The gloriously dichromatic Dasymutilla gloriosa

I have a small collection of velvet ants (family Mutillidae) that I’ve accumulated over the years—not through active collection but more as bycatch from my beetle hunting operations. Velvet ants are, of course, not ants at all, but wasps, and as such the females are—like their winged relatives—quite capable of delivering a painful sting if mishandled. They also tend to be seen running rather frenetically across the ground, making them difficult to guide into a collection vial or grab with forceps. You’ve gotta really want ’em if you want to collect them. Still, even though I don’t study them I find them interesting enough to pick up on occasion, and with most groups outside of my area of focus the hope is that eventually they will end up in the hands of somebody who actively studies the group. Such is now the case with my mutillid collection, which will be shipped this week to another collector specializing in the group. In return I will be filling some holes in European representation of my collection of Cerambycidae.

Dasymutilla gloriosa, female | Brewster Co., Texas

Dasymutilla gloriosa, female | Brewster Co., Texas

Without question, the most interesting mutillid species that I’ve encountered is Dasymutilla gloriosa. All mutillids are sexually dimorphic, as only the males are winged, but most also tend to be sexually dichromatic to a greater or lesser degree. No species I am aware of takes this to the same level as D. gloriosa! The males (photo below) are rather typically colored compared to other species in the genus, but the females (photo above) are densely covered with long, strikingly white hairs. While this would seem to make them quite conspicuous, the true effect is the exact opposite as they easily confused with fuzzy plant seed. For this reason they are commonly called thistledown velvet ants. I encountered the female in west Texas in 2003 while walking a mountain trail and at first thought it was the fuzzy seed of a creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) being blown by the wind—except there was no wind! It took me a little while looking closely at it before I could figure out what it actually was. This is the only female of this species that I’ve seen in the wild, and I’ll be a little sad to see it sent to another location.

Dasymutilla gloriosa, male | Riverside Co., California

Dasymutilla gloriosa, male | Riverside Co., California

The male also is the only one I’ve encountered—or at least taken the trouble to collect. I would have never suspected this male, which I collected in southern California in 1991, was the same species as the female that I collected many years later. My thanks to Kevin Williams, who provided the identifications for both of these specimens.

Also called the ''thistledown velvet ant''

Also called the ”thistledown velvet ant”

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Frustrating Emerald

After years in the field looking for insects, one develops an eye not only for recognizing insects but also recognizing when something doesn’t look quite right. That happened to me early this past September at a spot along the Mississippi River in southeast Missouri where I had stopped during late afternoon to look for diurnal species of tiger beetles and then man a blacklight in the evening for nocturnal ones. It was still daylight as I walked along the edge of rank growth bordering the upper banks when a small, reddish “cluster” on a seed head in a stand of tall grasses caught my eye. I didn’t know what it was when I saw it, but I knew it was something ‘out of place.’ My first, cursory thought was that somehow the spent anthers of the now-seeding grass had gotten caught in a tangle, but I must have still had doubts because I looked closer anyway. Just then the “cluster” moved, and I then recognized what I was dealing with—an Emerald moth (Synchlora sp.) caterpillar. Caterpillars in this genus are remarkable for their habit of adorning their bodies with bits of the plants upon which they feed. I am, however, a beetle man and thus admit to being completely unaware of their existence until last summer when Alex Wild featured one of these as a Monday Night Mystery. I wondered then, “Why haven’t I seen one of these before?”, and now I know why—because they are extremely well camouflaged!

Synchlora sp. | Mississippi Co., Missouri

Realizing what I had, all efforts to look for tiger beetles were suspended (I hadn’t seen anything after ~30 minutes of looking anyway), and I broke out the 65mm lens to get the most of this small but remarkable looking insect. I took more than 50 shots, trying different backgrounds, angling the grass stem in different positions, and hoping with each shot that I had captured the larva in full profile, completely in focus, and in the midst of that magical loop. I was sure I had that “perfect” shot when I got home and anxiously fired up the computer to get a better look at the photos. My optimism began to drop, however, as I scanned through each successive photo and continued to not encounter that one photo that would cause me to say “Yes!” Exposure? Check. Composition? Check. Lighting? Check. Focus? Er… crap! The problem was pervasive throughout the entire set, and in the end, I have only this one photo that comes anywhere close to what I had envisioned while I was taking the photos. It’s a shame, because I love everything else about this photo. The cause of the problem is the very thing that makes the larva so remarkable—its adornments. The spent anthers project off the larva in all directions, adding considerable dimensionality to the subject and surpassing the depth-of-field capabilities of my lens. If the subject was in focus the forward projecting anthers were not, and if the anthers were in focus the subject was not. If I had realized in the field what was going on, I would have not gotten in so tight and cropped as appropriate during post-processing. Live and learn!

