Archive for June, 2011

One-Year-Old Female Spotted Turtle

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

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One-Year-Old Female Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata)

Turtle Journal visited the abandoned Goldwitz cranberry bog in Marion yesterday morning to check for signs of turtle nesting.  As Don Lewis patrolled a shallow channel, which had been largely drained by operations in an adjacent active bog, he spotted a tiny spotted turtle trying to soak in the last puddle of ooze.  So little moisture remained in the channel that the turtle was unable to disappear into the bottom before Don was able to scoop her up with a hand capture.  Normally, she would have disappeared under murky water and into the soft bottom before we got within eyeshot of her.

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Spotted Turtle Carapace: Single Growth Line

Examining this beautiful little turtle, we find only a single growth line in each scute, indicating that she is entering her second year  of life.

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Sexual Dichromatism: Female Spotted Turtle

It took a while before this shy juvenile dared to show her head.  Once she did, it was easy to identify her gender as female with her brightly colored neck.  Males have drably hued throats.

One-Year-Old Female Spotted Turtle

So few spotted turtles remain in Goldwitz bog that we rarely see more than a couple of adults during the entire mating season.  When we began observing this bog channel seven years ago, nearly a dozen adults would be seen in the spring mating aggregation.  So, it’s a real pleasure with such reduced numbers to find a new recruit in this distressed population.

Case of the Snapping Gardener

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

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Sultry Snapper “Going My Way, Big Boy?”

It was a warm and humid day at Turtle Journal headquarters as my partner and I worked the nesting squad.  The call came in from the Wellfleet beat.  “Is this the Turtle Guy?” croaked the husky voice at the other end of the universe.  I acknowledged the caller had the right number.  “Well, we have a sticky situation here and we need your help.”

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Do You Call This a Turtle Garden?

A dark and sultry stranger had slipped into Paul Pilcher’s garden off Chequessett Neck.  “She’s 14 inches long and 8 inches wide,” claimed Lisa Benson who had been shown the glamorous invader that had taken possession of a corner of Paul’s garden and hadn’t budged in more than 24 hours.  “We called the local authorities to find out what to do, yet once they found out it wasn’t a terrapin, they lost interest.  She’s in trouble, Don.  What can we do?”

Case of the Snapping Gardener

The Turtle Journal sleuths interrogated witnesses, analyzed clues and solved the case.  “Give the lady a drink!  Hydrate that gorgeous female snapper who’s been trapped in your garden, and move her tomorrow back to the nearest wetlands.  Gently coax the gray lady into a large bucket with a shovel, but stay clear of her business end.  She may appear lethargic, but she’ll still snap your fingers off.”  Paul Pilcher and Dan Lawson under Lisa Benson’s guidance moved the turtle to the back of a pickup for the short ride home.

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Happy Endings!

Without so much as a by-your-leave or thank-you, the sultry lady slipped through the grass and returned safe and sound to her wetlands home.

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Take a Bow Paul Pilcher for

Saving the World, One Turtle at a Time

(All photos courtesy of Lisa Benson.)

Diamondback Terrapin Nesting Season Begins in the Great White North

Monday, June 6th, 2011

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Diamondback Terrapin Nesting Tracks @ Aucoot Cove

Fresh from his graduation yesterday from Williams College (see below), Turtle Journal’s Jared Nourse patrolled the barrier beach at Aucoot Cove in Marion this morning.  He discovered diamondback terrapin nesting tracks, the first of the 2011 season, in the soft sand about 30 minutes before high tide in Buzzards Bay.  He and Sue Wieber Nourse found three sets of tracks on the beach, which may have come from a single terrapin female in multiple runs to find her perfect nesting spot.  Today’s find by Jared and Sue confirm observations in Wellfleet on the Outer Cape that female terrapins had begun to disperse from mating aggregations, presumably migrating to the vicinity of their nesting sites.  All principal investigators have been alerted from Mount Hope Bay to the tip of Cape Cod that nesting season for diamondback terrapins in the Great White North has begun.

Turtle Journal Partner Graduates from Williams College

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

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Becky Nourse, Graduate Jared Nourse and Sue Wieber Nourse

Turtle Journal celebrates the graduation of partner Jared Nourse from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts today.  Jared majored in International Relations with a concentration in Leadership Studies.

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Becky Nourse (Williams ’08) and Jared Nourse (Williams ’11)

Jared joins Turtle Journal partner Becky Nourse as a graduate from Williams College.  She completed her science baccalaureate from top rated Williams in 2008.  Both Jared and Becky have been contributing partners since the establishment of Turtle Journal, helping to save the world one turtle at a time.  They both completed internships with Turtle Journal in our 32-year diamondback terrapin research program, and have engaged in sea turtle rescues and marine research in the U.S. and in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Williams College Graduation 2011

Brilliant sunshine highlighted the picturesque Williams College campus as graduates waited patiently for their moment to cross the stage and grasp their hard-earned diplomas from this prestigious institution.

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Williams College Post-Graduation Recession

Finally, speeches end, diplomas are awarded and festivities commence with the post-graduation recession.

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Jared B. Nourse, Williams College, 2011

Congratulations to Jared!  Good luck and best wishes from the Turtle Journal team.

Terrapin Hatchling — Springtime Miracle

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

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Springtime Diamondback Terrapin Hatchling (2010 Cohort)

The greatest pleasure for a turtle researcher and for the Turtle Journal team is discovering springtime hatchlings.  These miraculous creatures were born in the early fall and have spent the entire winter burrowed underground either in their natal nests or in make-do hibernacula scratched in uplands.

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Inch-Long Diamondback Terrapin Hatchling

Despite long, harsh winters here in the Great White North, buried in mounds of snow topped with crackling ice, these delicate 4-gram, 1-inch long miracles survive.  And when spring temperatures sneak into the mid-60s and sunshine bakes their upland hideouts, miniature turtles scramble to the surface to begin their arduous journey to the safety of their salt marsh nursery.  Unlike their brothers and sisters in the fall who scramble down-slope to the marsh in zigzag posses, these springtime hatchlings make the journey solo.  They wander in seemingly random patterns akin to the mathematician’s “drunkard walk,” and somehow a few dodge hungry predators and avoid dehydration to reach their destination.  Sometimes it takes the intervention of an observant turtle watcher like Becky Okrent of Lieutenant Island to rescue a weakened hatchling nomad like this one.

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Springtime Hatchling with Depleted Yolk Sac

When first born in the early fall, terrapin hatchlings are blessed with a large yolk sac of energy to keep them going through the hard winter months without the worry of active foraging.  In the Great White North, babies must entered winter brumation almost as soon as they emerge from the nest as new-born hatchlings.  The nourishment of the yolk sac sustains them through the fall search for a winter underground hideout and through the long seven months of brumation.  In the image of this hatchling shown above, the protruding yolk sac has disappeared and the plastron has begun to heal over.  By the summer, there will be no sign of where the yolk sac had been.

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The World through Hatchling Eyes

Thanks to a little human kindness from Becky and Dan Okrent, this tiny hatchling was rescued from its aimless wanderings.  It will now receive a little “head start” on its way to survival from the outstanding husbandry at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster.  You can visit this tiny miracle at the museum this summer before it returns to the wild to continue restoration of Cape Cod’s diamondback terrapin population.