Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A snapshot

with 41 comments

Common Snapping Turtle 0550

Let’s go back to earlier days in the rainy spring of 2015, for which drought-afflicted Texas is mostly glad (the flooding in various places being exceptions to the gladness). I went out on the morning of May 6th to see how rapidly Bull Creek was flowing and to experiment with pictures of churning water. At one point I walked down a small trail and was startled to confront a turtle at least a foot (30 cm) long. It remained largely unperturbed as I made portrait after portrait of it, and often from closer quarters than you see here, but that may have been a bit foolhardy because Tim Cole later identified this for me as a common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina. Fortunately I was the only one of the two who did any snapping.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 23, 2015 at 5:20 AM

41 Responses

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  1. I smiled when I read the title of the posting and saw the photo–we seem to share a quirky sense of humor. I’ve always thought that snapping turtles look like modern day dinosaurs and the wonderful details of your image certainly lend support to that position.

    Mike Powell

    June 23, 2015 at 5:51 AM

    • When the connection between the words snapshot and snapping turtle came to me, Mike, I made a snap decision to give in and engage in a little wordplay.

      Turtles sure do look ancient, don’t they? And yet here they still are.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 23, 2015 at 7:03 AM

  2. A snapshot of a snapper. 🙂 I’ve recently read about these snapping turtles and I’m very glad you avoided injury. I’ve been told that they have a fearsome bite and don’t even let go when killed! They look wise, ancient and gentle despite this. A wonderful portrait of what I think is a remarkable creature.


    June 23, 2015 at 6:02 AM

    • The linked article spoke of this turtle’s “well-earned reputation for being somewhat short-tempered and highly aggressive,” but this one didn’t behave that way at all, opting for the gentleness you mentioned—which was fine with me. It just sat there and let me take dozens of pictures of it. Even if it had lunged out, most likely the ultraviolet filter at the front of my camera’s lens would have borne the brunt of the lunge. The filter is on there to protect the lens, but maybe marketers can promote the anti-snapping-turtle utility of a filter as well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 23, 2015 at 7:14 AM

  3. Perhaps your snapping was less concerning than the churning it was probably avoiding.


    June 23, 2015 at 6:39 AM

    • You may well be right. I found the turtle a good distance from the nearest churning water, so perhaps all that climbing to higher ground had tired out the turtle and it was content to sit there and rest.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 23, 2015 at 7:19 AM

  4. Me parece genial esta fotografía. Felicidades!

    • Gracias, Isabel. Cosa curiosa: en inglés, la palabra genial ha perdido su enlace etimológico con genius, mientras que el español conserva esa conexión.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 23, 2015 at 7:38 AM

      • So, a genius may be more congenial than we imagine: like this.


        June 23, 2015 at 7:14 PM

        • Well said (and portrayed).

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 23, 2015 at 8:58 PM

          • You guys never fail to put a big smile on my face, thanks 🙂 Btw, should you be interested, you ought to be able to ‘stream’ this Monday night:

            Monday, June 29

            Mary Beard is a world-renowned classicist who teaches at Cambridge University, the writer of the eclectic blog A Don’s Life and most recently the author of Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling and Cracking Up. She is also a prominent feminist who does not back away from public battles. Paul Kennedy in conversation with the fascinating and funny scholar.



            June 27, 2015 at 1:50 PM

  5. I grew up on a farm in western Illinois. It was as flat and stream free as you can imagine for at least 5 miles in every direction. One day we were out playing in the ditch by the road and found a snapper 12″ across. It had walked a long way from somewhere. It seemed a little testy and snapped off some sticks we offered it.

    Jim in IA

    June 23, 2015 at 7:29 AM

    • Better snapped-off sticks than fingers, I’d say, and I’ll bet you felt the same way. I grew up in a suburb rather than a rural area, and although there were a few creeks around, I don’t recall ever encountering a turtle, snapping or otherwise. I probably did but just don’t recall it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 23, 2015 at 7:43 AM

  6. What a lovely protagonist you brought us today 😉

    Lily Lau

    June 23, 2015 at 7:44 AM

    • I’m glad to see you using the word lovely for this subject, which not everyone would characterize that way. You also get a prize for being the first commenter to use the word protagonist in the four years of this blog.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 23, 2015 at 8:59 AM

  7. I once came across a great blue heron that was struggling to get aloft from the other side of the pond. As hard as it tried it could not rise out of the water. After about an hour I stopped watching and figured that a snapper had grabbed on and wasn’t letting go. Wildlife fans friends of mine concurred.

    Was the snapper lying on some sandy/gravely soil? It is possible she was patient because she was busy laying eggs. When they are laying they are fairly preoccupied and one can get pretty close with a not very long lens (200-300mm) for a full frame shot. http://stephengingoldphoto.photoshelter.com/image/I0000sfGJmM5s52U I could have got closer but did not want to cause her distress and make her leave.

    You did well filling the frame yourself.

