Young Female Terrapin Nests for the First Time


Ten Perfect Diamondback Terrapin Eggs

While responding to the deadly incident on Lieutenant Island on July 3rd (see Two Tragic Turtle Accidents on Lieutenant Island), the Turtle Journal team rescued a very young female terrapin on her very first nesting run.  She crossed the road at nearly the same spot as the two mature turtles that were run over a few minutes earlier. 


Young Female Terrapin #9754

Female terrapins on the Outer Cape reach nesting maturity around 8 or 9 years old when they reach a mass of 625 to 650 grams.  Captured for the first time, Terrapin #9754 measured 15.45 cm straight-line carapace length and 14.2 cm plastron length.  She weighed 651 grams.  Based on our 30 year longitudinal study of terrapins on Outer Cape Cod, we know this sized turtle would be nesting for the first time.


Turtle Point with Five Terrapins and Two Nests

She was removed from busy holiday roads of west Lieutenant Island along with four other more mature female terrapins, all of which were moved to isolated Turtle Point for a better chance to nest safely.  While the other four scooted into the marsh for safety and upland areas in search of an appropriate nesting spot, Terrapin 9754 immediately began to dig a nest directly in front of us.  She thrust her nose into the sand, tossed some dirt over her shell with her front limbs, then moved her rear legs into the shallow pit to begin digging her nest in earnest.

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Young Female Terrapin Digs and Covers Her First Nest

We were able to document the entire nesting process and found very interesting how much of this process is driven by instinct rather than behavior learned over time through practice.  She dug her nest, deposited her eggs and danced the final camouflage steps to cover and disguise the nest location.


Ten Eggs Weighed 56 Grams Total

Terrapin 9754 dropped from 651 grams to 591 grams after nesting.  To complete the scientific package, we harvested the eggs which measured about 3.1 cm long and weighed about 5.6 grams each for a total of 56 grams for all ten eggs.  The eggs were returned to the nest and covered with a predator excluder to protect them while they incubate in the warm Turtle Point sand.  The Turtle Journal team will be watching Nest #132 very carefully around Labor Day Weekend to get a peek at her first live hatchlings.  Stay tuned to Turtle Journal ( for the rest of the story.

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