Although 12 species of Synchlora are found in North America, only one—Synchlora aerata (Wavy-lined Emerald)—is widespread in the eastern U.S. However, a number of other species are found in the southeastern U.S., and for all intents and purposes the Mississippi Lowlands of southeastern Missouri  are the south (culturally as well as biogeographically!). As a result, a generic ID is the best that can be done for this larva.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Ghosts in the night

This summer I’ve spent quite a few nights hanging out along the Mississippi River—lamp on my head, vials in my pocket, and an ultraviolet (UV) light setup on the sandy banks. UV light collecting for insects (also called “blacklighting”) is a popular method among us beetlers, but for a number of reasons it’s been a while since I’ve done a lot of heavy blacklighting myself. That all changed this year when I decided I needed to get a better handle on the Missouri distribution of two species of tiger beetles, Ellipsoptera cuprascens and E. macra, found only in sandy habitats along the shores of the state’s two big rivers—the Missouri and Mississippi—and, fortuitously, attracted to blacklights at night. Blacklighting alongside these big rivers is a relatively new experience for me, as my previous experiences have been mostly in forests—either here in the Midwest or out in the desert southwest. Along the big rivers, as soon as the sun dips below the horizon hordes of hungry mosquitos descend upon me and choking swarms of caddisflies quickly envelop the blacklight. Liberal application of Deet keeps the mosquitoes at bay, but checking the sheet behind the blacklight to see if anything of interest has landed requires a bit of a mad dash and a quick retreat, all the while holding my breath and clamping the shirt cuff around my neck to prevent the swarming bugs from flying into spaces where I don’t want them.

Arctosa littoralis (beach wolf spider) | Lewis Co., Missouri

Wandering away from the blacklight and exploring along the beach in the black of night is also a relatively new experience. While I’ve done a fair bit of night collecting away from the light, again this has tended to be in forests and woodlands with a beating sheet in hand looking for jewel beetles, which still hang out on the same host plants they can be found on during the day but are far less inclined to zip away as soon as they hit the sheet like they do when the sun is high overhead. I haven’t spent much time shining a lamp on the sand of a big river beach, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect (other than hopefully a tiger beetle!). As I walked along the beach, I occasionally saw blue-green glowing dots on the sand—I recognized these fairly quickly as the eyes of spiders reflecting the light from my headlamp. However, at first when looked closer at the spot where I thought a spider should be sitting I didn’t see anything. It took a few tries before finally I saw ghost-like movement on the sand, and when I moved cautiously and got down close to the sand I finally saw a magnificent, white wolf spider sitting motionless—perfectly colored to blend into the sand on which it was sitting.

The mottled, white coloration is conspicuous on wet sand…

I quickly hurried back to the car and got my camera, set it up with a 100mm macro lens and extension tubes (hoping I could get real close), and went back to the spot where I’d seen the spider to see if I could find it again. I didn’t, but not too much searching was required before I found another one. Unfortunately, I didn’t succeed in photographing that one either. It was apparent to me that I was going to have to use the same ultra-cautious and slow movements that I use with tiger beetles if I was going to succeed in photographing one or more of these spiders. I quickly figured out that they were easier to see if I looked right along the water’s edge, as in that situation the white coloration of the spider actually stood out against the darkened, wet sand. (Of course, photographing them on the wet sand was a tad dirtier for me, but I’m not afraid to get filthy dirty when it comes to photographing arthropods.) I also figured out that I could more easily find the spiders on the wet sand and then follow them up to the drier sand for photos that better showed just how marvelously cryptic their coloration was.

…but provides perfect camouflage on the dry sand further away from the water’s edge.

Those of you familiar with my work know that I love frontal portraits, but I found this to be almost impossible during my first attempts. It was hard enough approaching the spider from the front without it bolting before I could get set behind the camera, but in the few cases where I did actually manage this then it would bolt as soon as I made any microadjustment in the position of the camera to compose the shot. It occurred to me that the spider was sensing vibration from moving the camera on the ground (ground-resting the camera is a technique that I use commonly to get the lowest possible angle on my subjects)—makes sense, as spiders are intensely tuned into vibrations for  prey capture. Once I began keeping my hand flat under the camera as sort of a makeshift “beanbag” I was able to make the final adjustments necessary to get shots like the one shown below and in ID Challenge #20.

