Snapping Turtle Hatchling by Todd Henson

The first look down on the little Snapping Turtle hatchling.

Snapping Turtles in Virginia dig a nest and lay their eggs in the May to June time frame. Hatchlings emerge from these nests in late August. This year my father and I were very fortunate to stumble upon a lone hatchling at a local park.

We were on our way out of the park, walking along a paved section of trail when we both saw something small on the pavement. It looked like a tiny turtle. I started leaning forward and questioned if it was real. I’d been fooled in the past by little toy animals left on the trail. But this ones eyes occasionally blinked, so we quickly realized it wasn’t a toy.

I only had my wide angle zoom lens (16-35 mm) with me so I bent down very close to the turtle to create a photo from above. Then I got down on my hands and knees to get closer to the turtle’s perspective, which was difficult considering how small it was. At first I placed the lens right in front of the hatchling. All this time it just sat there, only blinking. But after I set the lens in its face it began quickly moving forward, right towards me and the camera. Maybe it saw itself in the lens? Maybe it was just the movement or close proximity that spurred it on.

Good morning, little hatchling. As I lay down in front of the Snapping Turtle it began moving quickly towards me.

I moved beside it then and began creating some profile shots. It was a fairly cloudless day, so the sun was creating strong shadows, as you can see in the first couple photographs. I asked my father to try standing in front of the sun, casting a little shade on the hatchling. This helped eliminate the extreme contrast of sun and shadow, as can be seen in the next couple photos. And who knows, perhaps it also gave this tiny turtle a little respite from the blazing sun.

A profile look at the baby Snapping Turtle as it quickly moved along the pavement. We shaded it from the sun for a bit.

We encountered the Snapping Turtle on pavement, but it was very close to the edge of the wetlands. So my father and I stayed with the turtle, letting it move on its own, but walking beside it until it left the pavement and moved past a small fence line closer to the water. There were a number of folks walking the trail, some with pets, some jogging, others with baby strollers. We didn’t want anyone to inadvertently crush the baby turtle. Hatchlings odds of survival are fairly low, but hopefully we increased its chances just a bit that day.

I created my favorite photograph of the Snapping Turtle hatchling after it left the pavement and rested in a more natural environment.

After escorting the hatchling off the trail we started looking around for other hatchlings. We didn’t see any, but very close by we did find the remains of one or more nests with scattered egg fragments. It appeared at least one of these nests had been dug up by something, perhaps a fox, coyote, or raccoon. There was an interesting smell right at the nest site, but I’ve no clue if that was turtle, predator, or something else entirely.

A look at a Snapping Turtle nest with shell fragments scattered around. It appears something may have dug up the nest.

Another look at the Snapping Turtle nest area, where a hole has been dug in the upper right, likely by a predator. Egg shell fragments are scattered about in front of the hole.

The nests were located in a very small stretch of land between the pavement (newly laid) and a black fabric fence to separate the construction area from the woods beyond. A thin layer of straw had been laid on the ground to encourage grass to grow. The nests appear to have hatched after this. I’m curious when the nests were dug, whether construction had yet begun or had it already completed?

A wider view of what might be multiple Snapping Turtle nests. You can see holes and shells at the bottom, around the middle, and again near the top.

This photo shows the interesting location of the Snapping Turtle nests. The paved trails is on the left. On the right is a fabric construction tarp separating the trail construction area from the woods beyond. Straw has been laid on the ground to encourage grass to grow. The nests in this photo extend from the middle towards the upper right of the image.

Finding this little Snapping Turtle hatchling brought back memories of growing up in Massachusetts near a river where each year we’d find lots of baby turtles crossing the road between the housing area and the hill leading down to the river. I very much enjoyed getting to see this sight again, even if it was just a single hatchling. Who knows, perhaps we’ll see more next year. I’ll certainly keep my eyes open for them.

To learn more about Snapping Turtles, especially in Virginia, head over to the Virginia Herpetological Society. They have lots of great info on all sorts of reptiles and amphibians in Virginia.


