A common, but never dull sighting in Kruger National Park were the numerous turtles that used hippopotami as their basking platforms. With the hippos tired out from eating all night long they mostly rested in the water during the day, which gave the opportunistic turtles a perfect platform to grab some rays. Surprisingly, the notoriously cranky hippos didn’t seem to mind the reptilian free-loaders!
The extreme example of this was this dynamic duo. Not wanting to go back into the murky water, the turtle was determined to hang on while the hippo went for a stroll along the shore. I figured at some point it would either get scared and crawl off, or it would fall. However, I underestimated the determination of the turtle, who hung on and continued basking on the hippo’s back while being paraded around the watering hole! Always something new and interesting to see when watching wildlife.
Believe it or not, there are! A grand total of 7 native species of lizard live in Canada so while we won’t win any lizard biodiversity awards we at least have a few hardy species that deserve respect for being able to survive here. Not only that, but the one I was searching for, the greater short-horned lizard, has the unique ability to shoot blood from its eye!
Finding any of these lizards can be challenging at the best of times but compounding things is that this species is a master of camouflage, only a few inches in length and unfortunately, critically endangered due to habitat loss.
Never one to be deterred by long odds, I set out to find one. The searching process involved slowly walking along south-facing, rocky hills in a slow and meticulous manner while keeping my eyes fixed on the ground immediately in front of my feet. Only when the lizard is about to be inadvertently stepped on will it bolt from cover. Thankfully, my good luck that week continued and this one scurried from cover shortly after starting the search.
They don’t view humans as predators so I didn’t have to worry about getting a squirt of blood in my face while I photographed it! They save that secret weapon for foxes, coyotes and other would be predators. By rapidly increasing the blood pressure around their eyes, it’s believed they rupture a small blood vessel causing blood to shoot as far as 2 meters. The would be predator understandably becomes startled and distracted long enough for the lizard to run for cover, or if it was already picked up, the blood is known to be mildly noxious causing the predator to drop it! If that wasn’t enough they also have the ability to inflate their bodies with air to become a sharp, spiky balloon. With these remarkable and effective survival strategies, all they need from us is to curtail the destruction of their habitat and they should be able to survive for generations to come.
There aren’t many places in Canada that you can find snakes easily so it was nice to see at least a few every day we were in the park. They have to be very hardy to tolerate the long, cold winters here and camouflage is equally important to surprise their prey and avoid predators. Unless they bolt from cover or are out moving around it can be incredibly difficult to find them.
This garter snake crossed in front of me while I was driving and I had to slam on the breaks and swerve to avoid hitting it. I got out to make sure I hadn’t hit it and found it happily slithering along the grass on its way to a marsh.
In the grand scheme of things not many people like or tolerate snakes, especially venomous ones like this prairie rattlesnake. Even in national parks they have a hard time since anyone with a car and a dislike for them can easily make quick work of them. This one was out doing what snakes do and basking on the road. Fearing that it would either get intentionally or unintentionally run over, we used a long pole to safely move it off the road. At the time it wasn’t too happy about the helping hand but if it knew the possible alternative it might not have been so defensive or made such a rattle!
On a recent trip down to Florida to attend a wonderful wedding and visit with some great friends, I was treated to being taken around to some local spots for some wildlife photography. This photo was taken near Gainesville about an hour before sunset. A few alligators were resting along the banks until this one slid into the calm water as fish ripple at the surface. With the sky reflecting off the water and the hyacinth appearing to float above the clouds the photo has a surreal look to me.
They may not be considered pretty by many but no one can argue that they are adaptable. Snapping turtle ancestors date back some 40 million years! On the other hand human ancestors have only been around as a species for about 200,000 years. Which begs the question, would snapping turtles prefer living with dinosaurs over living with humans?
As human induced climate change continues they will need to continue to adapt or face extinction. The gender of snapping turtles and several egg laying reptiles is determined by the temperature the eggs are incubated at. Female will develop at colder temperatures and males at higher temperatures. Only a few degrees of difference is needed to change the sex of the soon to be hatched eggs, but if global warming continues these reptiles will have to modify their nesting behaviours if they are going to survive.
In this photo, a female was on the move to try to find a good spot to lay her eggs. After taking this photo I carefully lifted her up to avoid being bitten and took her across the road to make sure she made it safely. Everyone needs a helping hand once in a while and now more than ever wildlife needs ours!
I was walking along a path in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge when I heard lots of rustling behind where I had just come from. I turned back and saw a black snake flopping around on the ground and then all of a sudden it stopped. I raced back with my camera and started taking pictures. It wasn’t until I got close enough that I realized this black racer had ambushed a juvenile copperhead (venomous) and was in the process of eating it! The only way this snake would be able to eat the venomous copperhead without dying is if it managed to get the head into it’s mouth before the snake could bite it, and then suffocate it to death which must have been what the initial rustling was. The next few photos are of the racer consuming the copperhead, an event that to my knowledge has never been documented or photographed before!
After less than 30 seconds, the black racer elevated the front part of it’s body off the ground and slithered into the bushes with the copperhead firmly grasped in the mouth and two thirds of the body dangling alongside the racer.
I took this photo just after the snkae had finished off the copperhead. No doubt it was going to need to rest and digest for awhile.
While helping out with a red wolf recovery project (photos to come later) we came across this timber rattlesnake basking in the late afternoon sun. I crawled out on the road to get this photo, making sure to stay back far enough that if it tried to strike me it wouldn’t be able to reach.
An adult copperhead rattlesnake found resting under some old, discarded plywood. Under the same bunch of plywood was a black racer and blue spotted salamanders.
This non-venomous snake was also basking on a gravel road. With a head-on-shot and small apeture (2.8) I was able to get just the face and surrounding gravel in focus with the remainder of the body out of focus and angling through the frame for a more intersting photo.
I chose to go to Akumal because I had read that Leatherback and Green sea turtles nest along the beaches, but I figured I would have to be very lucky to see these endangered turtles. Not the case…I must have seen 10-20 turtles each day feeding on the sea grass in the swallow waters right in front of the place I was staying.