Active primarily at night, the spider’s eyes glow blue-green when hit by light.

According to Dondale & Redner (1983) this should be Arctosa littoralis—widespread in littoral habitats across North America but, at least at the time of their revision, not recorded from Missouri [in fact, it seems no species of Arctosa was known from Missouri until A. virgo was recorded from oak-hickory forests in the southern part of the state by Bultman (1992)]. I’ll leave it to the spiderphiles to determine if this actually represents a new state record or (more likely) if I just haven’t dug deep enough into the literature.

Congratulations to 3-time champ Ben Coulter, who swooped in from his hiding place with 30 pts to win ID Challenge #20—the final challenge of BitB Challenge Session #6. It wasn’t enough, however, to disturb the overall standings, and Brady Richards maintained his overall lead with 28 pts to win Session #6. Sam Heads was just one point away from the win in this challenge, but his 29 pts were enough to earn a tie for 2nd place in the overall standings with Mr. Phidippus, who finished a respectable 4th place in this challenge. Nobody else came close to these three gentlemen in the overalls, so they deserve their accolades and loot (please contact me for details on the available choices). In case you haven’t been following along, here is a summary of the BitB Challenge champions to this point, listed by session:

  1. Ben Coulter
  2. Ben Coulter
  3. Max Barclay
  4. Ben Coulter
  5. Mr. Phidippus
  6. Brady Richards


Bultman, T. L. 1992. Abundance and association of cursorial spiders from calcareous fens in southern Missouri. Journal of Arachnology 20:165–172.

Dondale, C. D. & J. H. Redner. 1983. Revision of the wolf spiders of the genus Arctosa C . L. Koch in North and Central America (Araneae: Lycosidae). Journal of Arachnology 11:1–30.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Desmiphora hirticollis: Crypsis or Mimicry?

During my stay in Corrientes, Argentina last month, I was invited to spend the day with a colleague at his “camp” in Paso de la Patria. Located on the banks of the massive Rio Paraná at its junction with the Rio Paraguay, this small resort community boasts large tracts of relatively intact “Selva Paranaense,” which together with the Atlantic Forest in southeastern Brazil forms the second largest forest ecozone in South America outside of the Amazon. As my colleague skillfully prepared matambre, chorizo, and vacío (typical cuts of meat in Argentina) on the parilla (wood grill) at his camp, I explored the surrounding forest for insects. Early April is late in the season, and with generally droughty conditions in the area for the past several months there were few insects to be found. My luck improved, however, when I came upon a small area with stacks of fresh cut logs from recent wood cutting operations scattered through the area. Wood boring beetles (families Buprestidae and Cerambycidae) are often attracted to such wood piles, so approached each one slowly to look for day-active species of these beetles. After inspecting several piles without seeing anything on them, I began carefully turning over the logs to look for nocturnal species that tend to hide on the undersides during the day. Shortly I came across this highly cryptic species of cerambycid, and further searching revealed a fair number of these beetles hiding within the dozen or so log piles that I examined.

Desmiphora hirticollis on freshly cut guayabi (Patagonia americana) | Corrientes Prov., Argentina

I instantly recognized the genus as Desmiphora, an exclusively New World genus characterized by the presence of fasciculate tufts (or “pencils”) of erect or suberect hairs. Most of its nearly 50 species occur in Brazil, but two species extend as far north as southern Texas (Giesbert 1998). One of these is Desmiphora hirticollis, a widespread species found as far north as Corpus Christi, Texas and as far south as Bolivia and Argentina. I thought these beetles looked an awful lot like that species, and I later confirmed its identity as such due to its piceous (glossy brownish black) integument and the presence of small black pencils just before the elytral apices.

Adults are nearly impossible to see from overhead due to cryptic coloration…

The wood piles contained logs from several tree species, but all of the beetles that I encountered were on logs of guayaibi (Patagonula americana), a member of the family Boraginaceae and a characteristic component of Selva Paranaense (also an important timber species in Argentina). The number of individuals that I found and their occurrence only on guayaibi suggests it serves as a larval host for the beetle. Duffy (1960) described the larva from specimens collected out of Sapium sp. (family Euphorbiaceae), but in Texas this species is collected most often on Cordia spp. and Ehretia anacua (Rice et al. 1985)—both in the family Boraginaceae—with adults having been reared from Cordia eleagnoides (Chemsak & Noguera 1993).