Focus by Todd Henson

Focus: A Green Heron walking along a downed tree looking for its next meal.

Green Herons are very sleek birds, and along with other herons have an amazing ability to focus on finding their next meal. Perhaps I’m anthopomorphizing too much, but just looking at them you can see the concentration, the determination, the focus, as they slowly and quietly move forward.

We found this particular Green Heron while walking along a boardwalk at a local wetlands park. It had landed on a fallen tree and was slowly walking down its length, watching the edge of the water. They can move through water seemingly without causing any noticeable disturbance. But when walking outside the water their prey below has little chance of escape.

I don’t recall now whether this heron caught anything. I certainly didn’t capture a photograph if it did. But I was pleased with this photograph, showing that amazing focus. And a bonus feature for observant viewers is a white feather out of place along its back. It had attempted to fix this, but being unsuccessful left it alone and went back to looking for food.


A Brief Look at the Anatomy of a Grasshopper by Todd Henson

A grasshopper perched on a pink chrysanthemum.

I recently shared some photographs of a grasshopper on chrysanthemums. Viewing these photographs piqued my interest in grasshopper anatomy, so I’ve zoomed in on certain sections of a couple photographs to take a closer look at some key features. I am not an expert in grasshopper anatomy by any stretch, so this will only be a very brief look.

Head and Thorax

Take a look at the head region of the grasshopper, where you can see its eyes, antennae, and mouthparts. They have more eyes than we do. The compound eyes are easy to identify, they are the large dark objects that look like eyes. But you can also see smaller simple eyes, called ocelli (singular ocellus). These are whitish in color in the photos and are located beside each compound eye and above the antenna. They have another ocellus, which we can’t see in these photos, right on their forehead between the compound eyes and antennae.

A side view of the head and the pronotum over top of part of the thorax. I wonder if that red line on its cheek is a scar from a fight with another grasshopper?

A side view of the head and the pronotum over top of part of the thorax. I wonder if that red line on its cheek is a scar from a fight with another grasshopper?

Naturally enough, the grasshopper gets its sense of taste from organs in its mouth, and its sense of vision from its many eyes. But interestingly, it gets its sense of smell from its antennae. That surprised me.

A good look at the head, and just behind it the pronotum.

A good look at the head, and just behind it the pronotum.

Just behind its head is a feature called a pronotum, which looks like a piece of armor to protest its neck and lower back. And perhaps that is part of its function. It covers part of the thorax, which is the middle portion of the grasshopper where the legs and wings are attached to the body.

Legs and Wings

Moving along the body we next see the interesting patterns in the wings, which are folded along the back of the grasshopper. You can also see the size of its rear legs, which provide it the ability to jump so far. And look closely at the spines along the rear legs. These can be used for defense. At the end of each rear leg is a claw to improve its grip, both when hanging on to something, like the flowers in these photos, and when it jumps.

Look at the claw at the end of the rear leg of the grasshopper.

Look at the claw at the end of the rear leg of the grasshopper.

Details of the grasshopper’s rear leg and wings.

Details of the grasshopper’s rear leg and wings.

End of Abdomen

Finally, we move down to the tail end of the grasshopper where we see part of its abdomen. It’s made up of a number of interconnecting segments that give it some flexibility. In some of these photos you get a better look at the spines on its rear legs.

The end of the abdomen of the grasshopper. Notice the spines along the rear leg.

The end of the abdomen of the grasshopper. Notice the spines along the rear leg.

Look near the very end and there are a pair of interesting features, one of either side. I believe these are called cerci (singular cercus). On one side it almost looks like a horn or a hook of some kind. These are sensory organs that, along with a number of other organs along its body, give it the sense of touch.

At the end of the grasshopper is what I believe to be a cercus, one of its touch organs.

At the end of the grasshopper is what I believe to be a cercus, one of its touch organs.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look at a grasshopper. They really are fascinating creatures.