Archive for June, 2012

Terrapin Nesting Wave Hits Barrier Beach

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Terrapin #303 Nesting on Barrier Beach

Bright sunshine, a line of threatening thunderstorms and this morning’s high tide in Buzzards Bay prompted female terrapins to crawl onto the barrier beach of Aucoot Cove to nest.  The Turtle Journal team reached the shore thirty minutes before high tide to discover turtles, turtles everywhere; all of whom proved to be old friends whom we have been following for some time.

Female Diamondback Terrapin #303

We first saw Terrapin #303 on July 9th, 2006 when she came ashore at Aucoot Cove for her second nest of the season.  We observed her the following year, on June 30th, when she again came ashore to nest.  Back then she weighed only 890 grams.  Today, she hit the scales at 1167 grams and has grown more than a centimeter in linear length.

Female Diamondback Terrapin #273

Terrapin #273 has been under observation since 22 June 2005, when she was nesting on the barrier beach at Aucoot Cove.  This morning we spotted her hiding in the shade of a kayak after wandering around and digging a series of false nests.  She, too, has grown more than a centimeter and has increased her mass from 1003 grams to 1143 grams in the intervening seven years.

Female Diamondback Terrapin #910

Terrapin #910 is a more recent turtle.  We first saw this female on 21 June 2011 when she came ashore to deposit her first nest of the season.  She measured 18.7 centimeters long and weighed 1073 grams.  Almost a year later, Terrapin #910 is the same length, but has gained 32 grams.

Female Diamondback Terrapin #299

We have a special love for Terrapin #299.  Turtle Journal saw her first on 20 July 2005 when she crawled onto the barrier beach at Aucoot Cove to deposit her second clutch of the year.  She was already a huge turtle at 20.4 centimeters length and 1134 grams, despite the injury she had suffered to both front limbs.  We observed her again on 5 July 2006, 28 June 2007, and 20 June 2009.  And we saw her again this year on May 31st when she tipped the scales at 1410 grams while only increasing her length by a mere .1 centimeter.  With her handicapped limbs, it takes Terrapin #299 considerable time to nest, and usually many runs before she is successful.  Today, she still held the same eggs as eight days ago, but they had dropped a lot further down in the oviducts.  She is now what we turtlers describe as “VERY gravid.”

Don Lewis Measures Diamondback Terrapin #273

We examined, measured and weighed each of these terrapin ladies on site and immediately released them back where they were found.

Terrapin Released in Buzzards Bay (in Turtle Time)

As Sue Wieber Nourse brought each terrapin back after processing, she watched them return to their estuarine habitat … in good ole turtle time; that is, in motion which can best be captured in time lapse photography.  Still, Sue decided to film the event for your enjoyment as she released Terrapin #273 into the salt marsh channel behind the Aucoot Cove barrier beach.  Watch … with infinite patience.  They are, after all, turtles.

Terrapin #285 Nests on Barrier Beach

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Terrapin #285 Nests on SouthCoast Barrier Beach

Three days of cold rain and heavy clouds broke for a few minutes this morning; just long enough for Terrapin #285 to crawl ashore from Buzzards Bay onto her SouthCoast nesting beach.  Turtle Journal has followed Terrapin #285 since July 1st, 2005 when we first saw her nesting on this barrier strip.  She’s a very large female with an 8.5 inch long carapace and she weighs nearly 3.5 pounds.

Diamondback Terrapin #285 Completes Nest

Sue Wieber Nourse first spotted Terrapin #285 sprawled flat against the sandy beach, immediately over her still open nest.  #285 had already carved out the egg chamber and had gently deposited her eggs.  Now, just as carefully as she had constructed the nest, Terrapin #285 deconstructed it, hiding the eggs and camouflaging the site.  As you watch the video clip, note how #285 uses her large back limbs like a “second pair of eyes” as she completes the nest while protecting the fragile eggs inside.

Covered Diamondback Terrapin Nest

After Terrapin #285 moved off her nest, the Turtle Journal team moved in.  You can detect the nest because of the darker coloration of moist sand that has been mixed from underneath.  If we had waited a few minutes, the nest would have blended into the background.

