Archive for April, 2010

Blue Bird of Happiness?

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Brief Visit to Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

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Blue Bird of Happiness?  You’ve Gotta Be Kidding

Okay, it was a tough day.  The forecast said warm and sunny.  The weather delivered chilly and overcast with stiff northwesterly winds.  So, it was the perfect spring day we had been promised.  So, not a single diamondback terrapin woke from burrowed slumber underneath the oozy bottom of Wellfleet Bay.  So, mating horseshoe crabs had plowed under layers of muck to stay warm.  Still, is that any reason for the blue bird of happiness to have a chip on its shoulder?

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One Really Grouchy Blue Bird

After a really frustrating couple of hours surveying Chipman’s Cove for terrapins, Turtle Journal headed for Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary for a few minutes of decompression.  As soon as we arrived, we heard that a cold-stunned diamondback terrapin had washed ashore on Sunken Meadow Beach!  We searched for Eastern box turtles that might have emerged from brumation, but with no success.  Then we visited the butterfly garden to see what amusing, happy critters might be found and this blue bird of happiness (sic) greeted us.  Not exactly what we were looking for.

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Painted Turtles Basking in the Shallow Pond

We moved on to the shallow pond at the entrance to the walking trails and spied four painted turtles basking in the filtered sunlight.  No question; we were moving in the right direction on the happiness compass.  These critters were almost smiling; well, as close as a turtle in stupor comes to smiling, anyway.

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Red-Winged Blackbird

Above the quartet of sleeping turtles sat a red-winged blackbird in alert sentry.  We moved down the path to the Silver Spring trail where one can always find something to ogle.

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Delicately Balanced Painted Turtle

In Silver Spring we encountered another sleeping painted turtle clearly auditioning for Cirqe du Soleil.  She had managed to delicately balance herself on a set of reeds with only her left rear foot to provide support.  She let me approach within a few feet for the photograph without so much as ackowledging my presence.  Like any self-respecting turtle, had she actually acknowledged my presence as a threat, she would have had to plop down from the reeds … and then laboriously climb back again after I departed.  What a drag!  So, she ignored me, instead.

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We did find one critter that seemed to enjoy this day at the Sanctuary:  Thumper!

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What’s Up, Doc?

Now, that’s a contented rabbit.  “Maybe humans call it a butterfly garden, but I call it Supper!”

Moon Snails Active on Outer Cape Cod

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

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Outer Cape Cod Moon Snail (Lunatia heros)

As Turtle Journal waded through the submerged tidal flats south of Lieutenant Island on Outer Cape Cod Saturday, April 24th, we encountered several moon snails actively sliding across the sands.  These specimens marked the first active moon snails we had seen this season.

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Moon Snail Gliding along Submerge Tidal Flats

Moon snails glide across the bottom on their “foot” as gracefully as Olympic skaters on ice.

Examining Moon Snail (Lunatia heros)

Since these specimens were the first we had seen this year, we couldn’t resist the chance to examine them up close & personal.  And it was clear from the action of this critter that it wanted to examine us as much as we wanted to examine it.

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Moon Snail Retreats Behind Safety of Operculum

After a while, the moon snail had enough of our intrusion and snapped into safety behind its protective operculum.

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Exquisite Shell of Cape Cod Moon Snail (Lunatia heros)

First Diamondback Terrapin Pair of 2010 — The Adorable Couple

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

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 The Adorable Terrapin Couple (Male Left, Female Right)

Temperatures were cool on Saturday, April 24th, hovering in the mid-50s with a sharp breeze blowing off the Atlantic Ocean.  Still, the sun was shining and with a nothing-ventured, nothing-gained attitude, Turtle Journal waded into Fresh Brook Run south of Lieutenant Island in South Wellfleet in search of emerging terrapins.  We arrived 90 minutes before low tide and zigzaged through the submerged tidal flats before we spotted our first turtle head snorkeling for air.  Don netted a mature male terrapin snoozing on the bottom and camouflaged in a mound of seaweed.  Sue chased down a mature female about a 100 feet away as she swam for safety into deeper, more turbid water.  Together, they make an adorable couple that perfectly illustrates the gender dimorphism of the species with females twice the linear size of males and nearly four times the mass.

