Archive for April, 2010

First Active Diamondback Terrapin on Outer Cape Cod

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

8012 20 Apr 2010 004 480

Mature Female #8012 — First Active Terrapin of 2010

Bright sunshine and temperatures approaching 60 degrees prompted a dozen or more diamondback terrapins to mix and mingle in the major mating aggregation of Wellfleet Harbor on Outer Cape Cod today, April 20th.  Sue Wieber Nourse of Turtle Journal netted the first terrapin of the year, a gorgeous mature female, as high tide flooded into the cove.

Terrapin #8012 Rejoins Mating Aggregation in Wellfleet Bay

Sue spotted males following females around the marshy edge of the cove and decided to see if she could actually dip net one as a sample.  Water in the harbor is crystal clear in April before algae blooms spoil the view. 

8012 20 Apr 2010 006 480

Carapace and Plastron of Terrapin #8012

Female Terrapin #8012 is quite a mature female approaching the maximum size for an Outer Cape terrapin at 19.6 centimeters straight-line carapace length.  Despite her age, #8012 was only first captured on 12 July 2009 as she nested in the sandy dunes behind Field Point off Blackfish Creek.  She weighed 1122 grams back then and 1284 grams today after emerging from six months of brumation (winter slumber).

So, in the immortal words of Sherlock Holmes, “The game’s afoot!”

Spotted Salamander Eggs Mature in Abandoned SouthCoast Cranberry Bog

Friday, April 16th, 2010

spotted salamander egg sac 003 cropped 480

Maturing Spotted Salamander Egg Sacs

Turtle Journal returned to an abandoned SouthCoast cranberry bog today to check on spotted salamander egg sacs that were deposited and fertilized during the torrential rains of late March.  See “Slithering Salamanders, Turtleman! Why Did the Spotted Salamander Cross the Road?” and Portrait of a Spotted Salamander.  The water level has dropped sufficiently to expose many of the sacs in suspended branches.

ss 006 480

Spotted Salamander in Late March Mating Aggregation

The (yellow) spotted salamander pictured above was discovered by the Turtle Journal team in a mating aggregation during a nighttime storm in late March.

spotted salamander egg sac 006 early 480

Close Up of Spotted Salamander Eggs Shortly after Deposition

These mating aggregations became filled with floating, slightly submerged, jello-like sacs the size of bulging Italian egg plants, each of which might contain a hundred or more individual eggs.  The photograph above was taken in the dark of night, which accounts for its lack of sharpness, but illustrates what individual eggs resemble shortly after deposition.

spotted salamander egg sac 001 480

Spotted Salamander Egg Sac Nearly Three Weeks Later

Now, we are nearly three weeks after spring rains and the mating aggregation.  The egg sacs are maturing as are the eggs within them.

spotted salamander egg sac 001 extreme closeup 480

Close Up of Maturing Spotted Salamander Eggs

This close-up photograph taken today, April 17th, shows the changes that have occurred with the eggs since deposition and fertilization in late March.

ss 000 480

Spotted Salamander from March Mating Aggregation

Perhaps, with a little luck, we’ll soon see the next generation of spotted salamanders, some of which may become like this splendid specimen we encountered in the dark, spring rains of late March.

3-Year-Old Female Spotted Turtle Discovered in Abandoned SouthCoast Cranberry Bog

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

cutie 14 April 2010 001 480

3-Year-Old Juvenile Female Spotted Turtle

Turtle Journal discovered an adorable three-year-old female spotted turtle basking on the water surface in an abandoned cranberry bog on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts.  As we patrolled the bog in search of mating spotted turtles mid-morning, we found instead this tiny juvenile.

cutie 14 April 2010 015 480

John Adams Gold Dollar Vs 3-Year-Old Spotted Turtle

“How tiny,” you may ask?  This cutie’s carapace measured only 6.28 centimeters (2½ inches) long and 5.37 centimeters (2.1 inches) wide.  Her plastron stretched 5.65 centimeters (2.2 inches) long and 3.615 centimeters (1.4 inch) wide behind the bridge.  She weighed 42 grams (1½ ounce).  The John Adams gold dollar coin gives a rough approximation of her size.

Examination of Juvenile Female Spotted Turtle

We noted that this beauty sported a brightly colored orange neck, demonstrating the sexual dichromatic characteristic of the spotted turtle species.  Males show a drab gray or brown chin and turtleneck.

cutie 14 April 2010 017 480

3-Year-Old Juvenile Female Spotted Turtle

Our sweet young female had two scutal anomalies on her carapace.  The third vertebral showed a split in the upper left corner and she had five right costals instead of the normal four.

