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Don Lewis, Massachusetts Audubon Society,
Fox Island Wildlife Management Area

Hints of a New Breeding Population of Diamondback Terrapins

— 3 June 2001

Fog rolled in thick enough to ooze puddles along Cape roadways and to shroud Provincetown’s Pilgrim Monument in London-esque mystery.  A perfect day for a detective story, especially one with a surprise happy ending.  Into this dense veil walked an alert couple just after noon.


They chose Crosby Beach in Brewster and strolled its rolling sands toward the mouth of Namskaket Creek.   On the beach (at the spot marked with the red turtle), they detected a most unusual sight: an inch-long crawling pebble.

Knowing they found something extraordinary, they called the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary for an identification.  To confirm its ID, the couple was asked to bring the specimen to the Nature Center for an expert examination.  Sure enough, they had discovered a 2.68 centimeter long, 6 gram diamondback terrapin hatchling.

While we suspected from the quality of the marsh and the surrounding uplands that terrapins may be present in Namskaket Creek, we have never been able to confirm that suspicion.  On 30 March 2000, the remains of a 9-year-old female was discovered on nearby Linnell Landing, sparking our interest again in Namskaket.  But it could have washed up from anywhere along the bayside coast in a spring storm.  We needed a live sighting to confirm our surmise.

Today, Hatchling 011-01 provides that evidence.  We’ve alerted the Cape Cod Nature Network of this find and asked folks to be alert to nesting females on surrounding uplands (dunes, wrack lines, dirt roads and driveways), beginning next week and until around 20 July.  We’ll launch a sweep of these same uplands during and after the nesting season in search of terrapin signs.

Namskaket lies midway between the large population in Barnstable Harbor and the northernmost population in Wellfleet Bay.  A new breeding population in Namskaket Creek would be an important discovery for Cape Cod’s diamondback terrapins.