Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Animal roundup (caution: snakes & spiny caterpillar pictures)

Here’s some nice creatures I’ve found recently. They are posted in order of Turtle, Very Spiny Caterpillar, and Venomous Snake, in case you want to manage your exposure, if you’re nervous about certain things.

Box turtle 10-7-2010 3-50-57 PM 3264x2448

A box turtle, possibly male, wishing I would go away and leave him alone.

Missouri has only two kinds of box turtles, Three-toed or Ornate. As far as I can tell I’ve only found Three-toeds.  They invariably suck into their shells when I find them so I can’t count their hind toes (that’s what the “Three-toed” part is referring to). Males usually have nice red or orange irises, but that’s not a fool-proof way to sex them. The Ornate ones have contrasting marks on their carapace and plastron, looks pretty obvious in pictures.

I see a turtle just about every single time I go into the woods.

I sure do like the colors on their scales!

Above, Eastern Comma caterpillar, Polygonia comma

There’s this great site, Discoverlife.org, where you can check boxes next to features (body color, spines, tufts, etc.), and it will give you choices that match, so you can figure it out. I mean for anything, plant or animal, bug, etc. Great if you don’t have enough field guides, like me.  “A portal to all living things,” they say. Can’t beat that!

Eastern Comma 2

Here’s his head. At first I was worried that he had some icky fungus problem, because it looked like things were growing out of his eyes, but it turns out that’s normal! Just more spines.
Some caterpillars have venomous spines, which eject venom when brushed up against or broken, so I will pretend that all spiny, hairy caterpillars have this, just to be safe. They won’t kill you, but who needs the pain, itching and heartache.

I wondered why they were called “Commas” (there’s “Question Mark” butterflies, too), and it’s all because of the shape of a little white mark on the underside of their wings. Well, whatever works.

Caterpillars are usually very busy and don’t stand still for you to photograph.

Snake image below! Run!


That’s a BABY Copperhead. Even though she looks 3 feet long in this image, she was only about 14” long. Yeah, they’re venomous, but not THAT venomous, and this one was very small, and she had plenty of room to leave, and she wasn’t in any position to strike, and I had to take her picture. And I’m so glad I did, or I would never have noticed her chartreuse tail tip.

There’s an article in the MDC online that’s trying to tell me that young copperheads use that green tail tip as a caudal lure (like those insane deep-sea fishies that wiggle little things in their open mouths to attract prey—and like alligator snapping turtles)—as in, they sit coiled, with their tail tip sticking out, and wiggle it at lizards and things who think it’s a caterpillar and wander over and are nabbed by the copperhead! And that they lose the green tail color by the time they’re about two years old, when they’re big enough to get prey the “regular” way.

I’d love to believe this.

Anyway, here’s her head.
Copperhead head cropped

The subtle color shading on those brown hourglass marks on her back remind me of feathers, or butterfly scales. So beautiful. Click on it. The resolution’s not great, though, because I WAS using the zoom (but, I DID lean in, at arm’s length, to about two feet away, while keeping up a chattering stream of reasons why it was okay, to my hiking pal who didn’t even want to look at it—“It’s so small it couldn’t even get a good bite anyway, look, it has plenty of room to get away, they’re not deadly venomous, I’m moving really slowly, it could never bite through my Carhartts.” etc., etc.).

Missouri’s got five venomous snakes, and they all have vertical pupils (but not every venomous snake has vertical pupils, so don’t get too full of yourself) because they’re all pit vipers. Please don’t make me go read up on that too. Just know that in Missouri, all the venomous snakes are in the pit viper family and they’ve all got vertical pupils. Unless somebody’s captive exotic venomous snake got loose. Or snakes from other states are migrating here.

I think the combination of their vertical slit pupils, and the way the scales on their heads are arranged, makes them look crabby.

So, in between all the mushrooms, there’s all kinds of other cool stuff out there!


  1. so THATS what chartruse looks like....

  2. I've been warned to watch out for the young copperheads with green tails because they aren't able to regulate the amount of venom they release like older snakes. I've always wanted to see one - glad you posted a picture on it. I worked with the forest service in OH last summer and saw a bunch of timber rattlesnakes! Now those bites can be fatal.

  3. I didn't know they had chartreuse tails when they were young! But now I have to look up EVERYTHING.

    I'm sure I'll be running into a rattlesnake one of these days. I'm hoping to catch the garter snakes (in my driveway!) in a spring mating frenzy like I saw last fall.