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

One Very Unlucky Lady — 19 August 2001

The morning broke calm and muggy under light southerly winds shifting from southwest at sunrise to southeast at sunset.  Terrapins, prompted by a minus 1.5-foot low tide that drained their paludal homes dry, paraded through the glassy Lieutenant Island channel, snorkeling for air and basking in the August heat.  I began the day wading in the rip, hoping to net a few turtles caught in the shallow rapids.  But three days of westerlies had taken their toll on visibility.  Nothing could penetrate the murk.  Your toes disappear in two inches of water.  So, into the kayak to pretend I'm a very large mutant terrapin floating with my comrades in the morning sun.

The first capture was a 6-year-old male (#1189) with a long, narrow shell.  He measured 10.3 cm long, but less than 8 cm wide, and weighed only 175 grams.  The real show-stopper, though, was a 12-year-old female missing most of both front limbs.  Her wounds seemed well healed, but her left leg still had a pinkish exposed bone.  Unsurprisingly, she registered small for her age at 16.5 centimeters and only 760 grams.

Her marginals were pointy and splayed in the rear, so I marked her #666 to accommodate her unusual shell shape.  And, as if she didn't have enough troubles, she had inflammation and swelling in the rear that looked like a very bad case of hemorrhoids.

We are beginning to become concerned at the large number of turtles observed in Blackfish Creek with missing or injured limbs.  This winter we will run some comparative analyses to confirm or refute this concern.

As for Terrapin 666, she showed that she has adapted quite well to her injuries as she ambled down the beach, dove into the brine, and stroked her powerful hind legs to zoom off into the murky creek.

At the other end of the day, a dusk low tide provided one more opportunity to commune with reptiles.  The only capture came a little after sunset as I netted Terrapin 1192 from my kayak in the main channel.  A 10-year-old female, she measured 17.4 cm and hit the scales at 900 grams.  And she reminded me how much I miss research assistants when they return to school at summerís end.  Processing a large, feisty terrapin is never an easy trick even under the best conditions.  But in pitch black darkness with a flashlight added to your field kit, it becomes a bit like a juggling routine, except instead of flaming torches, you have snapping jaws and bristling claws.  Well, needless to say, #1192 managed to brand my thumb with her mark.  I felt honored to receive my first bite of the season.