Top of Terrapin Egg Chamber

Don Lewis began to excavate.  He gently brushed off the top layer of sand with the side of his hand.  He probed with his fingertips until he felt the “sweet spot,” the small circular hole that reaches down about two inches to the top of the broad egg chamber.  The pink top of the highest eggs confirmed that Don had found a viable nest.

Top Layer of Eggs in Terrapin Nest

Once into the broad egg chamber, Don began to remove, examine and count the eggs, using the tip of his thumb and index finger to extract the fragile turtles-in-waiting.

Terrapin #285′s Eleven Freshly Laid, Pink Eggs

Terrapin #285 had deposited 11 very large, moist, pinkish eggs.  However, because the nest had been placed in a highly vulnerable spot, Don harvested the eggs to relocate them in a safe turtle garden.

Don Lewis Relocates Terrapin Nest to Safe Turtle Garden

The harvested eggs, along with sand collected from the natal nest, were brought to the turtle garden to incubate.  After Don placed them into a nest he had constructed, he covered them snugly with natal sand, and then installed a predator excluder over the eggs to ensure they incubate in safety.  Once hatchlings emerge they will be released at their natal site on the barrier beach.

Diamondback Terrapin #285 Returns to Buzzards Bay

After Don and Sue took measurements to compare with our previous records, Terrapin #285 was released back into Buzzards Bay to prepare for her second nest of the season.  For local terrapins, the second clutch comes about 17 days after the first. We’ll be looking for Terrapin #285 again during the last week of June.

Terrapins — the Small and the Large of Them

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Tiny Diamondback Terrapin Hatchling

Diamondback terrapins come in all sizes, especially at this time of year.  We have large females who crawl ashore from coastal estuaries to find sandy upland nesting sites.  And we have tiny baby terrapins who hatched late last fall; so late that they were forced to remain in their nest over winter.  As spring days heat the sand, these hatchlings tunnel upward and wander about in search of their protective salt marsh nursery.

Large Diamondback Terrapin Female

Female terrapins on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts, like the beauty seen above, measure nearly 9 inches long (shell length) and weigh up to 4 pounds … more than 600 times the mass of a tiny hatchling.  If humans had the same infant-adult size ratio, we’d grow to nearly two tons.

Over-Wintered Diamondback Terrapin Hatchling

On June 1st, a local resident found a tiny hatchling aimlessly roaming a small beach on Buttermilk Bay in the village of Buzzards Bay.  The rescuer brought this seemingly lost hatchling to the National Marine Life Center.  Director Kathy Zagzebski immediately contacted Turtle Journal.  This little one measured 1 inch shell length and 1/10th of an ounce mass.  The Jefferson nickel above gives a visual sense of the hatchling’s tiny size.  The baby is rehydrating today before it is released into the nursery salt marsh of Buttermilk Bay.

Large Diamondback Terrapin Nesting

On the SouthCoast this year, female terrapins have been engaged in nesting since May 28th.  Turtles we have tracked for more than eight years are nesting ten days to two weeks early like this large terrapin beginning her nest on the barrier beach of Aucoot Cove off Buzzards Bay.

Large Diamondback Terrapin Egg

Her egg alone measured 50% longer than the tiny Buttermilk Bay hatchling and weighed nearly three times its mass.  The photograph offers a nice visual contrast with the terrapin shot above.  In our longitudinal research of terrapins in Massachusetts, we have learned that embryos increase in mass, as much as 15%, while incubating in the egg underground.  So, the hatchling that emerges from this large egg would like be four times the mass of the Buttermilk Bay baby.

Rufus the Turtle Dog Guards Terrapin Nest

Yet, no matter what emerges from these terrapin eggs, whether tiny hatchlings like the one from Buttermilk Bay or ample sized babies like the one we anticipate from the Aucoot Cove egg, Rufus the Turtle Dog will protect them all.  Above, Rufus stands guard above exposed eggs while the Turtle Journal team caps the nest and installs a predator excluder/turtle protector.