…while the hair tufts may function in obscuring the body outline…

It seems obvious that coloration of the beetle and its pencils of hair function in crypsis. From overhead the beetles are almost impossible to discern as they sit motionless on the similarly colored bark of their host trees. Even in profile or oblique views where the body becomes somewhat more visible, the pencils seem to break up and obscure the outline of the body. I wonder, however, if crypsis is the only function of the pencils—Belt (2004) described the strong resemblance of another species in the genus, D. fasciculata—a similarly penicillate species, to short, thick, hairy caterpillars (insectivorous birds often refuse to prey upon hairy species of caterpillars). That species can be seen sitting openly on foliage during the day, while D. hirticollis seems to be strictly nocturnal; however, cryptic and mimetic functions need not be mutually exclusive, so perhaps for this species the pencils function a little for both.

…or perhaps even mimicking ”hairy” caterpillars.


Belt, T. 2004. The Naturalist in Nicaragua. Project Guttenberg eBook.

Chemsak, J. A. & F. A. Noguera.  1993.  Annotated checklist of the Cerambycidae of the Estacion de Biologia Chamela, Jalisco, Mexico (Coleoptera), with descriptions of new genera and species.  Folia Entomológica Mexicana 89:55–102.

Duffy, E. A. J. 1960. A Monograph of the Immature Stages of Neotropical Timber Beetles (Cerambycidae). British Museum of Natural History, London. 327 p.

Giesbert, E. F. 1998. A review of the genus Desmiphora Audinet-Serville (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae: Lamiinae: Desmiphorini) in North America, Mexico and Central America. Occasional Papers of the Consortium Coleopterorum 2(1): 27–43.

Rice, M. E., R. H. Turnbow, Jr. & F. T. Hovore. 1985. Biological and distributional observations on Cerambycidae from the southwestern United States (Coleoptera). The Coleopterists Bulletin 39(1):18–24.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

More on ‘Conspicuous Crypsis’

Acanthocinus nodosus on trunk of Pinus echinata | vic. Calico Rock, Arkansas

In my previous post (), I used the term ‘conspicuous crypsis’ to describe the sumptuously beautiful lichen grasshopper, Trimerotropis saxatilis, as an example of an insect that, despite strikingly conspicuous colors/patterns, blends in perfectly with its native surroundings. I don’t think this is a formally recognized ecological concept (and a quick search of the web and my limited ecology literature didn’t turn up anything about it) with any real biological/ecological relevance, but rather just a little irony that personally I find interesting.

The same individual in the above photograph in its original resting spot.

The photographs in this post were also taken during one of my June trips to the sandstone glade complex around Calico Rock, Arkansas and show another insect that I would describe as conspicuously cryptic. This is Acanthocinus nodosus, in my opinion one of eastern North America’s most attractive longhorned beetles (family Cerambycidae). This species occurs across the eastern U.S. (just sneaking up into southern Missouri), where the larvae mine the phloem beneath the bark of dead and dying pines (Linsley and Chemsak 1995). BugGuide describes it as “subtle, yet beautiful” with an antennal span in males reaching a spectacular 120 mm (that’s 5 inches, folks!). Perhaps others have encountered this beetle more commonly further south, but I have previously seen only single individuals on just three occasions—twice in the Ozark Highlands of southern Missouri (one at lights and another searching the trunk of a standing, decadent pine tree at night) and another at lights in Alabama. As a result, I was quite excited to find this individual clinging during the day to the trunk of a large shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata). The tree appeared healthy, but I found adults of several other wood boring beetles crawling on its trunk as well, suggesting that maybe the tree was stressed or in the initial stages of decline.

Subtle, yet beautiful!