Clumsy Juvenile Spotted Turtle Released

Another trait she shared with other spotted turtles that we have documented re-entering the bog after release was clumsiness.  We often watch as spotted turtles tumble and somersault down the bog bank, often tripping head over heal before entry into the water.  Today proved no exception to the rule.

cutie 14 April 2010 007 closeup 480

3-year-Old Juvenile Female Spotted Turtle

Turtle Journal is always pleased to find new recruits to an isolated turtle population.  We are especially pleased to find one so cute as this gorgeous three-year-old female, a turtle that offers hope for the future of this small population (a dozen or so) of spotted turtles in an old cranberry bog that has been abandoned for more than a decade.

Feisty Gopher Tortoise on Prowl near Ritz Carlton Gulf Coast Beach Resort

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

gorpher tortoise 10 April 2010 002 closeup 480

Feisty Female Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)

Mating season for gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) in Florida comes each April and May.  With rising temperatures and bright sunshine today, the entire tortoise community on the Gulf Coast of Naples, Florida went out looking for action. 

gorpher tortoise 10 April 2010 006 480

Gopher Tortoise near Ritz Carlton Beach Resort in Naples

These gopher tortoises on Vanderbilt Beach occupy the most expensive habitat, inch for inch, of any turtles in the world with large burrows tunneled in front of five-star resorts and billion dollar condominium high rises.  They excavate openings to capture sweet Gulf breezes that ventilate their underground homes that directly overlook brightly decorated swimming cabañas and beach umbrellas for elite jet-set tourists from around the globe.  These critters must understand, and perhaps they even invented, the real estate phrase: “location, location, location!”

gorpher tortoise 10 April 2010 005 480

Nearly 15-Inch Long Female Gopher Tortoise

While we’ve been conditioned to think of tortoises as plodding animals, steady but slow as the fable goes, this illusion would be crushed by the reality of a gopher tortoise on the hunt for a mating companion.  Turtle Journal encountered a very large and extremely feisty female tortoise this morning, strutting her feminity among the burrows in the dunes wedged between the Ritz Carlton Naples Beach Resort and the Gulf of Mexico.  This turtle hissed at the unintended intrusion, kicked sand and stomped through the high grass and brush like a rhinoceros on steriods.  Later in the heat of the day, other mature tortoises were observed cavorting in the sandy dunes.

Gopher Tortoise earlier 002 480

Vanderbilt Beach Gopher Tortoise at Entrance to Burrow

With all this frenetic hormonal activity today, the start of nesting season can only be a couple of weeks off, as female tortoises begin to bury their eggs in mounds of warm sand near the entrance to their burrows for incubation under the Florida sun.

A Walk on the Beach — Southwest Florida Style

Friday, April 9th, 2010

calico box crab 10 April 2010 001 480

Florida Calico Box Crab (Hepatus ephiliticus)

Sue Wieber Nourse of Turtle Journal spent the morning exploring Vanderbilt Beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida.  Increasingily powerful rays warm beach, water and abutting uplands, beginning the annual transformation from leisurely winter adagissimo to the quickening cadence of springtime.  Researchers have begun patrols along the shoreline in anticipation of the first nesting loggerhead sea turtles that may arrive any night.  Gopher tortoises can be spied each morning moving slowly deep inside their burrows and beginning to venture into the midday sunshine in search of prospective mates. 

calico box crab 10 April 2010 003 480

Calico Box Crab on Vanderbilt Beach in Naples, Florida 

One of the first critters to greet Sue in the warm April sunshine this morning was a rather clownly attired calico box crab.  Clearly ready for action, it seemed prudent to snap a few pictures and move on down the beach.

shark 10 April 2010 001 fix 480

Juvenile Shark Hooked off Vanderbilt Beach in Naples, Florida 

A fisherman had hooked a juvenile shark while bottom fishing off Vanderbilt Beach and Sue happened by just as he attempted to remove the hook and release the animal back into the Gulf.

sea hare 10 April 2010 001 480

Sea Hare on Gulf Coast Florida Beach

One of our favorite Florida creatures is the sea hare.   When I think of the oft recited fable of “The Hare and the Tortoise,” and its ironic outcome, I’m convinced that Aesop must have been thinking of the sea hare as the turtle’s competitor.  Yes, I understand that it would ruin the moral of the story, but it would be a great deal more faithful to natural history and a little more believable … even for a turtle lover.

snook 10 April 2010 001 480


Illustrating the wide variety of species dotting the Gulf coastline of Southwest Florida, a snook had washed ashore on the beach by the Ritz Carlton Naples Resort Hotel.

seastar 10 April 2010 001 480

Southwest Florida Sea Star

I guess it was inevitable to find a star basking on Southwest Florida’s golden beach in hope of discovery by some modern day Cecil B Demille.  Long gone is the era of soda fountains at corner drug stores, so perhaps starlettes today can only be found bathing in southern sunshine.  This specimen does seem perfectly shaped for the glitsy Walk of Fame at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine.  Who cares that it has three extra points.  Wouldn’t you prefer an eight star restaurant over an ordinary five star eatery?  If five is good, eight must be so much better.