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

Terrapin Class of ’95 — 6 August 2001

Muggy warmth clawed its way across the bay from the mainland, settling a sultry fog over the Land of Ooze.  The full moon phase brings low tides at sunrise and sunset, offering two opportunities daily to search for turtles in the ebbing currents of Blackfish Creek.  Net balanced precariously between my legs and hanging like a masthead eight feet above the kayak, I paddle through the channel in pursuit of the elusive diamondback terrapin.

With luck and persistence, a turtle may surface near enough for a capture attempt.  With no wind and water conditions almost flat, the slightest movement ripples through the channel like tom-toms and telegraphs your presence.  So, the Zen of Turtling demands patience as you drift with the current and steer by shifting muscle balance.

The Terrapin Class of ’95 (Sorry, University of Maryland fans, but we’re talking here about the Wellfleet Bay hatchling alumni of 1995) has taken advantage of these August conditions to announce its presence in a big way.  In the last three days, more than half our captures have come from the ’95 cohort.

Terrapin 1180, netted on Saturday morning, is a 6-year-old female of 11.44 centimeters carapace length and 287 grams.  Her center plastron suture showed a subdued redness, which seemed to indicate runaway growth activity this season, literally bursting at the seams.  It was interesting to contrast her with a mature female captured on the same tide: #1181, a 10-year-old at 18 centimeters and nearly 1100 grams.  This older turtle displayed the same slimy algae carapace and light green tint as her mature sisters captured in late July and August.  Yet, the pre-adult females and the one 6-year-old male we’ve observed this last weekend were not algae covered nor had their carapaces lightened in color.

Sunday morning’s threesome (#1183, #1185 and #1184, left to right below) all came from the ’95 Class.  Both females, #1184 and #1185, had the same subdued redness along the plastron suture as Terrapin 1180.  Terrapin 1183, the only male, showed no sign of redness — to be expected since at 11.42 centimeters and 277 grams, he’s already approaching full size for a Wellfleet male.

On release, this morning’s team showed some razzle-dazzle play calling.  “Okay, 1183, you cut right.  And, 1184, you head left.  I’ll blitz the middle and we’ll confound this foolish researcher and reach freedom back in Blackfish Creek.”  It worked . . . as always.

One final observation.  Terrapin 1185, a smallish 6-year-old female at 10.43 centimeters and only 201 grams, had a split upper lip at the center of her beak.  Whether this anomaly accounts for her slight size is anyone’s guess.  I’ve talked to these young turtles more than once about frequenting the sort of unsavory joints where such injuries are bound to occur.  But the Blackfish Creek Singles Bar, where terrapins from the South Wellfleet marshes mix and mingle during each low tide, seems irresistible to attractive young debutants like #1185.