Archive for May, 2001

Freedom! — 24 May 2001

Thursday, May 24th, 2001


 Male Terrapin #1058

 The Cape continues to be battered by waves of storm clouds off the Atlantic.  Temperatures hover in the mid-50s, skies run the full spectrum from dark gray to black, and the bay is churned mucky by a persistent easterly blow.  Nevertheless, new moon tides present opportunities to observe terrapins in the creeks and today’s low came early.  We waded into Blackfish Creek and patrolled the rip line for about an hour before ebb tide.  We saw not a single female terrapin pass through the rapids, but we were able to net three males: one 6-year-old and two 7-year-olds.  Both 7-year-olds were recaptures.  Terrapin 702 had first been seen on 3 June 2000, and then again on 30 July 2000.


Male Terrapin #1058 with Rash on Tail 

Turtle 1058, last seen on 4 May, now shows a rash on his right front and right rear limbs. 

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Three Male Terrapins Scramble Back into Blackfish Creek

Despite foul weather, these three fellows showed no hesitation to leave the sheltered processing case and scramble back into the chilly waters of Blackfish Creek. 


Terrapin Hatchling Knotch Returns to the Wild 

Today also marked freedom for the two rescued hatchlings who were recuperating in my lab.  Both had recovered sufficiently to return to the wild. Knotch had survived root predation and dehydration which had killed her 15 nest mates, a deformity caused by root strangling, and coyote predation of her nest.  A week of treatment with heat and humidity, and she seemed as good as new, raring to break for freedom.  I returned her to the Lieutenant Island nursery habitat and watched her weave her way into the dense marsh vegetation.  I defy anyone to find a trace of her former carapace deformity. 


Terrapin Hatchling Terry Released by Wellfleet Bay Naturalists

Terry, the desiccated hatchling found blindly crawling along the Goose Pond Trail by a group of Maryland high schoolers, also had recovered enough to earn her release.  Today was turtle day for the naturalists’ training class at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.  After a lecture on box turtles and terrapins, several of the students braved rain, wind, and chill to see Terry off in the salt marsh near Try Island.  Despite weather conditions, releases are the brightest moments for budding naturalists.

Foul and Fare — 23 May 2001

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2001

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Easterly Storms Linger over Blackfish Creek 

Reversing a seasonal drought in one week calls for some seriously foul weather.  And when winds back out of the east and off the North Atlantic, conditions on the Cape deteriorate quickly.  Temperatures remained in the mild 50s, but raw gusty rain pelted the Land of Ooze, enticing terrapins to add another layer of mud and sleep passed their dawn wake-up call.

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Male Diamondback Terrapin #1071

Yesterday, the 22nd, a single young male braved the elements.  Terrapin #1071 was propelled through the rapids at nearly dead low.  He looked a bit shell-shocked, to coin a turtle phrase, fully withdrawn inside and rather sluggish.  A strapping 6-year-old, he quickly warmed once protected from the blustery winds and returned with the incoming tide back to the sheltered safety of his paludal home.

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Rainbow over Outer Cape Cod

This morning dawned with hope but little else.  As sunrise broke over Blackfish Creek, a towering rainbow stretched across the northern sky with faint promise of better days.  Yet, storm clouds soon swept in from the sea to repaint our backdrop in drizzly gray.  Unmoved by Nature’s twists and turns, turtles slept in — again.

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Terrapin Hatchlings Knotch and Terry Await Release

On the brighter side, rescued hatchlings Knotch and Terry continue steady progress toward release on Thursday morning.  Knotch (left) has reached full normalcy and only awaits improved weather conditions; Terry still seems a bit affected by her severe dehydration and has taken to spending each night soaking in fresh water.  But she looks a lot better than her desiccated image as she was retrieved from the dusty Goose Pond Trail on Monday.

Transformation — 20 May 2001

Sunday, May 20th, 2001

Seventy-two hours of warmth and hydration have transformed the tiny deformed hatchling Knotch.  Little remains of the distortions caused by root predation and drought.  Today she looks as normal as any emerging “fall” hatchling — with one minor exception (more of which anon).  The before and after shots are amazing and I would have suspected trick photography, had I not snapped the images myself.

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Miraculous Improvement in “Knotch” Hatchling 

You recall the right side of her carapace was horribly dented and distorted. Yet, look at her shell today.

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Amazing Improvement in “Knotch” Plastron 

Even her plastron has responded to treatment and has largely rebounded to near normal.  Only a slight indentation remains along the abdominal scutes on either side of her residual yolk sac, but you can see how much of the original distortion has evened out. 