I must confess that the first photograph above was staged—I had moved the beetle from its original resting spot and placed it on a part of the trunk where the bark color contrasted more strongly with the beetle to increase its visibility.  The second and third photos above and left show the beetle in its original resting spot and illustrate just how cryptic the beetle is when resting on older, more weathered pine bark.  Admittedly, the somber coloration of this species is not as extraordinary as the lichen-green of the lichen grasshopper, but I nevertheless find the slate gray with velvet black markings quite beautiful.  When mounted on pins and lined up neatly in a cabinet, individuals of this species are as attractive as any dead insect can be.  It was not until I saw this individual in Arkansas—and tried to photograph it during the day—that the cryptic function of its coloration and patterning became truly apparent to me.  Most species in the tribe Acanthocini (to which this species belongs) also exhibit somber coloration with variable black markings or mottling, although only a handful can be considered as ‘conspicuously cryptic’ as this one.


Linsley, E. G. and J. A. Chemsak.  1995. The Cerambycidae of North America. Part VII, No. 2: Taxonomy and classification of the subfamily Lamiinae, tribes Acanthocinini through Hemilophini. University of California Publications in Entomology 114:1–292.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Oedipodine Rex

Sandstone glade habitat for Trimerotropis saxatilis | vic. Calico Rock, Arkansas

Ever since my current fascination with band-winged grasshoppers (family Acrididae, subfamily Oedipodinae) began, I have been obsessed with photographing one species above all others—Trimerotropis saxatilis, the lichen grasshopper. Like most species in the group, lichen grasshoppers utilize an interesting survival strategy that I call “conspicuous crypsis”—the use of stunning colors and contrasting markings to help them blend into the mottled and variably-colored environments that they inhabit.  Lichen grasshoppers take this strategy to the extreme, culminating in some individuals with the most gorgeous shade of blue-green in perfect match to the crustose lichens that cover the rock outcroppings of their preferred glade habitats.  In my opinion, they are the kings of the oedipodines!  I have seen them before in past years in the igneous and sandstone glades that dot the Ozark Highlands of southern Missouri.  Crustose lichens abound in these acid environments, providing the perfect backdrop to make invisible these otherwise conspicuous grasshoppers. This past June during a couple of visits to a marvelous sandstone glade complex near Calico Rock in north-central Arkansas I got my wish, and shown here are some of my favorites from the many, many photographs I took during those sessions.

Trimerotropis saxatilis with classic lichen-green coloration.

Lichen grasshoppers are actually quite variably colored—not all individuals exhibit the green coloration for which they are so famous.  Despite this, they are the only member of the genus occurring in the eastern U.S. and, thus, are immediately recognizable.  While they are beautiful in all of their color variations, I cannot lie—it is the green individuals that I constantly find myself admiring the most.  While many other grasshoppers are green, only a handful (themselves members of the same subfamily) exhibit the same stunning shade of blue-green that this one does.  Add to that an abundance of black speckling and contrasting bands, and you’ve got one gorgeous grasshopper.  Yet, for all their overt beauty, they are absolutely impossible to see in their native habitat until they take flight when approached.  Fortunately, their escape flights are short and not terribly erratic—with a little practice it becomes rather easy to track them in flight (aided by their interrupted buzzing crepitation) and watch where they land.  They may not be immediately visible after landing, but with careful study of the landing area they are usually quickly relocated.  Once detected, slow deliberate movements are all that are needed to allow a close approach and a good look (and photographs if desired).

The stunning green contrasts starkly against a dark moss backdrop.

Of course, the problem with ‘conspicuous crypsis’ (or any form of crypsis, for that matter) is that it only works when in the right environment.  I chased the above lichen-colored individual onto this patch of dark moss while trying to photograph it, at which point it became overtly visible.

The mottling of the colors is almost as fascinating as the colors themselves.

As previously mentioned, lichen grasshoppers come in a variety of colors and shades.  While the green individuals may be the most stunning, I was captivated also by the below individual, darker brown and black, with the most beautiful, contrastingly colored orange eyes.  This individual may not blend in as well as the green individuals when sitting on lichen-encrusted rocks; however, its coloration and patterning seem perfectly adapted to the more barren, darkly colored rock exposures.  This helps explain why not all lichen grasshoppers are green—the rock exposures in the glades that they inhabit are not uniformly lichen-encrusted, but rather consist of both encrusted and barren expanses of rock, with diverse coloration being a result of multiple and sometimes conflicting selective pressures.

A darker brownish individual with spectacular orange eyes.

A third individual, shown in the photograph below, resembles the second in that it is more brown than green.  However, the base coloration is lighter with greater contrast to the dark bands.  Like the second individual the eyes are spectacular orange, but it also exhibits a green shading on the back of the head behind the eyes not seen in the second individual.

Another brownish individual, this one more contrastingly marked.

