view of the turtles to be able to identify them with any confidence, but I think they may be Eastern Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta picta) or possibly Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans).

Turtles in December

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I spotted this turtle from a distance earlier this week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, it was so elevated that I thought it was standing on a log or a rock. It was only when I zoomed in on this Eastern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta picta) that I realized that it was standing on the back of another turtle. Yikes!

You have to be pretty old—probably about my age—if you remember the song whose name I used as the title for this blog posting. No, it was not sung by The Turtles.

Eastern Painted Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Semi-submerged in the duckweed in the shallow water, this snake patiently awaited an unseen prey yesterday at the pond at Ben Brenman Park, a small suburban park not far from where I live in Alexandria, Virginia. I did not get a really good look at the snake, which dove into the water shortly after I took this shot, but I think it might be a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon).

In many ways I was more interested in the sinuous curves of the snake’s body than in the identification of the snake’s species. There is an abstract beauty in the colors and the shapes in this image that appeals to me, though I know that some of my viewers are so creeped out by the main subject that they will find it hard to see any beauty whatsoever in the image.

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Anyone who has ever gone fishing has a story of “the one that got away.” This Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) wanted to make sure that it did not have such a story to tell and dragged its prey onto dry land. Then the snake faced the challenge of figuring out how to swallow the large fish. The snake twisted and turned and contorted its body and head as it gradually ingested the fish. When the fish was part way down its throat, the snake appeared to push up against a log for additional leverage.

I captured a sequence of shots that speak for themselves, so I will not bother to explain each of them. Like me, you will probably feel a kind of macabre mixture of horror and fascination as you view them.

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

 

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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We have been having so much rain this month that I have taken to carrying an umbrella with me much of the time, including when I am going out with my camera. It’s a challenge to take photos in the rain, because of the juggling required to hold a camera steady while holding an umbrella and also because there are fewer subjects to photograph—most creatures have the common sense to seek shelter when it is raining.

Here are a few photos from a walk I took this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. They are a different style than most of the photos that I post on this blog, but I really like the way they turned out.

In the first image an Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) had a different way for handling the rain than the umbrella I was carrying—it simply pulled its legs and head inside of its shell. In the second image a Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) decided to brave the rain to get a breath of fresh air while perched atop a nesting box. The final photo shows a hummingbird view of a trumpet vine flower, one of its favorites. Alas, no hummingbirds were flying in the rain.

Eastern Box Turtle

Tree Swallow

trumpet vine

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you think about your photographic subjects one at a time? That’s the way that I tend to operate. One of my blogging friends, though, likes to organize photos of others around themes that transcend the boundaries of individual species. In this posting, Liz of Exploring Colour focused on the theme of Predators and Prey with photos that capture this reality of nature without becoming gruesome. Be sure to check out her other wonderful postings too that include her own photos as well of those of some other awesome photographers.

Exploring Colour

The reality of the natural world is that some creatures eat other creatures to survive. Nature photographers spend a lot of time outside and sometimes capture dramatic moments in the struggle for survival. Their photos and stories may shock us but we can learn so much from these encounters – animals seem capable of much more planning, strategy and applied knowledge than what most of us humans ever give them credit for.


** Click on any photo to view large-size version **

Note: Each photographer’s website/blog is listed at the bottom of this blog-post.


snake2_fish_blog

Mike Powell | Snake catches catfish | 20 July, 2017

  • Story plus 5 Photos showing the snake in various positions holding his catch, all the time in the water, until all of a sudden the snake somehow ingests the large fish and the last photo shows the snake with only the fish tail sticking out of…

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As I was exploring the edge of a small stream in Northern Virginia yesterday, I suddenly noticed a snake slowly swimming upstream. Its head seemed quite a bit lighter than its patterned body and I initially was confused by it. When I examined the photos afterwards, it appears the snake, which I think is a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon), was in the process of shedding its skin.

Northern Water Snakes are non-poisonous, but I never have a desire to get close to any snake that is in the water. From what I have read, I know that these snakes will bite you repeatedly if you try to pick them and their saliva contains an anti-coagulant that will make the wound bleed a lot.

At the time that the snake appeared, I was shooting with a 180mm macro lens, so any zooming that I was able to do was with my feet. At a certain point in time, the snake became aware of my presence and began to swim away more quickly. I was happy to be able to capture a shot as it was departing that shows more of the beautiful pattern on its body and some wonderful patterns in the water too.

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I spotted this Eastern Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) from a distance yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I thought it might be a fox, because of its reddish-brown color. It was only when I got closer that I realized that it was a snapping turtle covered with mud—I suspect that she had recently been digging a nest to bury eggs. I got low trying to do an eye-level shot and am pleased with the expression that I was able to capture.

snapping turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I had no idea what kind of turtle this was when I first encountered it sitting in the middle of a trail at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge this past Monday. Most of the time that I see turtles they are in the water or are sunning themselves at the water’s edge. This turtle was small and dark and lacked distinctive markings that would have aided me in identifying it.

I noticed that the turtle had a really large head and what looked to be sharp claws, so I initially thought it might be a baby snapping turtle. Uncertain of the identification, I posted a photo to a Facebook group for Nature Lovers of Virginia. The consensus of the group is that this is Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum), a new species for me.

I did a little checking on this species in Wikipedia and learned that mating occurs in the early spring followed by egg laying in May to early June. As was this case with a snapping turtle that I recently saw on dry land, I wonder if this turtle was looking for a place to lay its eggs.

Eastern Mud Turtle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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