Archive for September, 2009

Turtle Journal in the News

Sunday, September 13th, 2009


Steve Heaslip, Cape Cod Times Photographer, and Don Lewis

The Cape Cod Times published a story about Turtle Journal and the terrapin hatching season on its front page on Friday, September 11th.  Click here to see a copy of the Cape Cod Times front page.  The on-line story can be read by clicking here.


Steve Heaslip, Cape Cod Times Photographer

The New Bedford Standard Times published the story of the Turtle Journal’s hatchling work on its front page on September 12th.  Click here to see a copy of the Standard-Times front page.  The on-line story can be read by clicking here.

Breaking News — Grand Opening on Lieutenant Island

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009


Diamondback Terrapin Hatchling Breaks Its Egg

You can’t make an omlette, and you can’t make hatchlings, without breaking a few eggs.  Yesterday, a nest of diamondback terrapin hatchlings on Lieutenant Island in South Wellfleet began to broil with activity.  These eggs were laid on June 24th in front of a very lucky group of Mass Audubon field school participants and had baked in the not too hot summer sun of 2009.  Today, they provide another once in a lifetime glimpse of a miracle that usually occurs far out of sight and hidden well beneath the steamy sands.  Now, you have a chance to see this mystery play out before your eyes.  For a sense of size perspective, those are grains of sand that dot the faces of these adorable critters.
Watch as baby turtles emerge from their eggshells to become the next generation of threatened diamondback terrapins in Wellfleet Bay.


“So, This Is What the World Looks Like!”


 Chorus Line


“Hello, World!  Here I Come, Ready or Not.”


Ups and Downs of Hatching 


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Breaking a Few Eggs, Terrapin Style

Diamondback Terrapin Hatchlings Begin to Emerge on Outer Cape

Monday, September 7th, 2009


First Terrapin Hatchling of the 2009 Season

Tiny 1-inch long, 1/4 ounce terrapin hatchlings began to emerge from the September sands of Lieutenant Island in South Wellfleet on Saturday morning.  After a nesting season that was delayed two weeks by a cool and stormy spring, supplemented equally cool and rainy summer conditions that slowed down incubation, 41 hatchlings emerged from nests three weeks late in Saturday’s warmth and sunshine 


Tiny, Dusty Hatchling Emerges from Dirt Road Nest

So, watch out below!  Keep a sharp eye on what moves along bayside dirt roads and driveways, and burrows from beneath dune sands from Barnstable to Wellfleet during September and early October.  That pebble rolling across the parking pad might be a turtle baby trying to scurry into the safety of nearby vegetation. 


“Hey, I just hatched.  What did I do to deserve this ignominy?  Get me out of here!”

Diamondback terrapins are protected in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a threatened species.  Other turtle hatchling are emerging, too.  Eastern box turtle, spotted turtle, painted turtle and our perenial favorite snapping turtle hatchlings will be poking their heads out of ground in the next few weeks.  If you see a terrapin, don’t hesitate to call the 24/7 turtle hotline at 508-274-5108 to report the sighting.  If you’re unsure whether it’s a terrapin or a snapper, call any way.  The Turtle Journal Team is dedicated to saving the world, one turtle at a time.

Click Here to View Video in High Quality

Hatchlings Emerge on Lieutenant Island

Rescuing Premature Hatchling from Lethal Predators Large and Small

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009


Premature Diamondback Terrapin Hatchling

Topping off the worst summer season in more than a decade on Cape Cod, Tropical Storm Danny unloaded a deluge of rain on Saturday.  Turtle nesting was delayed ten days in spring and hatchling emergence has been retarded by at least two weeks due to cool temperatures and stormy weather throughout the season.  Sunday proved no different, with cool temperatures punctuated by more rain and dense fog.  With a hundred nests under our observation, not a single one hatched in August.  In normal years, hatching begins in mid-August and would have reached a furious pace by the end of the month.


 Depredated Nest on Field Point in South Wellfleet

Predators have been as impatient as researchers about delayed emergence.  Dozens of nests have been dug up and eggs consumed.  Lieutenant Island’s Turtle Point looks like a war zone with “foxholes” dotting path and dunes.  Predators have even tunneled beneath excluder cages to reach protected nests.

On Sunday, we spotted a number of depredated nests at the eastern tip of Field Point off Blackfish Creek.  Our protocol demands a physical inspection of every depredated nests in order to collect research data about the number of eggs and so forth, but more importantly to determine whether any viable eggs might have been misssed by the hungry scavenger.  Sometimes an egg remains at the bottom of the nest when the predator becomes distracted by the frenzy of devouring the top layer of eggs.  It doesn’t occur often, perhaps once in every 25 depredated nests, but any hatchling rescued proves our motto of saving the world one turtle at a time.


 Egg Left at Bottom of Depredated Nest on Field Point

When I excavated this depredated nest, I felt an egg buried under a shallow covering of sand beneath the carnage.  The shell had been nicked by the predator’s claws as it dug out the other eggs.  I got excited when the heft of the egg told me that it might contain a potentially viable hatchling.  I peeled back the nicked shell flap to look inside.


Tiny Fly Larva inside Terrapin Egg

Good news and bad.  Lifting the flap I saw the carapace (top shell of the hatchling) and it appeared viable.  But then a tiny fly larva crawled across the shell and into my view. 

Flies are attracted by the odor of organic material that emanates from depredated nests and from hatching nests that have begun to pip.  Mature flies deposit eggs atop these nests. Fly larvae consume organic remnants of the depredation.  They also enter pipped eggs and devour hatchlings before they emerge.  In this case maggots had entered through the nicked shell and were feasting on the hatchling’s pierced membrane before they would move on to consuming her yolk sac and then the hatchling herself. 

Saving this animal would require immediate and aggressive action.


Rescuing Besieged Premature Hatchling

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Maggots had to be removed quickly before they wreaked irreversible damage.  We gently removed the shell to reach the fly larvae.  We bathed the premature hatchling in sterile water to flush the maggots.  Similarly we cleansed the shell itself.  With maggots eliminated, we re-inserted the premature hatchling back into its egg.  We placed the hatchling, now back inside her eggshell, on a blanket of moist paper towels to maintain her hydration, and we covered her with a slightly moist paper towel.


Premature Terrapin Hatchling with Enormous Yolk Sac

While still alive and viable, this hatchling needs to absorb her huge yolk sac before she’s out of danger.  Still, her odds of survival have increased from zero to possible.  Right now she’s resting comfortably in our sun room as the day is bathed in bright September sunshine.

This rescued preemie is not what we expected for the First Hatchling of the 2009 season, but if she makes it, she’ll arguably be the luckiest hatchling that ever emerged from South Wellfleet.  She first dodged certain death at the claws and teeth of a large mammalian predator, and then she was rescued from an army of tiny, insatiable, yet equally lethal predator larvae.  In fact, while we rarely name wild animals under our care, we’ve got to give this one the moniker “Lucky.”

Bon chance, Lucky!