Each day that I visited the Wetlands during the first half of April I was able to locate from four to six different Northern Water Snakes. Towards afternoon of each day, there were at least four of these variably colored snakes on a near horizontal Black Willow trunk no more than a dozen feet from the paved path next to the Wetlands Overlook. Hundreds of field-tripping school children from districts all over the state, including some from Virginia, were able to get close looks at these snakes. At other times, there were snakes swimming in the water, resting in the grass at the edge of the Wetlands, and basking out in the open. It was an exciting educational experience for all of the children, as well as for many other Museum members and visitors who were able to get a glimpse of life in the Wetlands.
At approximately 3:30 PM on April 4th, two crusty hulks slowly drifted towards each other thirty feet out from the boardwalk in front of the Bear Exhibit. Soon, the glass-slick water of the Wetlands was interrupted by splashing, pushing and shoving, kicking and biting – Common Snapping Turtles coming together to mate.
The shoving match went on for ten minutes or more while one or the other turtle jockeyed for position. Finally, a compromise must have been reached as the pair came together. There they remained for another forty minutes, the female occasionally raising the tip of her nose above water to gulp air (picture #2 at left, both the male and female’s snouts are visible above water).
On some unseen signal, the turtles separated. Again, the sound of splashing water and snapping jaws could be heard as the two pushed and shoved each other about the water. Fifteen turbulent minutes later and they both floated motionless in the water a foot or two apart, no doubt peering at each other under the water (image #4).
The following day, one of these primeval giants (not sure which) was seen hauled out on the loftiest perch in the Wetlands where it remained for most of the afternoon.
Pickerel Frogs, American Toads, Leopard Frogs, Upland Chorus Frogs, and Spring Peepers are no longer being heard, or seen, in the Wetlands, at least during the daylight hours. A few may linger, but their season of song, and mating, is over. Gray Treefrogs and Northern Cricket Frogs are now tuning up for their part in the annual amphibian chorus.
On the morning of April 4, five newly hatched Yellow-bellied Turtles (sliders) were observed at various locations around the Wetlands. These young turtles had no doubt recently hatched out and were on a course for the relative safety of the water. Each measured about 35 mm from the front to back of their carapace. Another one was seen on the 10th of the month, but who knows how many went unnoticed as they made haste for the Wetlands.
Greg Dodge is a professional naturalist as well as a writer, videographer and producer of natural history DVDs. His images have been used in various TV productions, museum displays, and corporate videos. Above all, he has a fascination and passion for all things natural.
He can be found Tuesday thru Saturday in Explore the Wild, Catch the Wind, or on the Dinosaur Trail. Ask him what’s new in the wild!