Archive for September, 2012

Life From Death — Local Heroes Save Threatened Turtles

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Perfect Terrapin Hatchlings Salvaged from Dead Mother

It takes more, much more, than research to save a species.  It takes dedication, commitment and, yes, courage of entire communities to intervene in seemingly small and yet sometimes heroic ways to turn the tide of extinction.  Turtle Journal gets to meet these local heroes every day, and on occasion, we have the opportunity to tell their tale.  Today’s story is about Mike Maurer and how his action brought life from death; not too shabby a feat for this SouthCoast everyman.

Twelve-Year-Old Female Terrapin Crushed by Traffic

On June 26th, a youngish, 12-year-old female diamondback terrapin came ashore from the Weweantic estuary to nest.  To her misfortune, she chose the busy Route 6 highway as her entry point.  Tragically, she was run over by summer traffic, struck with such force that her head was mangled and her shell pancaked, crushing the birth canal and squirting eggs across the road.  Unsurprisingly, most eggs were crushed instantly; few survived the ordeal.  Mike spotted the turtle and risked life and limb to snatch her up between speeding cars, in hopes that she might be saved.  He whisked her to Turtle Journal.  But sadly, she was mortally injured.

Salvaged Eggs, Cleaned and Ready to Plant

With the help of Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse, four eggs were salvaged from the disaster.  They were cleaned and gently planted in a protected nest within our “turtle garden” to incubate in safety throughout the summer.  Honestly, considering the trauma they had endured, we had little real expectation of their survival.  Yet, you’d think that Turtle Journal of all people would have learned that you should never underestimate the powerful life force of turtles.

Three Pipped Terrapin Babies in Egg Chamber

On Friday afternoon, September 14th, Don Lewis checked their nest to see if the eggs had survived.  He gently brushed away layers of sand with his fingers to ensure no harm to these fragile eggs.  About three inches deep, Don encountered a discolored egg shard and suspected the worst:  the eggs had never developed.  Yet with his next stroke, sadness turned to pure joy.  He saw the unmistakable pattern of a tiny terrapin carapace and soon uncovered three beautiful pipped hatchling, fully and perfectly developed and waiting to take on the world.

Three Energetic Babies Preserve Momma’s DNA

Admittedly, as I finished the excavation, I searched for memorable names with which to tag these miracle babies.  Lazarus came to mind among a handful of monikers from Greek mythology.  But after but a few moments watching their antics, the only name that really applied was … forgive me … the Three Stooges.  They tumbled one over the other, they shoved hand across the face of sibling to climb on top, and generally they were as comical a threesome as you could possibly imagine.  And so, in my mind, “Three Stooges” stuck.

On a more serious note, because of enormous egg and hatchling predation, it takes a mature female diamondback terrapin more than a decade of egg production simply to replace herself.  It takes another decade to replace her partner, and it takes about a decade before she reaches maturity.  So, nearly thirty years transpire simply for the population to break even.  Losing a young female is a tragedy for a species on the cusp of local extirpation in Buzzards Bay.  Thanks to Mike Maurer, we have a chance to preserve this female’s DNA for the ages.  And with the dedicated intervention of such heroes on the South Coast, we have an opportunity to reverse what seemed like the inevitable extinction of diamondback terrapins within our community.

Miracle Baby: Eastern Box Turtle Hatchling

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

 Eastern Box Turtle Hatchling with Egg Tooth

Wow!  What a surprise greeted the Turtle Journal Team today when this beautiful Eastern Box Turtle hatchling emerged from a nest of 68 snapper eggs.  Say what? 

Lonely Eastern Box Turtle Egg

On June 12th, a resident in East Marion found a single egg in an open nest in his driveway.  The homeowner raced to the Sippican Lands Trust office in Marion to report his find. The Sippican Lands Trust knew to call Turtle Journal, but couldn’t find our number (508-274-5108).  So, they called the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Districts in Westford to get Don Lewis’ phone number. Don called the SLT, then got in touch with the resident.  Don visited the site to assess the situation and to rescue the lonely egg.

“One of These Things Just Doesn’t Belong”

Experience has taught us that single eggs do not incubate well on their own.  So, we placed this Eastern box turtle egg in the middle of a snapper nest with 68 eggs.  Hatchlings from that nest began spilling out of emergence holes the last two days.  Shortly after noon today, Sue Wieber Nourse spotted a hatchling tunneling for the surface distinctly different from the others.  Don couldn’t help singing, “One of these things is not like the others, One of these things just doesn’t belong, Can you tell which thing is not like the others, By the time I finish my song?

COMPARISON: Box Turtle Hatchling and Mature Female

A lot of people got involved to save this little baby when it was just an egg.  In a couple of weeks, this tiny critter will be returned to its natal site for release.  And like any cold-blooded reptile in good standing, this hatchling is completely oblivious of all those human efforts to save its life, well before it was even alive.