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Over-Wintered Hatchling “Knotch” Awaits Release

And what’s the “minor exception” that distinguishes Knotch (and Ott, too; see “Of Things Big and Small” on 12 May) from hatchlings that emerge from the nest in the fall?  I must admit that I missed it myself until I woke with a start in the middle of the night in a “Eureka!” moment.  “By Golly, that’s what seemed so odd.  I knew something was missing.” And, of course, it was.

What?  The egg tooth.  Those Wellfleet hatchlings, which overwinter in the nest, pip through the egg shell in the fall, but remain buried underground inside the opened shell in the nest’s egg chamber.  So it’s no surprise the egg tooth disappears during the winter before these late bloomers emerge in the springtime.

The weather has been a little chilly with temperatures still dropping into the mid-40s and the wind blowing off the Atlantic.  So, Knotch has remained in her makeshift terrarium for a little longer than anticipated.  It has all the comforts, and a lot more safety, than her nursery marsh habitat.  But even for tiny, defenseless hatchlings, there’s no place like home.

Will Miracles Never Cease? — 18 May 2001

Friday, May 18th, 2001


Over-Wintered Hatchling Deformed by Root Depredation

Knotch, the deformed hatchling rescued from Round Island yesterday, spent the night under a heat lamp, lounging in brackish paludal water — a.k.a. a warm mud bath.  This morning her spirits soared.  As anyone approached her terrarium, she hissed ’em away.  Now, I’ve dealt with loads of hatchlings and with their tiny size, they much prefer to hunker down and keep very low profiles.  When you hit the scales at a quarter ounce, soaking wet, prudence dictates silence when a 150+ pound predator approaches.  Taunting it with a hiss seems like an open invitation to dinner.  But Knotch has her own ideas, and who’s to challenge this feisty little survivor?


Terrapin Deformation Begins to Heal

Most amazing is her recuperative elasticity. The caved-in right side of her carapace, which seemed so horribly deformed yesterday, has ballooned back to near normal. Compare the photo of her last night (top) after a couple hours rehydrating with the one from this morning (bottom).


Hatchling Rescued from Coyote and Root Depredation

Her plastron still remains distorted, but at this rate, I expect to find her fully healed by the day’s end.

Miracle on Round Island — 17 May 2001

Thursday, May 17th, 2001


Over-Wintered Terrapin Nest Subject to Root Depredation

It’s been a tough few days.  The number of nests explored by predators and found containing desiccated remains has continued to climb.  Six more in the last three days, accounting for another 75 dead hatchlings.  Most of the turtles had pipped, presumably in the fall, but remained in their split shells and underground over the long, cold winter.


Over-Wintered Terrapin Hatchling Smothered by Roots

The nests I’ve excavated since Tuesday been heavily invaded by vegetation.  The eggs and hatchlings were penetrated and had been preyed upon by roots, perhaps to exploit their moisture during this springtime drought.  The last nest I discovered today, over on Round Island in the midst of Lieutenant Island’s nursery marsh, held 16 eggs.  At the top of the nest chamber, hatchlings were smothered in roots.


Over-Wintered Terrapin Hatchling Deformed by Roots

As I gently explored the walls of the nest with my fingertips, I found a turtle outside it egg shell and severely deformed on its right side — as though roots had constricted its growth.  Her eyes were closed and I thought I had uncovered the sixteenth dead hatchling.  But to my utter astonishment, as I lifted her from the nest, she moved her forelimbs to rub her eyes.

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 Terrapin Hatchling Survives Coyote and Root Depredation

It is an incredible miracle that, at only 2.75 centimeters long and weighing just 6 grams, she survived predation (both root and coyote), dehydration, and deformation.  What a zest for life!  We dubbed her “Knotch” and brought her back to the lab to improve her chances of survival — as though she needs our help.


 Rescued Deformed Hatchling Responds to Hydration and Heat

After soaking in fresh water and warming under a heat lamp in my makeshift lab, Knotch became fully active without showing the slightest effect of her deformity.  We’ll hold her until the weather returns to seasonal and then release her back into the Lieutenant Island marsh.


AmeriCorps Volunteers Capture Female Terrapin #1070 in Blackfish Creek

To top off a miracle day, AmeriCorps volunteers, working on the horseshoe crab research project in Blackfish Creek, were surprised by a terrapin pair swimming by them.  They ploshed after the male, but he deftly maneuvered into deeper water.  The 11-year-old mature female, weighing just over a kilo, was snagged by Katie.  Not seen previously, she now sports the marking #1070