Not only did I find the adults, but I also found a rather young nymph that certainly represents this species (I’m guessing maybe 3rd instar based on the degree of wing pad development).  This nymph exhibits the same stunning green coloration that the first individual above shows, and its fortuitous occurrence on both lichen-encrusted and (relatively) barren rocks provide an excellent demonstration of the effectiveness of its coloration in achieving crypsis—now you see me…

The lichen-colored nymph is easily seen against barren rock...

…now you don’t!

...but blends in marvelously amongst the lichens.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

A “Giant” Pygmy

Not long ago, I got an email from grasshopper expert David J. Ferguson confirming my identification of  (and also encouraging my recent fascination with band-winged grasshoppers (family Acrididae, subfamily Oedepodinae) and their marvelously cryptic nymphs).  He suggested that I might also find the “toad lubbers” (family Romaleidae) and pygmy grasshoppers (family Tetrigidae) interesting, since they too have many of those qualities I was finding attractive in band-winged nymphs, only on a very small scale.  It was a prescient comment, as I’d already started taking notice of the pygmies and even photographed one before ever getting his email.

Tettigidea lateralis | Shaw Nature Reserve, Missouri.

I take this individual to represent Tettigidea lateralis (black-sided pygmy grasshopper), which I saw at Shaw Nature Reserve during my May search for .  Actually, I’m not sure I would have even noticed this individual, as I walked along the trail going from open woodland through dry dolomite glade, had it not actually been sitting on my net rim.  I haven’t studied pygmies all that much, other than to note that they seem common around streams and other wet areas and are usually quite small.  This one, however, at close to 15mm in length seemed positively gigantic!  I placed it on the barren dolomite along the trail, expecting it to flee immediately.  Instead it just sat there—begging me to photograph it, so I did.

Bold, white femoral markings contrast nicely with its otherwise marvelously cryptic coloration.

This one appears to be a female with a short pronotum, but I can’t tell if it is an adult with short wings or still a nymph (it was certainly large enough to be an adult!).  Either way, I’m interested in the function of the bright white femoral marking on what is otherwise a very cryptically colored individual.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Eye to eye with a copperhead

I don’t know what it is about Osage copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix phaeogaster) that makes every encounter with one so special. They are perhaps the most common of Missouri’s five venomous snake species, and I’ve seen them more often than I can count. Still, every time I see one I simply must stop and marvel. This particular individual was seen a few weeks ago at Sam A. Baker State Park in Missouri’s southeastern Ozark Highlands. You might say it was “sloppy seconds”—I had actually gone to the park to look for timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus), a juvenile of which I had seen during last year’s Annual-Birthday-First-Bug-Collecting-Trip-of-the-Season™ trip. I did not see any rattlesnakes this time, as access to the rockpilish cliffs along Big Creek where I saw the juvenile last year was blocked by high water, but I was quite pleased to find this copperhead underneath a log while we were there.

Copperheads are marvelous photographic subjects. Beautiful, rarely seen by those who don’t know how to look for them, and with an air of “danger” about them. Yet they are among the most docile of all snakes, venomous or otherwise. They don’t use aggression or warning sounds when threatened like cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus) or rattlesnakes, nor do they dash for cover like most non-venomous species. Instead, they rely on their cryptic, dead-leaf coloration to make them invisible. It works—even I, my eyes tuned to see just about anything after a half-century of clambering through the brush, didn’t immediately notice this individual when I first rolled over the log under which it had taken cover (although I did immediately notice the little red-backed salamander, Plethodon cinereus, at the other end of the area covered by the log). I suspect I’ve walked right by many more copperheads than I have seen, completely unaware of their presence.

Their docile nature also invites extreme close-ups that I wouldn’t dare attempt with a rattlesnake or cottonmouth—at least not without a much longer lens than my 100mm. These photos make it seem that I was right on top of the snake, although at a maximum magnification of around 1:2 there was still a reasonable amount of working distance (I did, however, keep my hands well back of the front of the lens—just for good measure). Still, in all my copperhead experiences, I have never seen a copperhead actually try to strike unless I touched it (not what you think!).

Eventually it’d had enough of our gawking and began to look for new cover.  As it uncoiled, I could see it’s still greenish but not too yellowish tail, indicating that it was still a youngster, though perhaps a little older than the first copperhead I tried to photograph.  We watched it as it crawled into the loose, dry leaves… and disappeared.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011