    Steve Gingold

    June 23, 2015 at 2:09 PM

    • I’m sorry for that great blue heron you found trapped.

      I didn’t give much context for “my” snapping turtle, which I’ll say now wasn’t on sand or gravel but on a stone step, one of several that had been put in place as part of the pathway. From the opposite side I could see the rear of the turtle, so I know it wasn’t laying eggs.

      I started photographing the turtle from farther away with the 24–105mm lens that was still on the camera from the flowing-water pictures I’d been taking. When I found how complacent the turtle was, I switched to my 100mm macro lens and in many of the pictures I was able to get a lot closer and fill the frame with much less of the turtle than shown here, often no more than its head.

      Those are some excellent abstractions you’ve got on your photoshelter site.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 23, 2015 at 4:07 PM

      • Thanks, Steve. I really need to add a lot more images to the site. I am not at all making the most of what I am paying for there.

        Steve Gingold

        June 23, 2015 at 4:55 PM

        • I see it’s at least $110 a year to be on there, so I can understand why you’d want to make the most of it.

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 23, 2015 at 10:18 PM

  8. What a great find. Great shot

    Raewyn's Photos

    June 23, 2015 at 4:23 PM

    • It’s not that unusual to see turtles sunning themselves on logs in a river or creek, but they’re generally fairly far away from a path and likely to jump into the water if anyone approaches. What made this case so good was that fact that I could get up so close to the turtle.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 23, 2015 at 4:27 PM

  9. He certainly looks like a big, strong fellow — if a little worn out with his travels. Handsome, too. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a snapping turtle, unless I’ve seen one at a distance and not known it.

    I did learn something just now about turtles in general. The ridges along the tops of their shells are called “keels.” I was so surprised to find a nautical term used. But, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Just as a keel on the bottom of a boat helps to stabilize the boat as it moves through the water, I suspect the turtle’s keel on top helps to stabilize it in the water, too.


    June 23, 2015 at 7:23 PM

    • Indeed it does, although the snapping turtle’s three keels become less prominent as it matures. And now I remember that a boat that has turned 180 degrees in the water is said to have “turned turtle” — that is, the keel is exposed, making the hull look like a turtle with a prominent ridge.


      June 23, 2015 at 9:53 PM

    • I didn’t know that, either, but it makes sense to me too, by analogy of shape (and presumably function), even if a turtle’s keel is on top and a ship’s is on the bottom. In looking back now at pictures I took from above, I don’t see any prominent keels, so this was probably a mature snapping turtle.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 23, 2015 at 10:08 PM

  10. Grew up seeing snappers often, huge too as in bigger than one foot long no joke, and yet they still fascinate and scare me. 🙂 I thought this was one. Lucky you got such close ups as they aren’t always so nice, at least not the ones I’ve seen. But then there were the baby snappers, oh they’re too cute…


    June 24, 2015 at 11:40 AM

    • Perhaps this snapper was charmed into complaisance by the cuteness of the photographer… Yes, I’m sure that’s what happened.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 24, 2015 at 1:43 PM

      • Yes, let’s go with that. I once found a smaller alligator snapping turtle and wanted to show it to my dad…by the time his train arrived and he’d climbed into the canoe, dusk was falling and I’d forgotten the turtle. Scritch, scritch…Melissa, what’s that sound?….


        July 10, 2015 at 9:33 AM

  11. Fortunate indeed that it was inactive. We have a long tradition of stopping for turtles that we see on the road and trying to help them across before they fall prey to either inattentive/sadistic motorists or lazy turtle-soup opportunists. The only safe way to do so with these is to look for a substantial stick and urge them forward in the direction in which they are already heading. It is NOT a good idea to try to pick one up by the sides of the shell or–even worse–by the tail, as they can react very fast and accurately, and have a very-surprisingly long and agile neck. And once they manage to clamp down on an appendage, it may require decapitation to get the jaws to relax, and sometimes even that doesn’t work right away. Best to leave them as we find them! They certainly are fascinating to behold, and it can be magic when they stay still for a portrait session.


    June 24, 2015 at 10:58 PM

    • From what you’ve said, this was a case of “ignorance is bliss,’ with me being the ignorant party, and the filter on the front of my camera lens having been in more danger than I would have guessed. It was also a case of fortune favoring the ignorant photographer, given how placid the turtle was. If there’s a next time, I’ll know what I’m potentially up against, thanks to your information.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 25, 2015 at 5:49 AM

  12. Great snap, though I’m glad you WERE the only one doing any snapping!

    Susan Scheid

    June 26, 2015 at 9:57 PM

  13. If I squint my eyes just a bit I can see a gnarled ancient tree with a bit of lichen . . . I guess if you live long enough . . .


    June 27, 2015 at 1:59 PM

    • I have the impression that you temporarily changed from beeholdn to treeholdn, but you shouldn’t be holdn me to it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 27, 2015 at 5:38 PM

  14. Somehow missed this post. Another favorite turtle character!

    Lavinia Ross

    June 27, 2015 at 7:21 PM

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