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

An Adorable Couple — 18 August 2001

West-southwest winds rippled down the long fetch from Cape Cod Bay to Blackfish Creek, scrubbing the morning’s darkest-before-dawn kayaking adventure, but tapering enough for a pre-sunset gamble.  Visibility has resumed silty muck, so captures are largely serendipitous with a just pinch of turtle know-how.  Only the largest females brave these conditions to bask along the surface, until waves and spray force them, too, underwater.  Males and juveniles seem to hunker along the placid bottom, popping up rarely for a gasp of air.

Despite the odds, two new terrapins were captured.  As I waded along the rip, I spotted #1187 as he snorkeled for a quick breath before running the shallow rapids.  I closed the 100-foot gap in a sloshing gallop, the noise spurring him to paddle closer to the sandbar and into protected water with at least marginal visibility.  I saw him power-kick toward freedom and scooped him with a long dip net. Terrapin 1188 was netted from my kayak about an hour later as she basked in the deep channel.  I drifted downwind from the west with the glare of the setting sun behind me, scooping her into the boat as she stared eastward.

These two turtles offer a great illustration of terrapin sexual dimorphism.  Each is about average for a Wellfleet diamondback of its gender.  At 7-years-old, #1187 is just under 12 centimeters long and weighs around 250 grams, an average adult male.  At 12-years-old, #1188 is 17.7 centimeters long and 975 grams, again an average adult female in Wellfleet Bay.


While the face-on shot shows the shallower male frame against the more robust female, the top-down image gives a clear comparison of their relative sizes.

Topping off a successful day, two sisters vacationing in the Land of Ooze with their parents had the opportunity to meet our terrapins and learn about the natural history of this threatened species.