Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘snake’ Category

I was a bit startled on Tuesday when I spotted this small, pale snake as I was walking along a trail at Occoquan Regional Park. In the first place, I am not used to seeing a snake at waist level, coiled up atop the vegetation. Secondly, I have never seen a snake that looked like this one. Was it a young snake of a familiar species?

I did some research and determined that it is almost certainly a DeKay’s Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi), a snake that on average is only 9 to 13 inches (23 to 33 cm) in length in Virginia. I had never even heard of this snake, so I headed over to the Virginia Herpetological Society for some information. According to the society’s website, “Dekay’s Brownsnakes are terrestrial, secretive, and seldom found in the open. They are nocturnal, but are most often found under surface objects such as boards, trash of all sorts, logs, and rocks. Their microhabitat may be described as the soil-humus layer.” I am not sure why this one was in the open, but the fact that this species spends a lot of time in the dirt, where it feeds primarily on slugs and worms, explains why I have never seen one before.

I was intrigued to note that this species is viviparous, which means that it gives birth to living young rather than lay eggs as many snakes do. The gestational period is 105 to 113 days and the average litter size is about 11, according to the Virginia Herpetological Society website, which also noted that “mating has not been observed in Virginia.” After the young are born there is no parental care involved, but sometimes young brown snakes will stay close with the parent, according to information on the Animal Diversity Web website.

I have visited this park dozens of times at different times of the year and it is exciting for me to be able to continue to spot new species there. It is humbling to think about how little I know about the diverse population of living creatures in this one location.

DeKay's Brown Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

I got a definite “Don’t mess with me” vibe when I encountered this Northern Black Racer snake (Coluber constrictor constrictor) last week at Occoquan Regional Park and moved on quickly after capturing these images. Most snakes slither away when they first detect my presence, but this one reared up a bit and started to feverish flick its forked tongue at me.

Black Racers are somewhat similar in appearance to the Eastern Rat Snake that I featured last week (See the posting Ready to shed?), but are a bit smaller in size and have shinier, smoother skins. Several of my Facebook friends noted that Black Racers also tend to be more aggressive and reported having been chased by one.


Black Racer

Black Racer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

I never quite know what I will encounter when I am out wandering in the wild with my camera, like this rather large snake that I almost literally stumbled upon on Monday while exploring in Prince William County. I am fairly certain is an Eastern Rat Snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis), the most commonly seen snake in the state of Virginia where I live, according to the Virginia Herpetological Society. On average, an Eastern Rat Snake in our state is 42 – 72 inches in length (107-183 cm) and I estimated that this one was at least four feet long (122 cm).

The snake was completely stretched out perpendicular to a stream and did not react as I initially approached, which shocked me a little. When I took my initial shots, in which I was not as close as it seems, I noticed that its eyes were somewhat cloudy, an indication that this snake may have been preparing to shed its skin. Knowing that snakes are vulnerable during this stage and more likely to be aggressive, I captured my shots quickly and backed away.

I decided to try something different to capture a view of the entire snake and created a panoramic image in Photoshop using three separate shots. The last image is the result of that little project and I encourage you to click on the image to get a look at the entire length of the snake. In case you are curious, the process is really easy and the software does most of the work aligning the images.

I was inspired to try the panorama by the work of Reed Andariese, an amazing photographer whose blog, Photo Art Flight, I follow. Over the years, Reed has done panoramic composite shots using a wide variety of cameras (including his iPhone) and lenses—check out his recent posting in which he featured multi-image composites taken with a fish-eye lens. Wow!

Eastern Rat Snake

Eastern Rat Snake

Eastern Rat Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Most snakes tend to lie horizontally, but the Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) that I spotted last week felt inclined to slither its way up a protruding tree branch and bask in the sun at a rather sharp angle. I was exploring the edge of a stream in Prince William County and was somewhat shocked to stumble upon this snake—I had been keeping an eye on the vegetated areas, knowing there was a chance there might be a snake there, but did not really expect to see one out in the open.

Most of the Northern Watersnakes that I have seen in the past have been darker and duller in color than this one, which has a distinctive colorful pattern. Given the brightness of the colors and the snake’s relatively small size, I wonder if this might be a juvenile snake.

The snake seemed comfortable on its perch and did not react when I took these photos, though I must admit that I kept a respectful distance away. When I continued on, the snake stayed put, enjoying the warmth of the springtime sun.

Northern Watersnake

Northern Watersnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Humans shed skin cells all of the time—according to one source, in one year, each of us sheds more than 8 pounds (3.6 kg) of dead skin. Snakes have an entirely different shedding process. Several times a year they grow a complete new layer of skin underneath the old layer. During shedding, snakes secrete a fluid to help separate the old skin from the new, and this fluid runs under their specialized eye caps, resulting in the opaque or blue quality of the eye.

Last Friday I encountered one of these blue-eyed snakes while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Snakes are vulnerable during this stage when their vision is impaired and I was a little surprised to see this snake was in a fairly open area. I think this may be an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis), but did not examine the snake at length for fear of disturbing it.

Moving as stealthily as I could, I leaned in with my macro lens to capture this image. If you look carefully into the eye (or double-click on the image to enlarge it) you will see that I managed to capture a “selfie” reflection.

As an interesting coincidence, my most viewed posting of 2020 has been a May 2016 posting that also featured a snake with a blue eye. That posting, entitled Blue-eyed garter snake, has had 597 views so far this year. If you are not totally creeped out by today’s photo, you might want to check out the 2016 posting, which has some full body shots as well as a close-up shot of the snake’s head.

Eastern Ratsnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

 

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: