Dozen Terrapin Hatchlings Scramble for Safety


Handful of Hatchlings

September 25th brought chilling northeast winds off the North Atlantic and blowing across the sand banks of Turtle Point on Lieutenant Island in Wellfleet on Outer Cape Cod.  Yesterday’s warm sunshine had induced a large number of hatchlings to emerge from nests throughout Lieutenant Island’s coastline.  Today, fall-like conditions saw only two nests hatch.  The first, a protected nest on the Hook, yielded three fully emerged hatchlings and 11 pipped eggs with live, viable hatchlings working their way out.


A Dozen Perfect Hatchlings from Wild Nest on Turtle Point

The second nest, one which we call a “wild nest” because it was not discovered during the nesting season and was not protected with a predator excluder cage, produced 13 perfect hatchlings.  I spotted a hatchling track slaloming from a slope on Turtle Point into the safety of the salt marsh.  I dug where the track originated and somehow found my hand underneath the egg chamber of a wild nest.  One at a time, 12 perfect hatchlings dropped from the egg chamber into my hand.  The family portrait is above.

Click Here to View Video in High Quality

Dozen Hatchlings Scramble Turtle-Like to Safety

After counting and examining the terrapin babies, and ascertaining that they were ready for release, I placed them back atop their nest.  A few seconds of exposure to warming sunshine instill these hatchlings with enough energy and inspiration to make a frantic dash for safety in the nearest groundcover.  Well, turtle-frantic, anyhow.  They’re still a bit awkward considering this represents their very first view of the world above the sand, and it’s the first exercise in which they’ve ever engaged.  So, yes; they are a bit comical.  But this dash for cover is a deadly serious activity that is ingrained into the DNA and instinctive rules of every diamondback terrapin hatchling.  In this case, the closest vegetative cover lay upland: a dense blanket of hog cranberry (bearberry).

Unlike sea turtle hatchlings that head for the brightest horizon, which thankfully is the sea or regrettably might be the nearest 24-hour fast food restaurant, terrapin hatchlings employ a drunkard’s walk strategy.  They scramble in random directions, some toward the wrack line and salt marsh, others upland into grass and vegetation, and still others merely burrow back into the dune or sandy bank.

One Response to “Dozen Terrapin Hatchlings Scramble for Safety”

  1. Valerie says:

    I lov ereading this blog!