Turtle Journal Rescues 4-Year-Old Cold-Stunned Terrapin

Sue Wieber Nourse with Cold-Stunned Juvenile Terrapin

To celebrate the end of February, the cruelest month in the Great White North, the Turtle Journal team traveled to Outer Cape Cod on March 1st for a pre-season assessment of the long winter’s damage.  As we patrolled the shoreline of the Fox Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA) on Indian Neck in South Wellfleet, Sue Wieber Nourse rescued a cold-stunned juvenile terrapin in the wrack line.  The turtle’s shell blended perfectly into the salt hay debris, demanding a sharp researcher’s eye to spot her.

Four-Year-Old, Cold-Stunned Diamondback Terrapin

Clinging to life, this stolid four-year-old terrapin was cold to the touch.  Her eyes were closed and, while she was responsive, her limbs were clearly weakened.  She was unable to crawl, and she was dehydrated.  Likely unearthed from her marsh hibernaculum by winter winds and ice floes, she was exposed to the elements and would have succumbed, had not Sue discovered her tangled in the deserted wrack.

Rescued Four-Year-Old Cold-Stunned Diamondback Terrapin

Back at Turtle Journal  headquarters, this young juvenile is soaking in lukewarm water and has begun to move her head about to examine her surroundings.  We will continue to warm her gradually until she regains health, and we will return her to the wild, once spring conditions permit.

Mature Female Diamondback Terrapin Carapace

Across Blackfish Creek on Lieutenant Island, we patrolled shorelines that had sustained substantial damage in the last series of winter storms.  Much sand has been lost from north-facing Turtle Pass and the Hook, as well as Turtle Point on the south side of the island; all critical terrapin nesting sites.  As we walked the bearberry banks above Turtle Point, Don Lewis discovered the carapace of a large, mature female that had succumbed probably in the fall.

Mature Male Diamondback Terrapin Plastron

A few feet to the west, Don found the shell of a deceased mature male terrapin.  Both turtles had been marked by terrapin researchers in better times.  Reading these markings, however, will require sleuthing because of the poor condition of the shells. The Turtle Journal team will search its database and digital imagery records to determine their history.

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