Turtle of Cape Cod Field School 2010: Day Three

Perfect Ending

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Tiny Fingertip-Sized Diamondback Terrapin Hatchling

The final activity for the 2010 Turtles of Cape Cod Field School focused on nesting patrols of Lieutenant Island and Indian Neck in South Wellfleet.  Eager participants, despite three days of intense physical activity interspersed with lectures from first light to late in the evening each day, patrolled nesting sites in search of terrapin tracks, female terrapins and nests to protect from predators.  What they found on this final activity of the field school was a real gem: a quarter ounce, one inch long terrapin hatchling that barely covered my fingertip.

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Field Schoolers Examine and Document Tiny Hatchling

This hatchling had been born last fall and immediately burrowed into the uplands to snooze through the long, harsh Cape Cod winter and live on the generous yolk sac that mom had given her.  Once late spring and early summer temperatures had heated her winter hibernaculum, she tunneled to the sunlight and began wandering in the random way that terrapins do in search of nursery habitat in the thick salt marsh grasses.

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Picture Perfect Diamondback Terrapin Hatchling

Unfortunately, not every hatchling actually finds refuge in nursery habitat.  This little critter had been crawling around parched sandy dunes for perhaps a month or more.  She was dehydrated and had used up her nutrient stores.  Worse still, she had stumbled into the edge of unprotected Cape Cod Bay where she would have quickly been gobbled up by any one of myriad predators.  Luckily for this precious bundle, she was discovered just as she hit the waves and was rescued.

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Field Schoolers Learn about Terrapin Hatchlings

The rescued hatchling spent a couple of days rehydrating in warm fresh water and has been released back near her natal nesting site in the thick nursery salt marsh grasses of Herring River at the northernmost habitat for diamondback terrapins in the world.

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All’s Well That Ends Well

What better ending could there be for the Turtles of Cape Cod Field School than rescuing one of these threatened turtles from sure death?  For leaders and participants alike, this tiny critter placed an exclamation point on a highly successful field school adventure that had produced great scientific data for both diamondback terrapins and Eastern box turtles, arguably the most successful field school in our ten year history.

Thank you one and all!

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