Rescued Wareham Road Warrior (Eastern Box Turtle)

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Rescued Female Eastern Box Turtle

An alert motorist, the National Marine Life Center and Turtle Journal teamed to rescue an Eastern box turtle, turned road warrior, in Wareham, Massachusetts.  This gorgeous mature female somehow found herself in the middle of the busiest and most dangerous highway intersection in the area.

Busy Cranberry Highway Intersection in Wareham, MA

Our turtle-in-distress was snatched from near certain death.  The rescuing motorist spotted her in the middle of the road, stopped his car, and dodged speeding traffic to snatch her up before she was crushed.

Female Eastern Box Turtle Road Warrior

Close to the ground and painted in woodland camouflage colors,  she looks like a leafy branch blown across the road; that is, if she’s seen at all by distracted drivers.  Luckily, in this case, our motorist recognized her as a turtle.  After rescuing her from the highway, he brought this Eastern box turtle to the nearby National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay. 

Rescued Female Eastern Box Turtle

In turn, the National Marine Life Center called Turtle Journal and we picked her up this afternoon.  While we almost always return a specimen to the place where it was found, this Eastern box turtle called for a different approach.  The front of her carapace shows the sign of a previous encounter with a vehicle.  Her shell had been broken and had healed in the distant past.  Because the location where she was discovered today could be lethal, we plan to hold her until early October.  We’ll release her into a safe, known Eastern box turtle habitat just as she prepares to enter winter brumation.  When she awakens next spring, our hope is that she will have reset her geographic range … and she will avoid the new reality craze she appears to have invented:  Dancing with Autos.

Bring in Your Pets; Hide Your Children. Here Come the Snappers!

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Snappers:  Heads You Lose, Tails You Lose

Forty-two hyper-charged snapper babies emerged from a single nest at Turtle Journal Sunday evening.  Looking more ancient than a triceratops and as fiercesome as a tyrannosaurus rex, these hatchlings are all heads and tails.  When they get a little older, snappers present a no win scenario for humans:  heads you lose, tails you lose.

Attack of the Snapper Babies!

Watching these babies swarm gave Turtle Journal the concept for a Hollywood B movie.  We’d pitch it as a cross between Jaws and Aliens, as snappers enveloped the Earth.


No Obstacle Can Restrain Them

Clearly, no obstacle can restrain them.  They scale walls and advance with neither angst nor doubt.

Wave after Wave, They Come!

Onward they advance, wave and wave. 

Fierce and Unstoppable, They’re Snapping Their Way to You

Bring in your pets; hide your childen.  The baby snappers are here and you should be very, very afraid.

Rescued Terrapin Hatchlings Released at Marion Barrier Beach

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

Twenty Terrapin Hatchlings Released at Marion Barrier Beach

Sorting Day today.  No, not the Sorting Day described in Harry Potter about Hogwarts.  Instead, this Sorting Day takes place at the much more magical castle of the Turtle Journal Laboratory.  Here, setting aside spells and potions, the team examines rescued hatchlings to determine which ones are sufficiently ready to be returned to the wild at their natal nesting sites.

Twenty Terrapin Hatchlings In Hand

This morning twenty (20) beautiful diamondback terrapin hatchlings passed that test.  Sue Wieber Nourse holds them for a group photograph to celebrate their selection for release.  Click on the picture above for a closeup and note the inexhaustible series of unique designs.  Each so beautifully alike; each so beautifully distinct.  Note also the genetic anomaly of the center right baby with a fifth vetebral split vertically into two scutes.  They all clearly pass muster as wizards in waiting.

Rescued Hatchlings Return to Natal Barrier Beach

With a whisk of a wand, Sue’s turtle-filled hands are mystically transported from Turtle Journal headquarters to the Marion barrier beach that held the hatchlings’ natal nests.  The babies appear quite alert as they magically sense home.  One hatchling seems to stare up at the Sippican Lands Trust Wildlife Refuge sign, asking in turtle tongue, of which only a privileged few Slytherin wizards are familiar, “Why would they post a picture of a scary predator?  Are they trying to warn us?  Don’t they know we’re already a threatened species?”

Terrapin Hatchlings Scramble into Safety of Salt Marsh

Released at the site of their natal nests, the babies cluster in a coven to decide what to do.  One of the wiser hatchlings suggests, “Look, guys. We can huddle out here in the open all day to discuss and plan what’s next, or we can run like hell for the salt marsh before we’re eaten.”

Last Hatchling Disappears into Nursery Salt Marsh

As we watch, hatchling after hatchling passes through the curtain at the edge of the salt marsh grass and poof.  It disappears as though protected by an invisibility cloak.  And so these miniature turtle wizards in wating will remain magically hidden for the first two to three years of their lives.  Maybe not Hogwarts, but it all seems a bit mysterical to the Turtle Journal team.