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12-Year-Old Female Diamondback Terrapin #9055

This gorgeous 12-year-old female, smiling for the camera, had never been captured before.  She received the new identification number 9055, so that Turtle Journal can follow her exploits through the years.  She measured 18.05 centimeters straight-line carapace length and 16.4 cm plastron length with a mass of 1087 grams.  She had mating scars on her 5th (rear) vertebral and also sported a split nuchal scute.

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8-Year-Old Male Diamondback Terrapin #9056

The handsome 8-year-old male had also never been seen before.  He received the number 9056.  He measured 11.4 centimeters straight-line carapace length and 9.6 cm plastron length with a mass of 245 grams.  This fellow had raised rear marginal and sported a broad, striped tail.

Release of the Adorable Couple into Wellfleet Bay

In the afternoon chill, neither turtle moved too swiftly on release.  Eventually, after more than five minutes, the female began to trudge into the surf toward Wellfleet Bay.  The male, who Don had found snoozing on the bottom, refused to budge and waited for the tide to come to him!

Horseshoe Crab Mating in Full Swing on Outer Cape Cod

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

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Horseshoe Crab Mating Pair with Female in Front (Left)

Turtle Journal ventured into the Fresh Brook “Run” south of Lieutenant Island in Wellfleet Bay this afternoon to search for emerging diamondback terrapins.  Yes, we did find a sampling of female and male terrapins, about which we will report in a subsequent posting.  The surprise today was discovery of hundreds of pairs of mating horseshoe crabs streaming through the Run with males firmly clapsed onto females.

Hundreds of Horseshoe Crab Pairs Swim through Run

We could barely walk through the Run without stumbling over horseshoe crabs.  Every female towed a male behind her, and yet there were still many males cruising the submerged tidal flats in search of a mate.  As we walked to the water, we noted that pairs of horseshoe crabs had left their signature tracks as they deposited and fertilized eggs along the high tide line this morning.

Female Horseshoe Crab

Female horseshoe crabs are substantially larger than males, a trait known as sexual (or gender) dimorphism.  During mating, males cling to females for hours and hours in hopes of being Mr. Lucky when eggs are laid on the beach at high tide.

Male Horseshoe Crab

Male horseshoe crabs are not only smaller than females, but their front limbs are formed as claspers to cling to the female during spring mating.  These limbs have been described as “boxing gloves,” and along with the smaller size, they make identification of male crabs an easy one-two punch.

Spotted Salamanders: From Eggs to Larvae

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

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Spotted Salamander Larva in Protective Sac

Since torrential spring rains on March 20th and 21st, Turtle Journal has been observing and documenting the development of spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) eggs within an abandoned cranberry bog in Marion on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts.  For earlier reports, see Spotted Salamander Eggs Mature in Abandoned SouthCoast Cranberry Bog, Portrait of a Spotted Salamander and “Slithering Salamanders, Turtleman! Why Did the Spotted Salamander Cross the Road?”  Within the last few days, larvae have progressed quickly to nearly release state within their individual protective sacs.

Development of Spotted Salamander Eggs and Larvae

Combining original Turtle Journal footage with material from Yale University in 1920, the video clip above documents the development phases of spotted salamander eggs.  Still images below were taken within the last 24 hours and show the current state of salamander larvae development on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts as of April 22nd.  A few of the larvae were spotted free-swimming in vernal pools adjacent to an abandoned cranberry bog in Marion.

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 Spotted Salamander Egg Mass in SouthCoast Vernal Pool

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 Spotted Salamanders Develop in Individual Sacs

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Individual Sac Holds Developing Spotted Salamander

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Spotted Salamander Larva Develops Gills and Stabilizers